City Of Manchester Ladies retained their Robinson’s Brewery Women’s Cup crown by edging out Middleton Athletic Ladies 2-1.
Racheal Dunlop’s first half brace separated the two sides at the interval and despite Joanna O’Connell pulling one back immediately after half-time, the reigning champions did enough to hang on.
The tie was a tight and cagey affair throughout, with tackles punctuating a match that always felt like it would be decided by a narrow margin. Clear cut chances were at a premium throughout the opening exchanges of the game, yet both sides applied early pressure in a back and forth encounter.
Middleton began to shade the match, with the majority of the play spent in their attacking third as they looked to take the game to City.
With just over 20 minutes gone, however, City Of Manchester put themselves on course for a repeat victory. A corner from the right wasn’t dealt with by Middleton, and Dunlop was the grateful beneficiary who thumped home from close range into the roof of the net.
City were eager to turn the thumbscrews and almost added a quickfire goal when captain Faye Dunlop evaded several challenges in Middleton territory, but her eventual effort was skewed wide of Jess Bamber’s far post.
Their perseverance did eventually pay off, however, as they doubled their advantage with half an hour gone. Racheal Dunlop showed a great turn of pace to burst through the middle and slipped the ball into the far bottom corner to give City breathing space midway through the first half.
After being hit by two unanswered goals, Middleton found a fresh impetus and O'Connell came close to getting a goal back, but her left footed effort bobbled against the far post after a probing run down the left.
The game reached a slight nadir prior to the interval, but on the stroke of half-time Middleton's Belinda Carter cut in from the left and lofted her shot high and wide of City’s goal.
However, manager Barry Hurndall’s words at half-time must have stirred his team, who came flying out of the blocks after the interval and halved the deficit swiftly, when O’Connell engineered some space in the box and powered home an emphatic finish.
Middleton spurned a good chance 15 minutes into the second half to complete the comeback, when Shevaughn Hurndall sliced her shot wide of the goal from a promising position on the edge of the area.
City were being exposed to mounting pressure as Middleton rallied, looking to restore parity. While shots on goal were difficult to fashion, they were enjoying attacks down the wings. At the other end, the Reds had their appeals for a penalty waved away when Racheal Dunlop was upended in the area.
With time running out, Howarth’s side pressed to kill their opponents off and they came close through Vicky Lomas, who managed to skip away from a challenge before curling her effort wide.
Middleton were denied a dramatic equaliser right at the death, when a promising counter attack resulted in Carter producing a low cross that was bravely collected by the goalkeeper at the feet of the onrushing Chelsea Cook.
Ultimately, however, Middleton fell short as City Of Manchester Ladies hung on to clinch a second successive Robinson's Brewery Women's Cup.