Albion suffered a defeat in their Barclays Women’s Super League opener against Arsenal after playing with ten players for most of the game at Meadow Park.
With what was already going to be a tough task against last season's runners-up, we were without four senior players through injury or illness and the evening was made even harder when defender Emma Kullberg was shown a straight red card after just six minutes for bringing down Stina Blackstenius.
Albion made themselves hard to break down and had two good chances on the counter-attack when it was only 1-0 but goals from Kim Little, Blackstenius and two by Beth Mead made it an ultimately comfortable night for the Gunners.
Albion were without four players – Rebekah Stott, Meg Connolly, Maisie Symonds and Danielle Carter – so under-21s Lulu Jarvis and Chelsea Ferguson, who have been training with the squad during pre-season stepped up to the bench. Four players – Jorja Fox, Poppy Pattinson, Vea Sarri and Elisabeth Terland – made their Albion debuts.
In contrast, all but one of Arsenal’s nine subs is a full international and the other has played in the Champions League.
Kayleigh Green, who has played at the back earlier in her career, lined up as one of our three central defenders with Fox and Pattinson operating as wing backs.
Albion had to re-organise after just six minutes when Kullberg was shown a straight red for bringing down Blackstenius, who had beaten Albion’s offside trap and was in on goal. Replays showed she was offside, but the flag stayed down and Albion were down to ten players.
Albion settled into a compact 4-4-1 formation and were quite content to let Arsenal have the ball and get players behind it when danger threatened.
Caitlin Foord fired wide from a good position before Meg Walsh stood tall to block her powerful shot after she’d cut in from the right and Albion were soaking up a lot of pressure, but they nearly shocked the home crowd with a goal on the counter when Elisabeth Terland fired inches wide with her left foot after a terrific break down the left by Geummin Lee, who then picked out the Norway striker with her cross.
It was a warning to the home side but they began to press again before breaking the deadlock in the 28th minute when skipper Little created a yard of space inside the box to drill a low shot into the bottom left-hand corner after Foord pulled the ball back from the line.
Blackstenius rattled the bar from the edge of the box four minutes later with Vivianne Miedema heading the rebound wide and in stoppage time Walsh made a terrific save to tip Lia Walti’s strike over the bar.
Katie Robinson replaced Libby Bance at the break and the substitute was involved straight away when she was found by Terland on the right-hand side and her shot was parried by keeper Manuela Zinsberger. Robinson was quickest to the loose ball and Rafaelle Souza hacked her cross to safety.
But for the second time in the contest Arsenal scored just after they nearly conceded. Beth Mead’s pass found Blackstenius just inside the box and she lashed her shot into the top corner, giving Walsh no chance.
Arsenal got a third on 62 minutes when Miedema found Mead inside the box and she swept a low right-foot shot into the bottom corner.
The game was gone but Albion continued to dig deep. They were saved by the woodwork for the second time with ten minutes to go when substitute Jordan Nobbs hit the bar but with ten minutes to go Mead got her second after Walsh pulled off a terrific save to deny Nobbs. Arsenal had other opportunities to embellish the scoreline but that would have been harsh on the visitors, who never stopped working.
Albion: Walsh, Fox, Williams, Green, Kullberg, Pattinson; Sarri, Lee, Zigiotti (Ferguson 85), Bance (Robinson 45); Terland.
Subs: Startup, Park, Jarvis.
Referee: Lisa Benn.