Gauvin seals Everton win over Birmingham in Women’s FA Cup semi-final

Gauvin seals Everton win over Birmingham in Women’s FA Cup semi-final

The France striker Valérie Gauvin scored her third goal in four games to help Everton to a 3-0 win against a shattered Birmingham and send the Toffees to their first FA Cup final since 2014.

Despite many predictions of an Everton whitewash, the home team held off the former’s high press before Northern Ireland Simone Magill’s struck before the close of the half and Nicoline Sørensen’s sucker punch on the hour at a rain-soaked Damson Park. Gauvin, signed from Montpellier in the summer, extended the score late on after coming off the bench.

The Birmingham manager, Carla Ward, had used the expectation of an almost guaranteed place in the final for Everton as fuel for her exhausted side, who came through 120 minutes and penalties just three days before.

“There’s some quotes I’ve got printed out ready to go on the changing room wall,” she had said in the match build-up. “Maybe I don’t need to say too much if the girls read them, which they will. So it’s good that we’re written off because it means those people don’t believe in what we are doing.” Unfortunately for the 36-year-old, her overstretched squad, pieced together after her arrival two weeks before the season began, struggled with heavy legs almost from the off and the bar spared their early blushes, as Rikke Sevecke’s instinctive flick hit the woodwork.

There were two changes to Birmingham’s starting XI from Sunday’s gruelling quarter-final with Brighton. Forward Abbi Grant dropped to the bench, before coming on as a sub in the second half, while defender Georgia Brougham, who scored the winning penalty on Sunday, was ineligible to play against her parent club.

Everton manager Willie Kirk had said it was written into her contract and was also to “protect the player” from doing any damage to her former and future teammates.

With more experienced players to call upon, Kirk was able to preserve Gauvin and Australia’s Hayley Raso, who provided the cross for the former’s winner in their shock defeat of Chelsea on the weekend.

It was somewhat inevitable then that while Birmingham marshalled their lines well, sometimes having five or six drop into line at the back, Everton’s relentless pressure would eventually prove fruitful.

With half-time approaching, the visiting team broke from a Birmingham throw deep in their own half and the England midfielder Izzy Christiansen, who artfully pulled the strings for the Toffees in the middle, flicked a delicate pass in behind for Magill to sweep powerfully home.

In the second half, despite the exhaustion, the home team tried to claw their way back into the tie with the same fight they showed on Sunday where they came good on penalties after twice giving away the lead.

That, though, left gaps. And Norwegian right-back Ingrid Moe Wold’s cross to the far post was easy for Dane Sørensen to side foot in. Late on, Guavin raced through one on one and calmly slotted past Hannah Hampton.

The victory means Kirk’s ambition to reach Wembley, set a year ago, has been realised. It perhaps justifies the FA’s decision to conclude this tournament and reward the hard work of teams that was done before the pandemic with a shot at silverware.

Everton have reached the final on 1 November, beating three fellow Women’s Super League teams including the league champions Chelsea.

“We want it to be like that, I think everybody wants it to be like that,” said Kirk of his side’s ambition to challenge at the top end of the WSL this season.

“It only makes for a better league, a better WSL, better domestic competition. “We’re not shouting that we’re going to replace the top three but we definitely want people to talk about a top four or a top five, and there will be a number of other clubs as well who will be staking a claim for that.”