Going into the 2pm kick-off between Birmingham City and Everton, both teams faced an uncertain 2019/2020 campaign.
The respective managers both knew that there was some essential restructuring required for their sides.
After a poor first season, Everton manager Willie Kirk would have relished the summer break to bring in his own personnel and attempt to implement his own identity onto The Blue Girls. Marta Tejedor on the other hand has had her rebuilding job more forced upon her following the exodus of a plethora of first team footballers such as Ellen White, Aoife Mannion and Hayley Ladd.
Those who remained and those who joined were greeted to the new FA Women’s Super League campaign with a
scrappy affair filled with tough challenges where neither team seemed able to string a sequence of passes together and gather their rhythm.
There were couple of early chances for both sides including a dangerous free-kick in the opening minute for Everton but this, along with all the efforts in the opening 15 minutes, failed to call the goalkeepers into action.
As the match wore on, both teams grew into the game and it was the Merseyside Blues who registered the first real effort at goal. Hannah Hampton dived purposefully to her right and with a strong hand was able to push away a free header for Hannah Cain which nearly found the bottom corner.
This was soon followed by Birmingham City’s first effort to concern the Everton back-line. A fizzing low cross from the left hand side was met at the near post by former Everton player Claudia Walker. Upon reaching the ball first with the outside of her foot, Walker saw her first-time effort agonisingly deflected wide and into the side-netting.
This appeared to galvanise the Midlands club and they continued to create half-chances. They were nearly able to capitalise on an excellent advantage which allowed Brianna Visalli to float in an excellent ball in from deep only for Abbi Grant to glance her header wide.
The best chance of the first half undoubtedly fell to Everton. Dan Turner’s surging overlapping run up the left flank undid the Birmingham defence and her subsequent cut back laid the ball on a plate for Simone Magill. With the goal at her mercy, she seemed certain to score. That was until her point blank effort was somehow saved by Hampton and after a panicky goal-mouth scramble the ball was cleared away for a corner.
It was beginning to look like none of the Everton players would be able to beat the England Under-19 international. That turned out to be the case but not in the way that the home side would have hoped.
Less than a minute after the half-time interval, Everton took the lead courtesy of some good work down the left from Cain. Her the eventual low cross was cruelly turned into her own net by Birmingham City captain Kerys Harrop.
As the hosts pushed for an equaliser, the game became more and more stretched with substitute Rachel Williams
regularly finding space on the left for the Midlands club and it looked like if anything was going to happen, it would come through her. This also made them vulnerable to the attack from their northern rivals. Cain continued to make a nuisance of herself and would have set up the second goal were her hard work in dispossessing Rebecca Holloway not undone by some wasteful finishing from Molly Pike.
This would have marked a debut goal for the 18-year-old following her summer move from Chelsea but unfortunately, she dragged her right footed effort wide from Cain’s lay off.
Everton almost sealed the win after an in-swinging corner reached an unmarked Gabby George at the far post. With the freedom of Damson Park gifted to her and being only two yards out, the centre-back probably couldn’t believe her luck yet she was unable to get any real contact on the ball as she glanced it wide and failed to double her team’s lead.
Kirk’s side were very nearly forced to rue their wasted opportunities as Chloe Arthur’s effort from distance thundered off the woodwork late on. However, the former Manchester United assistant manager will have heaved a huge sigh of relief when he heard the final whistle and his team held on to all three points.
It was not a glamourous performance from either side and both managers will have cause for concern for season ahead which is shaping up to be the most competitive in recent memory. That being said, Kirk will certainly be the happier of the two gaffers, taking all the points when his team played below the standards that he will be expecting in future fixtures.
By Ryan Lee Gregory (@ryanleegregory)