Nick Cushing’s final farewell as Manchester City manager could hardly have gone better as his side defeated FA Women’s Super League champions Arsenal 2-1 at The Academy Stadium this afternoon.
A potential title-deciding fixture against last season’s champions was a fitting way to mark all the great work which Cushing has done for Manchester City and the women’s game in this country in the last seven years
It was Arsenal who looked the brightest in the early stages, having a couple of half-chances that didn’t really trouble Ellie Roebuck. The pressure continued to mount on City as they struggled to get out of their half but they still managed to keep Arsenal at bay. City looked to have ridden that extended spell of Arsenal pressure and began getting into some good positions in the away side’s defensive third but were just lacking that final bit of quality to really test Gunners keeper Manuela Zinsberger. City’s best chance of the first 40 minutes came when Jill Scott won the ball high up field and she played in Kiera Walsh whose low first time effort drifted just a foot wide.
The first half looked set to be goalless but that was until just before half-time when Caroline Weir’s free-kick caused all sorts of chaos in the Arsenal area. The ball fell to Pauline Bremer who poked it goalwards through a crowd of Arsenal defenders, taking a deflection on it’s way beyond Zinsberger. That was Bremer’s 10th goal of the season for City in what is proving to be the season of her life.
It must have been some half-time team talk from Cushing because City doubled their lead in the first five minutes of the second period. Walsh picked the ball up 25 yards from goal and lifted her head up to see Lauren Hemp at the far post. The midfielder picked out her England teammate superbly and Hemp’s looping header into the far top corner left Zinsberger helpless.
Then 10 minutes later Arsenal reduced the deficit back to one goal. Vivianne Miedema, who had a quiet game by her standards, picked up the ball on the right and her low cross reached Beth Mead. The Lionesses winger’s shot first time but was denied by her international teammate Roebuck, however, she couldn’t do enough to get the ball away to safety and Danielle van de Donk fired in from close range.
Arsenal looked like they had equalised when once again Miedema put a great cross into the six-yard box and for Van De Donk but Roebuck made herself big and produced a save that looked impossible to make to turn the ball round the post for a corner. From the resulting set piece, Arsenal had yet another great chance to equalise when Miedema turned neatly in the area but the Dutch international’s narrow drilled effort was again forced away by Roebuck.
Tempers began to flare as the game approached full-time and it looked like Katie McCabe could have been given her marching orders after a clash with Lauren Hemp. The home side were suggesting that there may have been a kick out from the Arsenal defender. McCabe escaped with just a yellow much to the displeasure of Hemp. The home fans sensed the monumental significance which a victory could mean, not just for their outgoing manager but also in the hunt for the title and the stadium was bouncing as they spurred their team on in the dying minutes.
City were able to hold onto their lead and came away with a 2-1 win to leave themselves at the top of the pile. It wasn’t the prettiest or the most empathetic of victories but neither Cushing nor his players will care as he leaves them in a very strong position going into the remainder of the season. As for Arsenal they now sit third and they face a very difficult task in reclaiming their title and even, worst case scenario, missing out on qualification for the UEFA Women’s Champions League.