Man City learn valuable title lesson for next year in gutting Women’s FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea – Joe Bray

Manchester City fell agonizingly short in their quest for a cup double on Sunday as Chelsea edged a competitive Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley. It was a spirited performance from City Women, who have been unstoppable in the last six months, and they will take plenty of this disappointment into a title challenge next season, as well as in their search for more trophies.

Instead of City celebrating a double, it was Chelsea who followed their Women’s Super League title last week with an FA Cup on Sunday. They remain the team to beat, but City have arguably never been closer to their closest rivals for silverware.

On another record-breaking day for women’s football – 49,094 were at Wembley to set a new Women’s FA Cup final attendance record – City showed the rest of the country that they are ready to be contenders again. If they hadn’t started the season so badly, they may have more than just one trophy this year.

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As ever, games between these sides come down to fine margins – or individual moments of madness or brilliance. Footballing-wise, there is little to separate them, but Chelsea have developed a handy habit of ensuring they are on the right side of the line when it comes to fortune and quality. Their two goals against City typified that, but the Blues have been playing with a point to prove for a while now, and produced a fine comeback in the last minute.

Early on, City should have been ahead. First Caroline Weir leaned back and fired over from eight yards from a Lauren Hemp cutback, before the pair combined again – Hemp having a shot blocked and Weir’s follow-up taking a deflection out for a corner. While City started better, though, Chelsea settled and the opening stages turned pretty flat on and off the pitch.

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After an incredibly dull men’s final 24 hours before this one, any goal action was an instant improvement, but the first half was in danger of following a similar pattern with little to shout about. Sam Kerr’s goal briefly raised the noise levels, but the flag was correctly up for offside. The good fortune didn’t stay with City for too long, though, as Chelsea’s luck returned to open the scoring.

Millie Bright’s looping cross caught Ellie Roebuck off guard and she could only watch it drop over her head and into the net. Kerr was rushing in to claim the goal on the line, but it was a moment that rocked City and they were fortunate not to fall further behind as an attempted lob went over with Roebuck stranded.

Before this game, Gareth Taylor had praised the resilience and application of his players throughout the season, and he saw that same spirit before the break. Chelsea had n’t learned from Hemp’s earlier chance of her, as she came in from the right, cut onto her right of her, and fired across Ann-Katrin Berger to level things for City. In a half where neither side hit their stride, an equalizer seemed fair, and Hemp’s all-action performance warranted a goal.

Much has been made of City’s contrasting fortunes before and after November this season. For the last six months, after getting their key players back from injury, they have been free-scoring and near-unbeatable. Only Chelsea had beaten them in the last 23 games – and even that was a fixture City dominated.

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So while their hampered start prevented City from challenging for the title, they will certainly be in contention next season if everyone can stay fit. Chelsea, crowned WSL champions last week, won’t just have Arsenal to worry about in the league next year. City recorded a statement win over Chelsea in the League Cup final in March, and haven’t looked back since. This performance showed again that they are at least as good as the standard currently needed to win the WSL.

Taylor insisted before this one that an FA Cup wouldn’t determine whether this has been a successful season or not, given the comeback they have shown in these last 24 games. If anything, he will have learned far more about them through the tough periods in the Autumn, than if they didn’t experience them. And their final showing at Wembley was arguably a reflection on the season as a whole – a team that doesn’t know when it is beaten.

A slow-ish start, a self-inflicted goal, before a well-earned comeback full of spirit and quality. Erin Cuthbert’s 20-yard thunderbolt, which crashed in off the underside of the bar, gave City another test to face with half an hour left, and they responded in style, taking the game to Chelsea and playing largely in the final third, trying to force home another leveller.

Bunny Shaw went close, while Georgia Stanway fired over, as City tried everything to draw level. As much as they worked, though, the game seemed to be heading for a narrow Chelsea win. That was, until the introduction of Hayley Raso.

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With a minute of normal time remaining, Raso chested down a long ball, nipped in front of the defender, and poked home an equalizer to send the City fans behind the goal wild. It was the least City deserved, and extra time was fitting to extend a season that has thrown up everything so far.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, when Chelsea re-took the lead – again in unfortunate circumstances for City. Alanna Kennedy misjudged a high ball, giving Kerr a two-on-one chance. When Alex Greenwood went to block her shot from her, she could only divert it past Roebuck and into the goal. Once again, it was a mistake and slice of fortune that handed Chelsea the advantage.

This time, City had no answer, and will be left to rue those fine margins that allowed Chelsea to celebrate a double on the Wembley pitch when it could have been a double of their own. On one hand, City know there isn’t much work to do to cut out those mistakes. On the other, they know how close they were to another FA Cup.

So near, but so far – and they’ll go again next year.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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