No FA Cup joy for minnows as WSL heavyweights underline dominance

Tammi George of Wolverhampton Wanderers (L) is challenged by Vicky Losada of Brighton & Hove Albion Women during the Adobe Women's FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers Women and Brighton & Hove Albion Women at New Bucks Head Stadium on February 11, 2024 in Telford, England
Wolves gave Brighton everything they could handle - Getty Images/Jack Thomas

Wolves 1 Brighton 4

In the modern era, the words ‘huge upset’ and ‘Women’s FA Cup’ go together as well as chalk and cheese. Since the Women’s Super League’s inception in 2011, not a single top-flight side has been knocked out of the cup by any club plying their trade below the second tier of the pyramid.

For any neutrals hoping that wait for a first major ‘giant-killing’ of a WSL side might finally come to an end on Sunday, there were two eye-catching ties on the fixture list: Third-tier Wolves hosting managerless WSL strugglers Brighton, and third-tier Nottingham Forest hosting a top-flight Everton side, who are enduring something of an injury crisis.

At New Bucks Head in Telford, a crowd of 1,812 – Wolves’ largest ever at that ground – turned up yearning for a shock win and, for 88 minutes, their dream looked highly plausible. The part-time side, despite losing their captain Anna Morphet to a knock suffered during the warm-up, caused Brighton plenty of problems in the first half and had the better chances before England’s Katie Robinson tucked Brighton into a 1-0 half-time lead.

Amid strong performances from several of the part-timers’ squad, including lively striker and special needs teacher Amber Hughes, the underdogs levelled from the penalty spot through left wing-back Beth Merrick’s well-taken spot-kick. But, as extra time loomed, Brighton produced a late surge and a hat-trick from an unlikely source. Emma Kullberg had never previously scored for the Sussex club but, in the space of eight minutes, between the 88th and 96th, she suddenly had a hat-trick. The Sweden international’s well-timed runs into the box rapidly helped turn a tight contest into a 4-1 victory.

A proud Wolves manager Dan McNamara, who praised “classy” Brighton for their finishing late on, told Telegraph Sport: “The players executed the gameplan to perfection today, they were amazing. It’s just a shame that people who aren’t here will see that scoreline and probably think ‘well, what was meant to happen has happened’, but we were minutes away from deservedly going to extra time.”

It was a first win in three games so far as interim Brighton head coach for Mikey Harris, whose side were beaten in extra time in the quarter-finals of the League Cup by Aston Villa on Wednesday. He said: “It’s been a whirlwind week but I couldn’t have asked any more from those girls, from the staff. Full credit to Wolves, they made it a really, really difficult game. It was a typical FA Cup tie.”

Everton also avoided a banana skin, eventually coasting to a 7-1 win at Nottingham Forest. Cementing the WSL’s dominance in this competition, Monday’s draw for the quarter-finals will be an all-WSL affair.

Everton's Hanna Bennison scores their side's seventh goal of the game during the Adobe WFA Cup fifth round match at Grange Park, Nottingham
Everton had simply too much class for Nottingham Forest - PA/Mike Egerton

Adding to Leicester and Tottenham’s victories at home to Championship opposition on Saturday, and following Arsenal’s win over rivals Manchester City on Sunday lunchtime, the rest of Sunday afternoon’s fifth-round ties all went the way of the favourites.

Manchester United and Liverpool both won by two-goal margins away at Championship side Southampton and London City Lionesses respectively, while holders Chelsea edged past second-tier Crystal Palace 1-0 thanks to a first goal for the club from Mayra Ramirez. The Colombia striker, who joined Chelsea in a world-record transfer from Levante in January, skilfully flicked in the winner with nine minutes remaining to keep Emma Hayes’ side in the hunt for a potential quadruple of major honours this season.