Story of the match
A re-debut goal from Claudia Walker sealed the three points as Birmingham City continued their positive start to 2023 with a victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in the Barclays Women’s Championship.
An even start saw both sides creating chances and testing their respective opposition keepers early on, with the Blades having their first real effort on eight minutes after Georgia Walters laid the ball off to the veteran Courtney Sweetman-Kirk in the box, the resulting shot missing the goal before being pulled back for offside.
Blues looked strong with the ball at their feet and looked the more likely of the teams to score after a Siobhan Wilson pass allowed Lucy Quinn to hit a long-range effort that was dealt with by Bethen Davies for the Blades.
The home side would then counter-attack and Sweetman-Kirk looked set to score, but some last ditch heroics from Harriet Scott saved Birmingham’s blushes with a strong tackle that led to an uneventful corner.
Approaching half-time, Blues still looked the more dangerous of the two sides and showed more attacking prowess, but a stubborn Blades defence continued to deny any chances the away team would muster up, but were limited in their own ability to cause issues.
The last chance of the half fell in added time and saw Bex Rayner whip in a superb in-swinging free-kick for the Blades that fell into a cluster of bodies and came off a head before crashing against the post, saving Birmingham a late blunder and leaving the scores level at the end of a mostly lacklustre first-half.
The second-half started in a much more exciting fashion after a Blades counter-attack allowed Walters to unleash a good effort that was ultimately caught by Lucy Thomas for Blues, with another spell of pressure immediately following it that was only ended by an over hit pass in a real wake-up call for the visitors.
The home side continued their press, leading to a frantic 30 seconds or so that ended in an audacious effort from captain Sophie Barker that ultimately failed to trouble Thomas.
The deadlock was finally broken after an hour when a low ball from Ash Hodson allowed Birmingham re-debutant Walker to tap into an open net to give the visitors lead against the run of play, a bitter blow for the Blades after their performance up to this point.
The momentum of the game shifted after the goal and Blues nearly doubled their lead after a pass from Jamie Finn set up Charlie Estcourt, but her tame effort was easily dealt with by Davies.
The visitors would continue to pile on the pressure and a reward nearly came in the 74th minute after a superb solo run from substitute Charlie Devlin created a clear scoring opportunity, with the resulting shot being kicked away by the foot of Thomas, continuing a good performance for the Blades keeper.
Hodson nearly finished the game off in the 86th minute after she unleashed a high effort that looked as if it had the beating of Thomas, but it would sail just over the bar to give the hosts a major reprieve.
Blues would hold out for a hard-fought victory against a Blades side that will feel disappointed and hard done by, especially after their positive display at several points throughout the game.
Birmingham manager Darren Carter was delighted with his side’s performance and the result against a difficult side at a difficult place to go:
“I’m delighted with the win because this is a difficult place to come and play and Sheffield United really worked their socks off and made it really difficult for us. “They’ve really made us work for that one today, so ultimately I’m delighted that we’ve found a way to win” he said.
A particular point of note in Blues’ performance was the strength of their defence as they managed to shut down Sheffield United on many occasions, something that Carter acknowledged:
“You know they’re dangerous in transition and on counter-attacks. “Sweetman-Kirk’s always looking to threaten in behind and a couple of times they did get behind our back line, but I thought we recovered really well. “Our desire to keep the ball out of the net was very good, so I’m delighted defensively that we’ve kept a clean sheet” he said.
Birmingham’s attentions in the league now turn to their game against Sunderland at St. Andrew’s as they look to become big players in the title fight, a fixture that Carter is hoping will continue his side’s positive start to the year:
“We’ve come into the new year with a full fixture list. “It was a very stop start first half of the season for us, so we’re glad now that games are coming thick and fast, and that’s how you get on a roll, that’s how you get some rhythm. “We’re really glad that we’ve come here today and got the result because it sets us up nicely for going back home against Sunderland” he said.
Sheffield United can take a lot of positives from this performance as they look to pick up points and steer themselves away from the relegation conversation.
On the other hand, Birmingham can see this victory as potentially the start of a big run that if executed well, will no doubt see them re-enter the title conversation as the season progresses through the middle and into the latter stages.