By Liz Owen
Villa Ladies were defeated 2-0 in the Continental Cup's Second City derby, succumbing to a resilient and threatening Birmingham City Ladies side.
A much-improved second half display was evident, but Villa's young team again conceded two early goals as Hannah Keryakoplis and Jade Moore ensured the Blues came away with a comfortable victory in front of a crowd of 602.
Katy Moran and Maddy Cusack returned to the starting line-up in place of Livy Fergusson and Alicia Robinson as Villa kicked off with two alterations made to the team which lost 2-1 to Yeovil Town Ladies.
But Birmingham had taken the lead after just seven minutes as Villa's achilles heel came back to haunt them once more.
A high through ball from full-back Chelsea Weston located Keryakoplis who was making a surging run through the centre, and the striker made no mistake from close range as she calmly slotted past Villa 'keeper Caitlin Leach.
And Blues doubled their advantage in emphatic fashion eight minutes later as Moore fired a scorching effort past a full-stretch Leach.
The midfielder took full advantage of Dani Petrovic's misplaced pass and her sweet strike nestled comfortably in the top right-hand corner from 25 yards out.
It had certainly been coming for Birmingham, as Karen Carney had attacked the post just two minutes earlier with a similar long-range cracker, with Blues demonstrating exactly why their side were Champions League contenders less than a month ago.
The visitors attacked from the off and for the majority of the first half exerted a steady amount of pressure on to Villa's defence and came close through Carney, Keryakoplis and Moore early on.
A flurry of bookings for Chloe Jones, Sherry McCue and Carly Davies exposed Villa's frustration as they were initially restricted to lone counter-attacks through Sarah Mayling, who was surrounded by blue shirts every time she made a run forward.
Gradually, though, the hosts began to respond and Mayling forced Rebecca Spencer into a clumsy catch with her free-kick after 34 minutes.
Carney caught the side netting as she tried to capitalise on a swift right-sided attack but, as the interval approached, the game's high tempo began to fade.
As has been the case for the majority of Villa's fixtures so far, the girls responded well in the second half and, although Blues continued to look dangerous, Ron Mellor's side performed resolutely to contain them.
The visitors withdrew Carney and Jo Potter at half-time as Kirsty Linnett and Emily Westwood entered the fray - and the former almost made an immediate impact as Leach saved well from one of many goalmouth scrambles.
Seventeen-year-old Leach showed maturity beyond her years with a commanding display and made some important stops, including a smart save from Keryakoplis at her near post on the hour mark.
But only the post could save her from conceding a third when Linnett's ball control put her one-on-one with the 'keeper, only for her close-range effort to clatter back off the inside of the woodwork.
Villa grew in confidence as the game went on but still appeared to lack some self-belief up front, with Davies opting to send a soft shot wide as blue shirts bore down on her after she found space on the right.
Robinson, Fergusson and Tasha Baptiste all came off the bench in place of Jones, Cusack and Davies respectively to give Villa's forward line a bit of a spark.
Baptiste netted a hat-trick for the development side in their Blues derby last week and although it was rather optimistic to hope for more of the same again, she showed great potential in her 12 minutes on the pitch.
Late opportunities from final Blues substitute Katie Wilkinson were thwarted as Villa stood firm to ensure that the second half finished goalless.
It's certainly been a difficult beginning to the season for the girls but a more assured and adventurous display in the second half was encouraging ahead of Saturday's trip to Yeovil Town Ladies in the FA Women's Super League 2.
Villa Ladies: Leach, Vaughan, Walker, McCue, Petrovic (c), Richards, Mayling, Moran, Davies (Baptiste, 78), Jones (Robinson, 63), Cusack (Fergusson, 73) Subs not used: Courtney, Merrick, Baker, Stringer.
Birmingham City Ladies: Spencer, Weston, Mannion, Harrop, Carter, Moore, Potter (Westwood, 45), Carney (c) (Linnett, 45), Allen, Lawley, Keryakoplis (Wilkinson, 68) Subs not used: Sargeant, Simpkins, Baggaley, Torkildsen.
Follow Villa Ladies on Twitter.