The FA Women's Premier League Cup
Eni double sinks Gunners
Arsenal 1-2 Charlton Athletic
The FA Nationwide Women's Premier League Cup
Monday 6 March 2006
Wycombe Wanderers FC
Eni Aluko's astonishing rise in women's football continued when she fired Charlton to victory in The FA Women's Premier League Cup Final on Sunday.
The teenager, who celebrated her 19th birthday less than two weeks before The Final, netted twice as Charlton overcame arch-rivals Arsenal in front of a record crowd.
While Arsenal may have created a hatful of chances, Aluko - a columnist for TheFA.com - needed just two to seal the trophy for Charlton.
Rightfully awarded the player of the match award, the Charlton forward scored the only goal of the game to help her side lift The FA Women's Cup last season.
She also featured in Euro 2005 and has since established herself as an England regular - quite a 12 months.
On an occasionally sunny but brisk afternoon at Wycombe's Causeway Stadium, there was little to separate the country's two best sides during the opening exchanges.
Arsenal named Faye White in the starting eleven after the England captain recovered from an ankle injury, and the centre-half had to keep an eye on Charlton livewire Aluko.
The sprightly teenager, whose speed was a constant threat, gave Arsenal an early warning when she ghosted her way through the Arsenal defence in the third minute but fired over the bar.
Arsenal responded with a bout of pressure and were only denied the lead due to a combination of some wayward finishing and desperate defending.
Kelly Smith, whose twinkle toes mesmerised the 3,506 strong crowd, looked certain to score moments later until Katie Chapman's last-ditch tackle snuffed out the chance.
The Gunners continued to attack, with the excellent Smith at the heart of Arsenal's best moves.
Arsenal forward Lianne Sanderson, whose pristine white boots were the only thing that matched Smith's dazzling footwork, sent Jayne Ludlow clear on 16 minutes. But, with the goal at her mercy, the Welsh captain drilled horribly over the bar, much to the relief of the exposed Pauline Cope.
Arsenal pressed on with Rachel Yankey shooting over and Julie Fleeting seemingly set to score, only for the diminutive Charlton left-back Michelle Hickmott to throw herself at her opponent to block the shot.
However, despite Arsenal being on top, it was Charlton who took the lead in the 28th minute with a sucker-punch Joe Calzaghe would have been proud of. Casey Stoney punted a long ball down the middle to Aluko who beat the defence before clinically lobbing the onrushing Emma Byrne in the Arsenal goal.
Stung by the goal, Arsenal flooded forward in search of an instant response. Cope, relatively untroubled despite Arsenal's dominance, was forced into two saves in quick succession.
The first, on 37 minutes, was a comfortable parry at the near post from Fleeting but the second, just a minute later, was a spectacular one handed save, flinging herself to her right to claw Sanderson's shot wide.
With the shivering crowd turning their attention to a much needed half-time tea, Aluko chose a wonderful moment to score her second.
Sarah-Jane Snare caught Alex Scott dilly-dallying on the ball before sending Akulo clear. With just Byrne to beat, the England international shot across the Arsenal keeper and just inside the far post to send Charlton into the half-time break the happier of the two sides.
Charlton almost made the game safe moments after the restart when Amanda Barr volleyed Jo Potter's deep cross inches wide of the far post.
Addicks skipper Stoney then launched a long-range effort which drifted over the bar.
Much like the first half, Arsenal continued to dominate without finding a way past Cope in the Charlton goal.
Fleeting almost pulled a goal back in the 67th minute but Cope reacted excellently to stop her downward header. The off colour Rachel Yankey looked set to knock in the rebound but the Charlton keeper bravely gathered the loose ball.
Ludlow then fired an excellent chance wide two minutes later and Smith jinked her way into the box moments later only to prod a soft shot goalwards, which Cope parried wide.
Just as it seemed Arsenal would never find a way through, Anita Asante and Ludlow joined forces to send Fleeting clear. The finish, for once, was emphatic with Cope given little chance to save a drilled shot from ten yards.
Arsenal pressed for a winner but Charlton hung on, surviving a late shout for a penalty when Fleeting fell in the box to lift the first silverware of the season.
E Byrne, R Yankey (C Grant 77), Y Tracy, J Ludlow, M Phillip, F White, A Asante, K Smith, L Sanderson, J Fleeting, A Scott
P Cope, C Stoney, M Hickmott, M Bertelli, K HIlls, K Chapman, S Snare, E Pond, E Aluko (Hincks 83), A Barr, J Potter
Referee Mr P Forrester