This 2019/20 Vitality FA Women’s Cup Final understandably had a totally different feel to it. Wembley Way was without its throng of fans and the expectant buzz. Wembley echoed with the emptiness; the sounds focused on the discussions of players and coaches as the teams warmed up.
But this is how it has to be for now. And for the 1.9 million fans tuning in at home, a spectacle was required. And it was delivered!
Everton were the underdogs and the game began pretty much as expected. City dominated the ball with Chloe Kelly causing her usual trouble down the right. She produced their clearest chances in the early stages, forcing two saves out of Sandy MacIver. But while they dominated possession, they never looked free flowing and the Toffees grew into the game, with Valerie Gauvin and Hayley Raso coming close.
Just as they looked to be going in all square at the break, Sam Mewis popped up to change the script. The American midfield leapt to power home Alex Greenwood’s corner in the 40th minute.
Everton re-grouped and came back in the second period with renewed energy. Their efforts paid off when, in the 60th minute, Gauvin headed home a corner at the near post.
With the game heading towards extra time, Manchester City upped the tempo. They missed three glorious chances to win it before the whistle – Kelly fired over from inside the box, while Caroline Weir hit the post and then the bar.
The first period of extra time started slowly with Willie Kirk bringing on some fresh legs to bolster Everton. It was City, however, who had the best chances. Substitute Georgia Stanway looked to have beaten MacIver but Megan Finnigan tracked back brilliantly to stop her firing into an empty net. Minutes later, MacIver made a brilliant stop to tip Steph Houghton’s goalbound header onto the post.
The breakthrough goal eventually came in the 111th minute when Jess Park fed Georgia Stanway. And Manchester City confirmed their victory in injury time when Janine Beckie scored with pretty much her first touch of the game.
It wasn’t to be for Everton on this occasion but Kirk will be very proud of his side who left everything out there on the pitch. As for City, they are now back-to-back FA Cup Champions, with a chance to go for a third this season.
Player of the Match
Sandy MacIver: MacIver’s performance, on the biggest domestic stage, cemented the feeling that she has a long England career ahead of her. It was a goalkeeping display worthy of a trophy, and the disappointment at the end just showed how much it meant. Dominant throughout, she dealt with crosses, blocked shots point-blank and made vital interceptions. Her stunning finger-tip save to deny Steph Houghton sent the game into extra time and she deserved all the plaudits as she received Player of the Match.
“From start to finish, she was outstanding. She took knocks; she did everything she could to keep the ball out of the back of the net…But I thought she was outstanding today and very much showed that, for me, she’s England’s number 1.”
WILLIE KIRK, EVERTON MANAGER
Moment of the Match
The winning goal: The best goal of the match came with what proved to be the winner in the 111th minute. Georgia Stanway and Jess Park both came off the bench in the second half and combined to have a vital impact. With their energy and quality, they broke at speed. Park played a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Stanway who slotted her shot under the onrushing keeper. Both have made their way up from the City youth levels and are a big sign of the club’s and England’s future potential.
“She’s an exciting player. How can you not get excited about Jess when she’s on the ball? She’s learning and she’s having to really fight for minutes which is great, alongside other really really good players that we have in the squad…I think having some real experience around those young players is only going to help them grow. For her to put in a performance like that was beyond her years.”
GARETH TAYLOR, MANCHESTER CITY MANAGE
- Is Greenwood a centre-back solution? It was somewhat surprising to see Steph Houghton’s normal defensive partner, Gemma Bonner, on the bench. Whether she has a knock is unknown but Alex Greenwood lined up next to the City captain and put in a solid display. Rarely troubled, she looked unfazed by her new position while still providing her biggest weapon, set pieces. Definitely an option for Gareth Taylor as the season continues.
- The quality of Valerie Gauvin: The French striker arrived on Merseyside from Montpellier in the summer as a proven goalscorer. She hasn’t disappointed with her heading ability a known threat. She could have had three this afternoon and arguably scored the most difficult of the lot. But it wasn’t only her striker’s instinct that stood out. Her tracking back off the ball added much defensively and we will only continue to see her grow as she settles into English football.
- Mewis the conductor in City’s midfield: Pretty much everything good City produced came through Mewis in some form. With Keira Walsh beside her in the middle, providing defensive balance, she is able to be the driver through which they transitioned forwards. She opened the scoring with an imperious header, illustrating the threat she also poses in the box with her physicality.
“Sam’s a huge player for us. Sometimes when you’re in the throws of the season and games are coming thick and fast, you probably don’t have time to reflect on the impact that she’s had. She really has been top top class. Not just in her performances, but in the way she conducts herself as well.”
GARETH TAYLOR, MANCHESTER CITY MANAGER
- Everton’s work rate: Willie Kirk can be nothing but proud of his Everton’s side effort. They didn’t quite make it over the line, but his side left absolutely everything on the field, driven by the efforts of midfield duo, Izzy Christiansen and Damaris Egurolla. The signs are promising of Everton who are looking to break into the top 3.
Quote of the Day
“The Community Shield was great for us to test our wits against a real strong Chelsea outfit. I think at that point though we were not what we are now, probably in terms of fluidity but also in terms of personnel as well….It shows me that this team doesn’t give up.”
GARETH TAYLOR, MANCHESTER CITY MANAGER