Report: Blues Women 3 Southampton 2
Patience followed by resilience saw Blues sign off the season with a 3-2 win over Southampton, which sent them through to the quarter-final stage of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup.
Mollie Green and Emily Murphy converted from corners before Sarah Mayling curled in a delightful free-kick to put the hosts in command prior to a late flurry from the Saints.
Caitlin Morris headed in a corner with seven minutes to go and then Ella Pusey’s lofted finish set up a frantic ending but Blues kept cool to book a place in the last-eight ahead of the competition resuming in September.
Head coach Carla Ward made two changes from the Barclays FA Women’s Super League finale against Tottenham Hotspur seven days previously.
Captain Christie Murray made a welcome return in the middle of the park, enabling Mayling to be utilised in the front three with Murphy on the bench.
Abbi Grant's return to the squad following long-term absence through injury was a boost to the cause and the fans watching from home.
Blues had the bulk of the play from the outset but the Saints were well organised and arguably had the best two chances prior to the opener.
The hosts showed flashes of stylish play that cut through deep-lying opponents without the final ball or shot quite coming off.
The closest Blues went in the opening half an hour was directly from Mayling’s inswinging corners that Kayla Rendell had to watch and swat from under her crossbar in a busy box.
Southampton forced a couple of corners of their own and both went to the back post, presenting decent opportunities.
The first was headed by Pusey into the gloves of Sophie Whitehouse, while centre-half Rosie Parnell was narrowly off target with a similar effort 11 minutes before the break.
Unsurprisingly, it was a set piece that broke the deadlock two minutes later.
Rebecca Holloway’s teasing delivery dropped for Harriet Scott whose nudge hit team-mate Jamie-Lee Napier but Green was on hand to convert the rebound from close quarters.
That opened up Southampton a little more with Mayling’s low centre hitting Claudia Walker in the box and bobbling through to Rendell from a decent near-post position.
Half-time: Blues Women 1 Southampton 0
Murphy was introduced at half-time and immediately added zest to the home attack, crashing a header against the bar from Mayling’s inviting centre six minutes after the restart.
Georgia Brougham and Mayling exchanged passes down the right for the former to drive into the right of the box and shoot across goal but Rendell's save was followed by the Saints scrambling clear.
Number two arrived on the hour when Murphy nodded in from close range via a couple of deflections as Southampton tried in vain to prevent it going over the line.
Blues extended the lead again five minutes later with Mayling curling home from just left of centre after a handball on the edge of the box.
But Southampton’s efforts were undiminished by the goals and reward arrived seven minutes from the end when Hampton, who had been brought on seven minutes earlier, got caught under an inswinging corner and defender Caitlin Morris pounced.
Then a raking ball from the centre really set the cat amongst the pigeons, picking out Pusey to the left of the box to send a lofted finish high inside the far post.
The closest the visitors came to a leveller was in the third minute of added time when Lucia Kendall, arguably Southampton’s most creative player throughout, took aim from the right edge of the box but Hampton was well placed to watch it clear the crossbar.
Full-time: Blues Women 3 Southampton 2
Blues: Sophie Whitehouse (Hannah Hampton, 76), Harriet Scott, Georgia Brougham, Ruby Mace, Rebecca Holloway, Christie Murray, Lucy Whipp, Mollie Green (Emily Murphy, h-t, Heidi Logan, 79), Sarah Mayling, Jamie-Lee Napier (Abbi Grant, 66), Claudia Walker.
Unused sub: Emma Kelly.
Southampton: Kayla Rendell, Milly Mott, Caitlin Morris, Rosie Parnell, Shelly Provan (Rachel Panting, 72), Phoebe Williams (Emilie Castagna, 90), Shannon Sievwright, Sophia Pharoah (Georgie Freeland, 72), Lucia Kendall, Alisha Ware (Ella Morris, 58), Ella Pusey.
Unused subs: Kirsty Whitton, Sara Luce, Charley Evans, Chloe Gilroy, Laura da Silva.
Referee: Cristiana Hattersley.