MANCHESTER City Women claimed their first piece of silverware with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Arsenal Ladies in the WSL Continental Cup Final.
Arsenal edged an uninspiring first half with City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley making an excellent save from Danielle Carter in a one-on-one situation.
City stepped up in the second period and their glory was crowned when Isobel Christiansen headed home Krystle Johnston’s expert delivery on 74 minutes.
The celebrations began in earnest at full-time as Nick Cushing’s team, at the end of their maiden season in the eight-team Women’s Super League, won the first trophy of their 26-year existence following their January re-launch and will hope it can prove a catalyst for further success.
Arsenal was the only previous name on the Continental Cup having won the competition three years in a row since it was created in 2011.
But the most successful women’s team in England, with 41 major honours in 21 years, came unstuck at Wycombe’s Adams Park ground as their Spanish manager Pedro Martinez Losa suffered a first defeat since replacing Shelley Kerr in September.
It was a difficult match to call with both sides having won once in their meetings throughout the regular league season before finishing fourth and fifth respectively in the Super League.
Arsenal made a progressive start with Jordan Nobbs dragging her shot wide of the post in the third minute from a through-ball by Danielle Carter.
The Gunners’ high-pressure approach pressurised City into unforced errors as Natasha Flint and Karen Bardsley played themselves into trouble but England veteran Rachel Yankey fluffed her lines in front of goal.
City, whose 2-1 final-day victory over Chelsea last Sunday denied the Londoners the title, struggled to gain a foothold as their nervous defending invited Arsenal to push forward in numbers.
Impressive duo Carter and Nobbs linked up effectively to present a shooting opportunity to Shinobu Ohno, who blasted wide of the target from 15 yards.
City eventually grew into the game after a rugged opening as Jill Scott fired over the crossbar after turning away from former Arsenal defender Steph Houghton, the skipper recovering from an ankle knock to return to the side.
Although, their lack of organisation at the back left plenty to be desired with Bardsley standing firm to brilliantly keep out Carter’s poked effort when the Gunners midfielder was clean through.
In the final moments of the first half, Yankey got on the end of Casey Stoney’s centre at the back post but a poor touch allowed Bardsley to sweep up in the nick of time.
The poor quality from both sides in the final third continued after the break, defying the buoyant atmosphere generated by almost 3,700 fans who made the trip to Buckinghamshire.
Toni Duggan unable to apply the telling touch to City winger Krystle Johnston’s cross after it was missed completely by Arsenal keeper Emma Byrne.
The tepid nature of the contest prompted changes on the hour mark with 35-year-old Kelly Smith, who is also Arsenal’s assistant manager, replacing Yukari Kinga while Paula Radtke swapped places with Emma Lipman in the City defence.
It brought an immediate injection of excitement as Arsenal’s Niamh Fahey lunged in on Scott with two feet but escaped with only a yellow card from referee Nigel Lugg.
Moments later, Houghton’s 35-yard free-kick was kept out by the diving Byrne before Arsenal substitute Smith called Bardsley into action from a set-piece at the other end.
And, after being the more threatening side in the second half, City answered the cries for a decisive moment by making a deserved breakthrough 17 minutes from time.
Scott carried the fight by charging forward before finding Johnston on the right and her exquisite cross was headed home by Christiansen, who got in front of team-mate Duggan to leave Byrne clasping at thin air.
Arsenal, who sent on 19-year-old striker Freda Ayisi from the bench, sought a swift response to falling behind but City were a menacing proposition on the counter.
Duggan’s excellent footwork got the better of two defenders before the former Everton Ladies striker was denied by Byrne, who then touched Houghton’s drilled free-kick onto the crossbar.
But a solitary goal was enough for big-spending City to cause a huge upset and taste success on the first of what they hope will be many grand occasions in the future.
Manchester City Women’s manager Nick Cushing told BT Sport: “I’m really proud of my players as I can see how much work we’ve put in and the good environment we’ve created off the pitch. Whether we win or lose the players application to training and games has been exceptional, and this is a well deserved trophy and a reward. We showed unbelievable endeavour to stay in the game, and then we settled down and I thought we played some good football in the second half. We have to be realistic and we know that winning the Continental Cup doesn’t mean you’re going to go on and win the league. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but we’ve caused a lot of teams problems this year, and shown we’ve got a lot of potential in our side.”
Arsenal: 1 Byrne, 2 A Scott ©, 5 Stoney, 3 Fahey, 4 Mitchell, 9 Nobbs, 7 Williamson, 10 Kinga (K Smith 63′), 6 Ohno (Ayisi 79′), 8 Yankey, 11 Carter.
Subs not used: 12 Chamberlain (GK), 13 Sampson, 14 Weir, 15 Murray, 16 Bailey.
Booked: Fahey, Williamson
Manchester City: 1 Bardsley, 9 Harding, 4 Houghton ©, 7 Lipman (Radtke 63′), 2 Brougham, 5 Walsh, 8 J Scott, 3 Christiansen, 6 Duggan, 10 Johnston, 11 Flint.
Subs not used: 12 Brooks (GK), 13 Nightingale, 15 Kete, 16 Hassett, 17 Young.
Goals: Christensen (74)
Referee: Nigel Lugg (Surrey)
By Adam Higgins