Birmingham win comfortably at Liverpool to keep race for second European spot intriguingly poised

Niamh Fahey of Liverpool competes with Chloe Arthur of Birmingham  - Liverpool FC
Niamh Fahey of Liverpool competes with Chloe Arthur of Birmingham - Liverpool FC

Liverpool 0-2 Birmingham 

It feels churlish to demand more from a Birmingham side that have already confounded the expectations of so many outsiders this season, but against opponents as porous as Liverpool they probably should have had more than two goals to show.

In the table, the Blues are cutting it among the best of the rest, six points ahead of last season’s runaway champions Chelsea, and although Arsenal have turned this year’s title race into a procession, the logjam of sides vying for the second Champions League spot is making for an intriguing subplot.

Birmingham are only one of three teams to have scored past Arsenal in the league this season but have competed with the league’s big hitters on a fraction of the funding. It demands a hands-in-the-cake mix from their manager, Marc Skinner, and the result is a focused, tightly-knit side brimming with self-belief. They are a forward-thinking side at home but on the road they can be a pragmatic outfit able to demonstrate a little more guile.

“I think it’s hard work, and a dedication to doing something different,” Skinner said. “I know the way we want to play and the girls know the way we want to play. In England, I actually think there’s a reluctance to play - overplaying when you keep possession. We’re a different style to play against. There’s no secret to it: it’s commitment and knowing how to manipulate an opposition, and that’s what we did today.”

It was easy to think the floodgates had opened for Birmingham after just three minutes when Emma Follis struck an effort on the half-volley for her third in as many games. But a comprehensive scoreline belied a cagey, often jarring, game that never looked likely to break into a genuine rhythm.

Birmingham's Aoife Mannion shapes to shoot against Liverpool - Credit: Getty Images
Birmingham's Aoife Mannion shapes to shoot against Liverpool Credit: Getty Images

Birmingham had the edge and there was no shortage of intensity from either side, but Liverpool’s momentum was persistently halted by fraught decision-making. Passing moves were often sewn together with all the effectiveness of a man stitching a gaping wound with a Christmas cracker sewing kit, possession switching hands like a hot potato amid the ostinato of arcing clearances.

For Liverpool, this was their fourth defeat on the bounce, and boss Vicky Jepson admitted it was time to go “back to the drawing board” following an extensive debrief, Phil Brown style, on the pitch at full time. They probably should have done better to prevent their opponents’ second, Connie Schofield netting her first senior goal for Birmingham after latching on to Lucy Staniforth’s backheel and letting rip from outside the area after a mazy solo run.

“I think we controlled the game,” said Skinner. “I’m not happy with the amount of goals we scored, because I think we could have had more, but we’ve limited Liverpool to long-range shots.”

Elsewhere in the WSL, Everton remain rooted to the foot of the table after a 2-1 defeat at Reading. Manchester City are second, two points ahead of Birmingham (19), after beating Yeovil 4-0. West Ham beat Bristol City 2-0 while Arsenal overcame an early Brighton goal to keep their 100 per cent league record intact, triumphing 4-1.