The year 2014 was Manchester City Women’s first season as a fully professional outfit.
They had renamed from Manchester City Ladies and been allowed to enter the FA Women’s Super League.
Obviously, the season was expected to be one of acclimatisation and consolidation and to be fair, in league terms that is what happened. Despite losing a few early games, the team with it’s new recruits and young players soon rallied and put in some good performances. So much so that the performance in the last home league game of the season against high-flying Chelsea saw us deny the Londoners the title and ensured a very respectable mid-table finish for City.
In the domestic cups, City’s Women’s FA Cup involvement had ended early with a home defeat to Chelsea, however, the FA Women’s Continental Tyres Cup had seen City recover from an initial group defeat to Doncaster Rovers Belles to qualify for the semi-finals. Again Chelsea provided the opposition (the two clubs would go on to meet many times in semi-finals over the forthcoming seasons). City edged the epic last four clash thanks to a Toni Duggan strike early in the second half of a game played at Hyde United’s Ewen Fields ground.
The club had achieved something above and beyond expectations, a major cup final in their first professional season. The opponents would be the only team to ever win the FA Women’s Continental Tyres Cup and the most successful club in English women’s football, Arsenal. The final was to be staged at Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park on a Thursday night, therefore ensuring that the Londoners’ support would significantly outnumber Manchester City’s. The odds and circumstances were certainly stacked against Nick Cushing’s outfit. The tie took place before the days of the Official Supporters’ Club, however, City kindly provide two free coaches for fans lucky enough to get the day off work to travel down to the game and support the team.
City had suffered a blow in that final league game against Chelsea when a harsh red card saw Abbie McManus dismissed and therefore suspended for the final. The team was a mix of City’s big signings and some very talented youngsters such as Natasha Flint, Keira Walsh and Georgia Brougham. They were very much the underdogs to Arsenal’s team of serial winners.
The game itself started slowly with Arsenal understandably doing all the probing in the first half while City were restricted in attack. The Gunners really ramped up the pressure in the final 15 minutes of the opening period but Karen Bardsley was outstanding in the goal for City, bravely saving a Danielle Carter effort on 38 minutes then smothering a really great chance for Rachel Yankey right on half-time.
Early exchanges in the second half saw Arsenal still on top in terms of possession and half-chances but City grew in confidence the longer the game remained at 0-0. A huge cheer from The Gunners fans filled the air in the 63rd minute as club legend Kelly Smith was introduced into the fray but the expected lift failed to materialise and City continued to grow and to ask more questions of Arsenal’s defence. As a fan in the stand, it was one of those games when you just think to yourself ‘this could be our night, just give us one good chance!’
The Gunners pressed and probed but to little avail. Then came that chance for City in the 73rd minute. Arsenal were shocked as a swift City break saw Krystle Johnson race away down the right wing and deliver a tantalising cross into the box. Izzy Christiansen arrived to meet the ball, almost awkwardly, ahead of Toni Duggan and her header powered past Byrne into the net. Despite being outnumbered, there were fascinating scenes in the stands as City fans went absolutely crazy. There was a realisation that the club could actually pull off a magnificent victory.
The expected Arsenal onslaught never really materialised, they seemed quite shocked by the goal. City were now on top and there were further chances to trouble The Gunners as Christiansen again went close before a fantastic Houghton free-kick struck the crossbar.
At the final whistle, the celebrations were amazing, players hugging each other, as well as family and fans. It really felt like a true team effort as well as an amazing piece of club history that we were able to witness. As a City fan of many, many years, I have seen the glory and success of the recent era at my club and yet I for one will always hold the memories of this evening in High Wycombe right up there as one of my proudest moments as a blue.
Arsenal: Emma Byrne, Alex Scott, Niamh Fahey, Casey Stoney, Emma Mitchell, Yukari Kinga (Kelly Smith 62), Leah Williamson, Jordan Nobbs, Shinobu Ohno (Freda Ayisi 79), Danielle Carter, Rachel Yankey
Substitutes (unused): Siobhan Chamberlain, Christie Murray, Caroline Weir, Jade Bailey, Vyan Simpson
Manchester City: Karen Bardsley, Nicola Harding, Steph Houghton, Georgia Brougham, Emma Lipman (Paula Radtke 62), Krystle Johnson, Keira Walsh, Jill Scott, Izzy Christiansen, Natasha Flint, Toni Duggan
Substitutes (unused): Alex Brooks, Chelsea Nightingale, Betsy Hassett, Emma Kete, Danielle Young
Goals: Christiansen 73
By Dave Sheel (@Davros1736)