Women’s Super League Cup 1st Round
Northcourt Stadium, Abingdon
Match Rating: 3
Today I was inspired to take in a rare dose of competitive football amongst a diet of friendly action for the next month, with an interesting looking women’s cup match.
The Northcourt Stadium, home of Abingdon United of the Hellenic League, is about a half hour walk from Radley train station, and is a very neat and tidy stadium, undoubtedly thanks in some part to the presence of Oxford United women here. After entering through a turnstile hut in one corner, spectators enter the fan zone, a really good area considering the target market of WSL clubs are families, with a souvenir stall, “Olivia’s Snug”, a small covered area for children to get creative with crafts, and “Olly’s Den”, where children can shoot into a net with a speed gun. Children are also encouraged to gather around Autograph Alley after the game. Behind the goal by the entrance is a brick building stretching almost between corner flags, housing the changing rooms, tea bar and clubhouse. Stands straddle the half way line either side, on one side is a modern metallic all-seater stand, whilst opposite is a more old fashioned and attractive small, narrow green stand covering standing room. Around the rest of the ground, including behind the remaining goal, there is just hard stamding. Some colourful trees and fairly attractive building surrounding the ground make this a very pleasant, intimate setting, topped off with a very good pitch, albeit with a slight incline. The 16 page programme was glossy and covered the basics without being particularly informative or interesting.
This match presented the opportunity of a giant killing, with Oxford eighth out of ten in the WSL2, with two wins and a draw from their eight League games. After a bad start to their season, losing their first five league and cup games, conceding 24 goals in the process, they won their following three, drawing the next, before claiming a good 2-2 draw at home to leaders Yeovil on Thursday. Birmingham are in third place in the WSL1, with three wins and three draws from their eight games, and are unbeaten in their last six games, although they have only scored twice in their last five games.
On a very warm and sunny afternoon – an all too rare occurrence so far this summer – the match started off evenly, as Oxford looked organised in defence, but gradually Birmingham exerted their authority on the game, having the first real chance on 23 minutes when Isabelle Linden got on the end of a ball over the top, but the lob over the keeper went just over the bar. Then Andrine Hegerberg first saw a goal bound shot blocked on the line, and then after pouncing on a suicidal pass from an Oxford defender just outside the six yard box, the keeper managed to smother the ball. But on 35 minutes, Birmingham were awarded a penalty when the keeper fouled Linden after she got on the end of another ball over the top and was about to lob the keeper. Hegerberg placed the penalty into the left hand side of the net, to give Birmingham a deserved lead – although just the one goal deficit was a fair reward for a battling Oxford side.
Into the second half and Birmingham dominated for long periods, looking by far the likelier to score although Oxford looked dangerous on the break, relying on the pace and skill of the outstanding Ini Umotong. She forced a good save on the hour mark, and came even closer to equalising 11 minutes from time, when her cross shot beat the keeper but came back off the far post, and one sensed that that was there real chance to force extra time. So it proved, as four minutes later, a neat move of passes resulted in Melissa Lawley striking the ball low past the keeper. Birmingham saw the game out comfortably to seal their passage through to the next round. They certainly deserved that, as their superior class could have resulted in a more emphatic scoreline, but Oxford played really well, and with a little more luck, could easily have forced extra time.