BC-SOC--Women’s FA Cup Final,2nd Ld-Writethru
LONDON (AP) — Growing up in the area, Keira Walsh never envisaged Manchester City being a force in women’s football, let alone playing for them and being part of trophy-winning teams.
Walsh broke the deadlock in the 49th Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday and set City on the way to a 3-0 victory over West Ham, completing a domestic double.
It is the sixth trophy in six seasons since the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth that transformed the City men’s team into an English force was pumped into the women’s squad.
“As a fan that’s when I saw the change,” Walsh said, referring to Sheikh Mansour’s 2008 takeover. “As a youngster I never imagined I would be playing for Man City Women and I never thought I would be playing at Wembley in the FA Cup final — and scoring.”
It had been a frustrating first half for City against the first-time finalist, with goalkeeper Karen Bardsley preventing West Ham taking a shock lead by blocking a header from former teammate Jane Ross.
But seven minutes after the break, Walsh’s shot appeared to take a slight deflection and swerved before going through goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse’s hands.
Moorhouse’s saves prevented City extending its lead before she was beaten again in the 81st when Georgia Stanway jinked through the defense before netting low. In the 88th, Moorhouse raced off her line to block but was lobbed by substitute Lauren Hemp from outside of the penalty area.
“We didn’t play that well in the first half but to score three goals we are delighted,” City captain Steph Houghton said. “We have a group of winners and people who want to learn and improve. A great blend of youth and experience.”
City has been unbeaten domestically this season, collecting the League Cup in February but being pipped to the Women’s Super League title by Arsenal last weekend with one game remaining.
“The push next year is to really challenge for the Champions League,” Walsh said. “The club ethos is to just keep winning trophies.”
City’s men return to Wembley for the FA Cup final in two weeks, having already won the League Cup here in February — one day after the women’s version was collected.
While the League Cup success — on penalties against Arsenal Women — came in front of 2,424 fans in Sheffield, the FA Cup was lifted with 43,264 fans at English football’s national stadium in London.
“The crowd today shows where women’s football is going,” Walsh said.
The prospect of a bigger crowd was hampered by there being no direct Manchester-London trains this weekend due to engineering work, and by the Premier League not bringing forward Saturday’s kickoff for the West Ham men’s team at their east London stadium.
At the end of its first season as a professional side in the Women’s Super League, West Ham was pleased to hold off the might of City — at least in the first half.
“I don’t think there was a major difference between us,” West Ham captain Gilly Flaherty said. “You can have all the money in the world but it won’t necessary make you a great team. We surprised a few people.
“I spoke to a City girl at the end of the game and she said they were panicking at halftime. ... Maybe they underestimated us.”