THE 2015 campaign has been something of a roller-coaster for Birmingham City Ladies, but the spirit and commitment within the group has come to the fore in a strong finish to the season which bodes well for the team whey they return to action next year, writes Observer sports editor Liam Moakes.
David Parker’s side started the season with a highly encouraging 3-1 FA Cup victory over 2014 WSL1 champions Liverpool, but injuries to key players for lengthy periods hit the Blues Ladies hard and they founds goals hard to come as they did not secure a league victory until the ninth time of asking.
Having come within a goal of claiming a maiden league crown the previous season, Blues found themselves in a battle for top flight survival, but the togetherness within the camp proved key as three wins in the second half of the campaign – including a memorable 3-0 triumph in a crunch clash at Bristol Academy – ensured fears of the drop were banished.
With the centre back pairing of Kerys Harrop and Aoife Mannion outstanding throughout the season, Blues always had a solid defensive base on which to build and, with young prospects such as Jess Carter and Coral-Jade Haines continuing to gain vital experience, this young Blues side certainly has the potential to kick on.
Indeed, 2015 saw the introduction of further new faces into the ranks from the Centre of Excellence as livewire striker Charlie Wellings and composed midfielder Chloe Peplow made highly promising appearances and provided further proof that the renowned Blues Ladies way of producing homegrown talent is alive and well.
In goal, Becky Spencer was an assured presence between the sticks and, after she sustained a late-season injury, her deputy and yet another star in the making Sophie Baggaley stepped up and rose to the challenge to turn in some superb displays.
At the other end of the pitch, winger Mel Lawley has enjoyed a highly impressive season and her pace and trickery have not gone unnoticed as she has given opposition defences some torrid times.
Blues’ turnaround in fortunes was kick-started by an impressive Continental Tyres Cup campaign which saw them score 17 goals in progressing from their group and account for league and FA Cup double winners Chelsea 1-0 in the last eight, before seeing their hopes ended in the semi-finals by three-time winners Arsenal who have reached every final since the competition’s inception in 2011.
Dreams of silverware may have been dashed by that defeat, but a trio of Blues Ladies players did get their hands on some medals this year and they certainly did so in style as they helped the England Women’s team to third place at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Blues skipper Karen Carney, Jo Potter and Jade Moore all returned home as heroines having played huge roles in the best performance by an English side at a World Cup or European Championship since 1966, culminating in the Lionesses’ 1-0 victory over world superpower Germany in the third place play-off.
The 2016 season is sure to prove challenging as the standard of competition in women’s football continues to rise rapidly, but Blues Ladies will again be dining at the top table and will be keen to ensure big guns such as Chelsea and Manchester City do not have things all their own way.