Birmingham City: Championship side eye FA Women’s Cup semi-final amid rebuilding after WSL relegation

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A 61st-minute goal from Jade Pennock (centre) saw Birmingham beat WSL side Everton in the FA Cup

Surprises have been few in the FA Women’s Cup this season. Only one WSL team has ever been knocked out by a team from a lower division.

That happened when Birmingham City beat Everton in the fourth round, and Darren Carter’s side will try to repeat the trick on Sunday when they host Brighton in the quarter-final.

“We can have great confidence in our performance in that game,” Carter told BBC Sport.

“They were a fit team and we implemented our game very well, we stopped them and we capitalized on the moments we had.

“If you can show that against good teams, it means you know you can reach those levels. If we do that, we have a chance.”

Jade Pennock scored the winner against Everton in late January and said that result has given Birmingham the belief they can make it to the final four.

“It was huge for us,” he said. “It will give us confidence to know that we are capable. No matter the opposition, we have a chance.”

An FA Cup run has provided a welcome boost for Birmingham after some difficult seasons, the nadir coming with relegation last season after 11 years in the WSL, of which they were founder members.

Players publicly protested issues related to facilities and resources, while a lack of investment and board support led to three management changes in 12 months.

The latest managerial change saw former Birmingham men’s midfielder Carter installed in December 2021, initially as a caretaker and then on a full-time basis.

Carter was retained after relegation and acknowledged that a lot of work will be needed to return to the WSL.

‘Our Achilles heel has been constancy’

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Darren Carter played in the Premier League for Birmingham and West Brom

“I could see a lot needed to change, there was a narrative around the team, a lot of negativity,” Carter said.

“Going down made some people realize that a rebuild was needed. As soon as I got the green light to continue, it was about putting the team back on the successes of past seasons.”

“Women’s football is growing, so we also have to move with the times.”

A number of players, such as Pennock, were convinced to stay and fight for Birmingham’s return to the top flight, while others, such as Wales international midfielder Charlie Estcourt, were brought in to bolster the team.

Estcourt told BBC Sport: “We all know it’s a rebuilding year, to put ourselves in the best position for promotion.

“The demands are different, so it’s a learning curve to build for next season. We can target promotion next season as this year is out of our hands.”

“The FA Cup has given us a lot of confidence as a team, it shows what we can do if we find consistency.”

The lack of consistency has dashed Birmingham’s hopes of an immediate return to the top flight. Eight league wins have been diluted into five losses, leaving them 13 points behind leaders Bristol City in the only promotion place in the Championship with seven games remaining.

“Our Achilles heel has been consistency,” Carter added. “We’ve had some great performances, but we’ve left a lot to do in the league.

“We have grown as a team this year and we have learned a lot. We have dominated the ball a lot, which we didn’t do in the WSL, but that comes with teething problems.

“It is a process and you have to suffer a bit, but we have grown.”

‘I haven’t won both at the same time before!’

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Charlie Estcourt was signed by Carter last summer as Birmingham attempts to return to the WSL

The FA Cup has provided something of a balm for Birmingham as they aim to repeat the heroics of 2012 when they beat Chelsea on penalties at Ashton Gate.

The details of that match represent a stark reminder of how women’s football was treated until very recently. Broadcasters Sky Sports moved the shootout to their red button service so as not to disrupt scheduled programming, while The Risk, a boy band who had finished tenth on the most recent series of The X Factor, provided entertainment in between. time.

However, there are some links to that game that Birmingham treasures. Jo Potter, a key player in the cup-winning team, is now Carter’s assistant manager.

“She’s someone who was there, did that, got the jersey,” Carter said of his number two.

“To have Jo there, when she speaks, the players listen, she has their greatest respect.

“She has shared memories of the day and the lasting memories it brings you. Players can see how special it was through her.”

Estcourt agrees that Potter helps provide additional motivation.

“This club has history in the FA Cup, we are aware of that success in the past, that gives us extra motivation,” Estcourt said.

“It’s great to have her (Potter) and her experience to learn from dealing with bigger matches.”

As the current generation searches for Birmingham heroes, they may be looking to Pennock, who was named Championship Player of the Month and also a Goal of the Month winner for March on Friday.

“I haven’t won both at the same time before!” she said. “It increases my confidence, I just want to help the team the best I can.

“At the start of the season, we set targets of what we wanted to achieve. Going far in the FA Cup is one of them.”


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