Revenge is a dish best served cold. Three months ago, Khiara Keating, Manchester City’s 19-year-old keeper, left this ground in tears after her two howlers gifted Arsenal a late victory in the Women’s Super League.
City’s teenage shot stopper was the target of abuse all afternoon as she returned to the scene of her nightmare. Yet, as Arsenal pressed for a late equaliser after going behind to Laia Aleixandri’s 74th minute goal, Keating single-handedly secured her side’s place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup with two monster injury-time saves.
Scrambling across to her far post to keep out Victoria Pelova’s glancing header with her fingertips before pushing over Kim Little’s fierce volley over the bar, her heroics belied her young years.
They were, however, not without drama. She fumbled an Arsenal corner at the death - the hosts protested wildly as she clawed the ball when it dangerously flirted with the goal line. With no Video Assistant Referee in the fifth round of the Women’s FA Cup, referee Stacey Pearson did not flinch.
Keating arguably deserved a stroke of fortune given the amount of stick that she had to put up with all game. Women’s football has often been praised - and is rightly loved - for its platonic, family-friendly atmosphere. The incessant chants of “You’re s---!” that were repeatedly hurled her way are a sad indictment of the vulgar ambiance that is increasingly being fostered across women’s grounds. In a show of pure defiance, Keating rose above it all in a coming-of-age performance with Sarina Wiegman, the Lionesses manager, watching on from the stands. A first senior England cap surely beckons.
“Khiara was excellent, given what she had to deal with,” said Gareth Taylor, the City manager. “Particularly at the beginning of the game, with the verbals from the crowd. This is redemption for her.
“She’s been preparing herself all week for this. She handled it really well. Sometimes there are skeletons in the wardrobe and there are skeletons when you go to certain games - so it’s really nice when you flip it the other way.”
Keating hardly had anything to do in a low-quality first half, but then neither did her opposite number. In the build up, Leah Williamson, Arsenal’s golden girl, had spoken of her desire to poop on Manchester City’s parade – Taylor’s side headed to Boreham Wood armed with a nine-game unbeaten streak – but with their star striker Vivianne Miedema ruled out with a knee niggle, the Gunners lacked a creative outlet up front.
The hosts upped the tempo in a much livelier second half but after Alessia Russo found herself isolated, it was City who went ahead against the run of play when Aleixandri stabbed home Chloe Kelly’s free kick.
After crashing out of the Champions League before it properly began and having slipped down to third in the WSL title race after a shock 2-1 defeat to West Ham last week, Arsenal’s trophy cabinet could end up looking rather bare come the end of the season.
All is not yet lost for the League Cup quarter-finalists, but they simply have to muster a response next week against Manchester United at the Emirates. Jonas Eidevall, the Arsenal manager, indicated as much after the final whistle. “We want to win every competition we take part in - our mindset doesn’t change,” he said.