Conti Cup: The most difficult trophy to lift?

Quite how Kelly Smith managed to lift the Continental Cup trophy above her head to pose for photos at Barnet FC’s Underhill Stadium on Wednesday night, may never be explained.

Arsenal 1 – 0 Birmingham City
Continental Cup Final

Words & Images By Catherine Etoe

The thing was so weighty it might well have given grown men hernias had they tried the feat, but perhaps you don’t know your own strength when you’ve won the double.

Which is, of course, what Laura Harvey’s FAWSL champions Arsenal did in north London last night as more than 2,500 fans and a live ESPN audience (and Gunnersaurus – right) looked on.

FAWSL runners-up and FA Cup holders Birmingham did their best to put the mockers on yet another Arsenal trophy lift, chiefly through the lively Eni Aluko, who came agonisingly close to scoring in the first half.

The England player dragged a shot inches wide of Emma Byrne’s goal with barely 10 minutes gone and she forced the Republic of Ireland international into a diving save moments before the break.

It was a feisty affair and Arsenal came close too, Kelly Smith hitting the crossbar with a fine free kick and Steph Houghton and Ellen White both stinging the hands of former Arsenal keeper Rebecca Spencer with testing shots.

“What a great save,” squeaked a little boy next to me on the terraces. He wasn’t wrong, unlike the teenagers on my other side who spent much of the first half yelling “FlaHERtee – over ‘ere” at, you’ve guessed it, Gilly Flaherty.

It didn’t matter, the players were focused on the job in hand and when they ran back on in the second half we were rubbing our hands together not simply in an effort to ward off the chilly night air but in anticipation too.

Hands were on heads just after the hour though when Blues striker Rachel Williams scuffed her shot with an open net yawning. It was a crucial miss and as Birmingham faded, Arsenal stepped up a gear, battering Spencer’s goal and the woodwork.

As extra time loomed, Kim Little (right, with her champers) took the game by the scruff of the neck, carving up the Blues defence to unleash a left foot drive into the net. The talented Scot suddenly disappeared in a heap of happy red-shirted bodies and while David Parker’s team went all out for an equaliser in time added on, Arsenal sub Gemma Davison ran the Blues ragged as the clock ticked down.

“There were a couple of chances in there but on the whole Arsenal were the best side, they deserved to win,” said Parker afterwards. “We were not at our usual standard, not good enough.”

For Little, whose performance won her the player of the match bubbly, it was the icing on the cake in an 11- day spell that had seen Arsenal win the league title, batter Barcelona in the Champions League and retain the Conti Cup.

“We’re not necessarily scoring as many goals as we should and we’re glad we got the goal today but rightly so, it could have been a lot more,” she said. “We’ve gone unbeaten in the league and were disappointed in not getting to the FA Cup final so to win this makes up for that.”

Pictured (from top) – Kelly is all smiles and muscle, Gunnersaurus gets the crowd going before kick off, Chappers and son hold the trophy, Kim Little with her champagne, Champagne corks are flying after the win. (Photos: Catherine Etoe)

She Kicks – the online community for women’s football

Would you like to read more women’s football news just like this? Sign up to receive the She Kicks Women’s Football newsletter