Manchester City Women boss Nick Cushing expressed his pride in his players after they edged out Arsenal Women on penalties to win the Continental Cup final at Bramall Lane.
Cushing’s team defeated the Gunners 4-2 in the shoot-out – which saw City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley make two saves – following a 0-0 draw over 120 minutes.
Winning the competition for a third time, they gained revenge for their 1-0 loss to Arsenal in the final last term, a season they ended trophyless.
City created a considerable number of chances during Saturday’s contest and twice hit the bar before the match went into extra time, through Nikita Parris and substitute Janine Beckie.
Cushing said afterwards: “I was starting to think it was going to be one that got away.
“We just didn’t put the ball away and if you don’t you’ll draw games.
“We know there’s areas we can improve, but the mentality of the group today and their application in making sure they got themselves into a winning position I thought was excellent.
“Today I think we’re proud because the last six months, eight months, we’ve put in an incredible amount of work.
“It’s been a squad effort and to win the first trophy available after not winning anything last year shows the strength and the character of the group.”
Things did not look good for City – who have gone unbeaten domestically since May – in the shoot-out when Arsenal’s Sari Van Veenendaal saved Lauren Hemp’s penalty.
But Bardsley saved the next spot-kick, from Leah Williamson, to keep the score at 1-1, then kept out Danielle Van De Donk’s effort with City 2-1 up. City captain Steph Houghton and substitute Janine Beckie subsequently made no mistake.
Cushing said there had not been a “structured penalty session” in training in the build-up to the game, before adding: “I know KB (Bardsley) practised a lot of penalties at the end of yesterday’s session.
“I think between her and our goalkeeping coach Chris Williams, they nailed it today, because they had all the information on the players.
“KB shows her strength of character, her ability to be a big keeper in big moments. She’s an incredible goalkeeper and an incredible person.”
Cushing – whose side are currently two points clear of second-placed Arsenal in the Women’s Super League, having played two games more, and still in the Women’s FA Cup – was asked if this triumph would have any bearing on the rest of the season.
He said: “It will galvanize us, it gives us more confidence, it makes players who have never won trophies with Manchester City see what we’re about.”
Injury-hit Arsenal, five-time Continental Cup winners, had only five players on the bench, with the most notable among them top-scorer Vivianne Miedema, having dropped out of the starting line-up.
Boss Joe Montemurro said of Miedema, who came on in the 69th minute: “Viv didn’t recover entirely from the game on Wednesday (the WSL win against Yeovil).
“She was still feeling a little bit of fatigue and there were some areas which we felt that if she went through the whole 90 minutes we could put her at risk. So we had to make a decision.”
Montemurro said “City created the chances and we played probably a little bit in an un-Arsenal way” but stressed how proud he was of his team.