FA Cup Preview: Birmingham City vs Southampton FC

It’s been an incredible week in women’s football, so much to talk about and discuss that you’d almost be forgiven for forgetting that there is Women’s FA Cup action this weekend. While there are lots of good games I want to focus on the stand out game for the weekend, tier four Southampton travelling to top tier Birmingham City.

While Southampton are in the fourth tier we all know that they are playing at a level one to two leagues above that and possess resources to women’s football that would be the envy of many sides in the WSL, including their opponents this weekend. Much has been made of complaints made by the team, which include access to the training-ground gym, changing rooms and travel to away fixtures.

Many of those complaints will have played their part in Carla Ward’s decision to leave Birmingham City after this match. She told the club’s website, “When I walked through the door last August, with the opportunity to manage in the WSL for the first time, I couldn’t have predicted what the next year would look like. It’s been some journey and one I’m immensely proud of.”

Ward deserves to be considered for manager of the season for the club’s achievements in context to the issues she and the team have had to come through. The future of many of the players will now be uncertain, especially as many are out of contact from July 1st. Prior to the news of the departure I was leaning towards Saints coming away with a win but now I am swayed towards a big finish for the blues wanting to send her off with a win.

Photo: @BCFCwomen

Marieanne Spacey-Cale will be doing her best to prepare her side to be the party poopers. In the third round they overcame third tier Yeovil United (formerly Yeovil Town) 3-0. She told the club’s website, “Playing Birmingham, the fifth round of the FA Cup and the history associated with that, we’re excited. We’ve had a really good run up until now and we’re looking forward to what Sunday brings. You look at everything out there at the moment, it’s all about the WSL and Championship teams. We’re quite happy with that because we’re the underdogs. This club loves being the underdog.

“It will be our biggest, biggest test. They will want to show that they want to progress and we’ve got to be prepared for that. But also it’s the massive underdog tie. We’re still in this competition, we’re still competing.”

In the last round, they came away 2-1 winners at the Dripping Pan, knocking out Lewes. Saints have absolute confidence in their own ability and are ruthless when it comes to capitalising on momentum during the match. The England youth international keeper saved a 33rd minute penalty from Ini Umotong and then while Georgie Freeland followed up with an emphatic volley six minutes later. While their defensive resilience was were rewarded via Rachel Panting’s superb long-range strike with just over ten minutes to go.

The club’s experienced captain, Shelly Provan, celebrates her birthday on Sunday as she will be vital in setting the tone for the young side, many of whom will have never reach this stage of the competition before.

Provan told the club’s website “It’s about intensity for us,” she said. “Over the weeks we’ve had to defend with intensity, now we’ve got to make sure we keep possession with the same intensity we do when we’re defending. It’s crucial that we have more possession than we have done in previous games to allow us to go forward and to ultimately score goals. I think the intensity both defensively and in attack is going to be crucial for us this weekend.

“For me, the Lewes game was probably one of the best experiences of my career because of the hard work that’s gone into us getting this far and proving that we can compete at that level.”

I mentioned that I thought Birmingham City would come away winners but it will not be an easy result for them. Should the Blues come out of the blocks slowly then Saints will push them right the way through to the final whistle. You can watch the game lives via Southampton’s Facebook page or southamptonfc.com from 12.20 BST.