Dan Turner’s well-struck free-kick was only enough for Everton to share the points with Birmingham City in a frustrating 1-1 WSL draw at Walton Park Hall.
Captain Turner put the Blues ahead on 22 minutes with a pinpoint 18-yard set-piece. But, having seized the advantage, Jamie-Lee Napier’s penalty just after the half-hour mark restored parity for the visitors.
And despite piling on the pressure for much of the contest, Everton could not muster a winner to keep up pressure on the WSL’s top four.
Willie Kirk’s side were looking to bounce back from their defeat against Manchester United and close the gap on fourth-placed Arsenal, in this rearranged fixture from January.
The Blues looked on course for victory when Turner opened the scoring midway inside the first half with a well-placed free-kick from the edge of the area after a hard-fought start to the match
Birmingham responded shortly after and they were awarded a penalty for a handball inside the Everton penalty area. Goalkeeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela saved the spot-kick low down to her right, but Napier was there to follow it up and pull the scores level.
The Toffees were handed a huge boost before kick-off with defender Gabby George returning to the matchday squad – after almost a year out with an ACL injury – while manager Kirk handed Academy graduate Grace Clinton her first WSL start.
It was a slow start to proceedings at Walton Park Hall and it took 12 minutes for the visitors to create the first presentable opportunity of the match.
Napier proved sharp to nip in at the near post to meet a fizzing low cross but her scuffed flick was denied at point-blank range by Finnish shot-stopper Korpela – who was making her first appearance of the season in place of Sandy MacIver.
Everton took the lead in the 22nd minute when Blues skipper Turner stepped up to curl a free-kick through a melee of bodies into the bottom corner from the edge of the Birmingham penalty area, leaving goalkeeper Hannah Hampton rooted to the spot.
The visitors were offered a way back into the game when the referee awarded a controversial spot-kick for a handball inside the Blues penalty area. Korpela did superbly to repel the initial penalty from ex-Everton forward Claudia Walker, but Napier was quick off the mark to meet the rebound and poke it home.
Alisha Lehmann – introduced as a half-time substitute – almost made an instant impact early in the second half when she drilled a low cross towards Valerie Gauvin at the near post, the French international couldn’t quite make the desired contact.
Ingrid Moe Wold picked out Clinton with a looping cross from the right but the youngster’s powerful header was straight at Hampton.
Turner had another free-kick opportunity with 20 minutes remaining, drilling the free-kick straight into the Birmingham wall this time.
The Toffees came agonisingly close to snatching all three points in the dying stages of the game following a scrappy corner but Megan Finnigan’s header looped onto the crossbar and behind.
The Blues are back in action next Sunday when they travel to the Madejski Stadium to take on Reading (2 pm kick-off).