ARSENAL Ladies sealed a fourth Continental Cup title in five years last Sunday, after a brace from Jordan Nobbs and goal from Chioma Ubogagu denied a valiant Notts County side.
Nobbs opened the scoring just before the half hour mark, but the decisive – and divisive – moment came when County skipper Laura Bassett, whose World Cup campaign was marred by the desperately unlucky own goal that saw her England side crash out against Japan, was handed a dubious red card. Bassett’s heavy tackle had sent Vicky Losada tumbling to the ground, and official Jane Simms was quick to dismiss the defender, but video replays would later show the former Arsenal star had clearly won the ball.
The decision would cause rancour and later shift the balance of the tie. Despite their early lead, Arsenal had been second best, and it was Notts, with briskness and flair in the centre of the park, that provided the impetus, starting brightly but spurning early chances.
The Gunners retorted when Nobbs shattered the stalemate, accelerating unchallenged down the right and slotting home from a tight angle. In stunning fashion, Nobbs doubled her tally just six minutes after the sending off, her audacious drive from distance beating Carly Telford and blasting Arsenal seemingly out of sight.
Yet County continued to press, responding with vigour to try and force their way back into the contest. Rachel Williams’ header smacked against the crossbar and Ellen White’s well-struck effort was dramatically saved by Arsenal keeper Sari van Veenendaal. Jess Clarke’s then saw her connection to White’s cross trickle narrowly wide.
But it was all over deep into stoppage time, as substitute Ubogagu slotted home from inside the box when the game was all but up.
Nobbs later tweeted: “CHAMPIONSS!!Happy to get Two goals & MOTM & Honoured to hold the trophy with this hero @CaseyStoney #BornLeader”. [sic]
Notts boss Rick Passmoor told The Guardian, “Laura won the ball first and there were no studs showing with her trailing leg. The sending off decision changed the game completely.’’
“Laura’s down, she’s hugely disappointed. She’s a leader, a great character. She had a great World Cup despite that own goal; things haven’t gone right for her or us in our two Cup finals, but she’s a credit to our club and the women’s game.”
For Bassett, an unsung stalwart for both club and country, the loss marks a further nadir in a year in which great success has been tarnished by ill-luck. The World Cup exit was followed by a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley, and now the triad of misfortune has been completed with Sunday’s dismissal.
Despite such on-field woes, County can look to move into 2016 in a position of strength. Barely two years old, the Ladies’ links with the men’s side has paralleled the format piloted by Manchester City, and has resulted in two cup final appearances this season. Originally birthed amidst widespread controversy [Notts County Ladies was formed after Lincoln Ladies were uprooted to Meadow Lane and rebranded], the decision to relocate is paying dividends: County have record home crowds and are home to five England players.
For Arsenal, they have now won silverware for eleven years on the bounce, but Sunday’s victory marks their first competition win under new Spanish chief Pedro Martinez Losa.
Featured image: Daily Mail