The SSE Women’s FA Cup celebrates its 47th birthday this year, but there will be two unfamiliar guests at the party at Wembley on Saturday as Birmingham and Manchester clash in a tale of the country’s second and third cities.
A competition record crowd of over 35,000 is expected at the home of football this weekend, but with just one previous appearance in the final between them, Saturday will be virgin territory for one of the two hopefuls.
Birmingham have been here before, beating Chelsea on penalties in the 2012 final at Ashton Gate. The closest Manchester have come to reaching the showpiece fixture was last year when they lost in extra-time to Chelsea in the semi-finals.
The contrasting Cup pedigrees however belie the sides’ recent form and reputation and it is Nick Cushings’ Manchester City rather than Marc Skinner’s team who will run out at Wembley as the clear favourites to lift the trophy in London.
The Citizens are the reigning Women’s Super League champions, unbeaten throughout their victorious 2016 campaign, and the last time they lost a WSL fixture was back in April 2015 when they were turned over 1-0 at home by Arsenal.
They are no mean Cup outfit, either
They reached the semi-finals of this year’s UEFA Women’s Champions League, narrowly going down 3-2 on aggregate to Lyon last month in their bid to become only the second English side ever to reach the final of the competition.
Birmingham boast a more modest recent competitive record. The Blues were fourth in last year’s WSL, a full 15 points adrift of Man City, but are languishing second last in the current Spring Series table.
Memories of their runner-up finishes in 2011 and again in 2012 are beginning to fade fast…
The Midlanders, though, have proved this year that they are, on their day, capable of beating the best.
Skinners’ team overcame 14-time champions Arsenal in the last eight of the tournament and then booked their coveted place at Wembley with a dramatic penalty shootout triumph over 2015 winners Chelsea in the semi-final.
The most recent meeting between the two teams came earlier this month in the Spring Series. Birmingham took a first-half lead through Emily Westwood, but the Citizens eventually earned a draw courtesy of a third goal of the season from PFA Women’s Player of the Year, Lucy Bronze.
Westwood along with fellow defender and captain Kerys Harrop are the only surviving members of the Birmingham side which lifted the trophy five years ago.
“City have got quality players but we’ll go to the game with a plan and see what we can do,” Harrop said this week.
“We don’t see ourselves as underdogs anymore, we’re really pushing on and we’re keen to show what we can do.”
Saturday’s showdown at Wembley is a repeat of the latest edition of the FA WSL Continental Tyres Cup staged last October, a match Manchester won 1-0 after extra time thanks to a header from Bronze; a result which saw the Citizens clinch a league and cup double.
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