Women's Report: Saints outdone by top-tier Blues


Despite a brave effort, Southampton FC Women exited the Vitality Women's Cup at the fifth round stage, following defeat to FA WSL side Birmingham City Women.

The top-tier outfit were one step too far for Saints, who battled valiantly throughout, but weren't quite able to match the quality on show from Blues, who currently compete three tiers above.

All three of Birmingham's goals were scored from set-pieces, two corners and a free-kick, with Saints more than proving their capability during open play, scoring twice themselves in the second period.

Late goals from Caitlin Morris and Ella Pusey made for an extremely exciting end to a thoroughly entertaining game, with Saints pushing their WSL counterparts until the final whistle.

The final 10 minutes were frantic for both sides, but the hosts were able to hang on to their narrow advantage to progress to the final eight of the competition.

Ultimately, a brief lapse in concentration from set-pieces proved costly for Saints, but doesn't take away from the courage demonstrated throughout this season's cup run, with this tie representing Saints' best ever showing in the Women's FA Cup.

The home side enjoyed much of the possession in the early stages, demonstrating their presence as the top-flight team. Despite that, Saints reduced their hosts to very few chances.

A couple of corners from the left, delivered by Jamie-Lee Napier, gave Kayla Rendell some work to do, but nothing the England youth international wasn't comfortable with.

Pusey was first to test opposition stopper Sophie Whitehouse in the 20th minute, with a header from a deep corner, that she attacked well but the angle was against her.

Again, Saints were presented with another opportunity from a corner in the 34th minute; this time Rosie Parnell heading marginally wide of the mark at the far post.

Few chances were being created from open play, with both sides cancelling each other out in the middle of the park, but there were openings aplenty from set-plays, something that benefited Blues shortly before the break.

Midfielder Mollie Green was quickest to react to a goalmouth scramble in the 37th minute, following an in-swinging corner from Rebecca Holloway.

Saints failed to clear their lines before the ball landed fortuitously at Green's feet, as she poked home to give the Midlands side the lead.

Not much to separate the sides at the break, but a narrow advantage had been gained by Carla Ward's side; all to play for in the second period.

Half-time substitute Emily Murphy hit the crossbar from a well-worked cross six minutes after the restart, with Birmingham beginning to assert their dominance down the left. She was marshalled well by Shelly Provan, who did just enough to disturb Murphy's balance, as she connected with Sarah Mayling's delivery.

Saints were again undone by a corner moments later. Mayling sent the delivery to the near post this time, with the visitors unable to clear the danger before another goalmouth scrap yielded a second goal for the hosts in the 58th minute.

The game was running away from Marieanne Spacey-Cale's side, as the full-time outfit grew stronger over the tie. Mayling added a third for the hosts shortly after the hour mark, with a free-kick that was smartly curled around the wall from 20 yards, nestling inside the post. Saints had a mountain to climb.

But no-one could have predicted what was to follow, as Saints suddenly sparked into life inside the final 10 minutes.

Sensing that there may be something left in the tie, another corner routine gave Saints a lifeline, as Morris arrived late at the back post to convert Lucia Kendell's in-swinger.

Bouyed by the goal, Saints came again, this time with Pusey. The move was incisive, and represented the only goal of the game scored from open play.

Tireless in her work-rate, Pusey timed her run well and collected the ball inside the box, left of centre, before looping it over substitute stopper Hannah Hampton, via a deflection in the 87th minute. Panic ensued for the hosts, but the clock was against Saints, with barely seconds remaining.

The final whistle sounded moments later, with Saints unable to find another goal, but safe in the knowledge that their defiance and determination will stand them in great stead moving forward, and for the final challenge of their 2020/21 campaign; a Hampshire Cup Final meeting with bitter rivals Portsmouth.