Brighton & Hove Albion became the penultimate team to claim their place in the Women’s FA Cup fifth round, producing a hard-fought, disciplined display to edge past FA Women’s Championship leaders Aston Villa and claim a 3-2 away win.
Hope Powell’s side had to be at their best against a determined Aston Villa, who many had tipped to pull off an upset. For much of the second half, Villa were able to go toe-to-toe with the FA Women’s Super League side, proving why they are such fierce contenders for promotion this season.
However, two quick-fire goals at the end of the first half ultimately won the game for Brighton & Hove Albion. They took advantage of a disorganised and sloppy defensive display from Villa, who try as they might, were unable to pull it back in what proved to be a much improved second half from The Villains.
Both sides made a host of changes coming into this much anticipated clash. Aston Villa manager Gemma Davies handed Alice Hassall her first start of the season with skipper Jade Richards returning in defence. Both Emma Follis and Marisa Ewers dropped to the bench, indicating that Davies may be looking to prioritise the league, in which they are currently unbeaten.
For Brighton & Hove Albion, seven changes were made from the side that suffered a late loss to West Ham United in the FA Women’s Super League. Among them, new signing Cecilie Fiskerstrand replaced Megan Walsh in goal, with England youth International Maya Le Tissier retaking her place at the heart of The Seagulls’ defence and Ini Umotong coming into their attack.
In what was an extremely open game from the off, both sides saw plenty of the ball early on. As things started to settle and Brighton & Hove Albion took command, Umotong especially got into some dangerous positions both out wide and centrally. In the 11th minute, she was rewarded for her early contribution as the referee pointed to the spot after she was brought down by a dangling leg in the box. Umotong herself stepped up to take the subsequent penalty and made no mistake, sending Villa goalkeeper Sian Rogers the wrong way to make it 1-0 to the FA Women’s Super League side.
However, Albion had little time to celebrate as Villa found a reply almost immediately after the restart. Shania Hayles got the goal, managing to poke the ball into the bottom corner following a goal-mouth scramble. Uncertainty as to whether the ball had definitely crossed the line meant play initially continued but after consulting the linesman, the referee did eventually confirm the goal.
Villa looked much livelier from the restart, their equaliser spurring them on, but before long the momentum was with the visitors again. The Seagulls frequently looked dangerous, finding plenty of space out wide and in behind the struggling Villa defence, who were unable to cope with Umotong and Aileen Whelan’s constant late surges into the box, looking disorganised and struggling to communicate.
At the other end, Melissa Johnson provided glimmers of hope for her side throughout the first half, finding space amidst a disciplined Brighton midfield. Villa constantly lacked the creative edge needed to provide for her and they were left to rue those missed opportunities when right on the half hour mark, their resistance was broken once more. Brighton & Hove Albion restored their lead via Amanda Nilden, with Villa’s overwhelmed defence once again at fault, failing to clear the ball after Rogers had made two first class saves.
Less than five minutes later. Hope Powell’s side were at it again, capitalising on another defensive mistake to make it 3-1. Whelan lobbed the ball into an open net after Rogers had mistakenly come out to try and punch the ball away. The goal certainly knocked the wind out of Davies’ side, who ended the half looking by far the inferior team and with a lot to work on.
Though Brighton & Hove Albion started the second half brightly once again, the half turned out to be a rather different affair from the first, as Villa showed a level of intensity and fighting spirit that had been missing for much of the match so far. Teenager Jodie Hutton was a bright spark, constantly trying to make things happen down the left wing and putting balls into the box, but for most of the half they were still unable to break down Brighton & Hove Albion’s robust defence.
However, the Villa players continued to be patient and fashion changes when they came, and in the 80th minute, they were rewarded with a delightful goal. Substitute Emily Syme deserves all the plaudits for her pinpoint through ball to find Hayles on the edge of the box and the winger made no mistake, lifting the ball over Fiskerstrand with ease to make it 3-2.
With 10 minutes to go, the game was well and truly on and with the roaring support of the Boldmere crowd behind them, Villa attacked with intensity and sometimes desperation, determined to do the unthinkable and find that late equaliser. A heart in mouth moment ensued as a shot from Hutton in the dying moments evaded multiple defenders, but despite many fans thinking it had gone in, Fiskerstrand managed to smother it. Villa continued to push, but despite winning a host of late set pieces, the visitors held firm to see the match through,and knock the battling Villains out of the cup in the fourth round.
By Lauren Coffman (@laurenjsport)