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Return To Sender

Leicester City 6-2 Birmingham City (Women’s FA Cup Round Five)

It's Chinese New Year. Last night I spent an evening at Yumacha in West Bridgford where they had an Elvis impersonator along with a few fireworks and a Chinese Dragon. Today I'm feeling all shook up from drinking too much. A little less conversation about that however, let’s get onto football.

Up early and at it, I'm trying to cram two games in but it's a bit of a tough ask as I've got to commute between Burton and Ilkeston in under an hour. I hope I don't get caught in a trap along the way?

First up, Leicester v Birmingham in the women's FA Cup. If it goes to extra-time I know I'm screwed, but the aim is once that's finished to go like the clappers and get to Ilkeston v Lancaster for kick off.

I've filled a flask of coffee and hit the road for little past 10am as I head down the A50 and into Burton after a short hop on the A38.

It's grey out, drizzle in the air, I've pulled up at a Greggs Factory where I've parked in one of their vacant spaces and walked though the car park of the Pirelli Stadium to get myself a ticket. 

The Venue

Against the grey back drop of the skies and in quiet and calm surroundings a good hour and more before kick-off, the stadium is quaint, modern, easily accessible and simple looking from the outside.

Internally its three sides of grey covered terracing are no more than ten rows high, the seated stand I'm in is twelve levels of platform, padded with yellow and black flip down chairs. The view is close to the action as the crowd squeezes in. It's the only stand of the four in use as numbers at women's football are often under a thousand, clustered into a small space to try and make some noise and obviously save on stewarding costs too.

The Game

There's people still taking their seats around me and Birmingham are already one up. Less than a minute played they attack and win a free kick which is floated into the area and Leicester's first touch is that of Missy Goodwin who deflects a header into her own net.

The Foxes respond with a good spell of possession and are soon level. Janice Cayman is slipped in from a lovely pass by Takarada to finish inside the box. Shannon O'Brien then let's fly from the edge of the area a stunning goal, but Birmingham are level against the run of play when Libby Smith runs through to delicately chip home, a tidy finish from a tidy player, I’m sure she can do a bit in the WSL.

The Score

Leicester do though take a lead into the second half, just a minute from Birmingham’s leveller, Shannon O’Brien get’s a second as she’s slipped in by Sam Tierney to slot home unmarked from inside the area, it’s an entertaining first half where Leicester have dominated but have been twice undone, once for a sloppy start and once on a quick counter attack.

No such issues in the second 45 though as Takarada who’s the star of the show heads home from close range a minute short of the hour. Canadian winger Deanne Rose then enters the field and with her first couple of touches cuts in from the left and drives home a beauty. Aileen Whelan then caps off a super six performance with still eight minutes to play, one fan shouts “We want seven” as a few kids painfully join in before cutting it all off at “we want 29”.

The Stars

Japanese International Saori Takarada is a super intelligent holding midfield player, tall in size, athletic in stature, who’s always looking to get the ball off her back four, who’s often looking to play the short and inventive forward pass. She’s been a real star signing for Leicester of late and could help take the team to another level as she knits together the combinations from defence and attack.

Another recent signing is Deanne Rose, who joined earlier in the season from Reading, she offers electric pace and netted a fine goal. I like her down the right where she’s very direct but cutting in from the left to get on to her right foot proved to be a masterstroke by Willie Kerr who’s timely introduction of Rose ensured the match would be quickly concluded to give Birmingham (who wore a slightly orange tangy red number) the blues.

In opposition, Championship outfit Birmingham had a couple of good moments and were probably a bit better than the scoreline suggested. Libby Smith was brilliant up front on her own, holding it up well, she had pace and strength and took her goal sublimely. Jamie Finn looked to have a bit of ability and worked hard on the right side centre of the park whilst Charlie Devlin who was booed by the Leicester supporters when she came on, an ex-Fox aged just 25, she looked to have some star quality which was otherwise lacking in the away sides midfield.

The Verdict

A quarter final slot for Leicester gives them a chance for some silverware, they’ll be well safe from the drop this season and have a lot to be excited about looking ahead. Birmingham themselves are only four points from league leaders Charlton in the Championship with a game in hand, a competitive league all be it, they’ll be now able to concentrate on a promotion push, with no side distractions.

The Teams

Leicester City: Janina Leitzig, Sam Tierney, CJ Bott (Asmeeta Ale 75), Sophie Howard, Jutta Rantala (Aileen Whelan 66), Janice Cayman, Jo Green, Saori Takarada (Emilia Pelgander 75), Missy Goodwin (Deanne Rose 66), Shannon O’Brien (Ava Baker 66), Yuka Momiki.

Birmingham City: Lucy Thomas, Ellie Mason, Gemma Lawley, Jamie Finn, Libby Smith (Choe Yu-Ri 63), Christie Harrison-Murray, Lucy Quinn (Ivana Fuso 46), So-Hyun Cho, Claudia Walker (Charlie Devlin 76), Jade Moore (Katie Dungate 76), Neve Herron.

12:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 10th February 2024, Pirelli Stadium, Burton-upon-Trent (att 500 est).

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