FA Women’s Super League: Week 9 Review

United stay top with a Galton masterclass; City’s late, late show pips Arsenal; Morgan on the spot again as Spurs grind out back-to-back victories; West Ham and Aston Villa both hit Bristol City for four; Chelsea’s Sam Kerr on target; Everton and Birmingham… er… didn’t get to play because it rained. A LOT. It must be week 9 of the FA Women’s Super League…

Bristol City 0-4 Aston Villa

“There’s a feeling of immense satisfaction. We rose to the occasion. We performed. Ultimately, we’ve executed the plan. We’ve scored four very good goals, we’ve kept a clean sheet, and we’re walking away with three points. The growth [of the team] has been particularly evident over recent weeks. The second goal that [Shania Hayles] scored was an insane angle but that’s the quality that she has.”

Gemma Davies, Aston Villa Manager, via avfc.co.uk

Week nine began with a week five COVID-catch-up game between Bristol City and Aston Villa. Dubbed the ‘battle of the basement brigade’ by one on-line wag it would be Villa that came out on top – climbing four points clear of the league’s single relegation berth and leaving the Vixens firmly ensconced in it.

Ramona Petzelberger and player of the match Shania Hayles grabbed a brace each as Villa delivered their most complete 90 minutes of the season.

Petzelberger opened the scoring three minutes before half time when the Vixens were caught over-playing in their defensive third. Emma Follis robbed a defender on the left wing and crossed to the far post where the German midfielder was arriving.

Bristol City went close to an equalizer in the second period but Villa’s Asmita Ale somehow turned Charlie Wellings’ effort off the goal line with Lisa Weiß beaten.

Hayles took charge of the match scoring from an impossible angle in the 57th minute and then set up Petzelberger ten minutes later for a near-carbon copy of her first half finish.

Hayles’ second goal capped a great performance, driving left footed past keeper Sophie Baggaley with a quarter of an hour left and propelling the Villans above Tottenham Hotspur in the WSL table on goal difference.

In recent weeks Bristol City had started to look like they’d finally found their feet on the back of two hard fought draws, but this result is a big setback for their WSL survival hopes. Life at their new Twerton Park ground has not started well at all with Villa the third team to visit and blow them out by four goals to nil.

For the West Midlanders it’s a massive (and timely) result. They more than doubled their goal tally in this match and have put some all-important contingency between them and the drop zone.

Brighton 0-1 Chelsea

Sam Kerr: Sorry, but not even one of the world’s best strikers can style that kit out…

On to the Sunday schedule and Brighton put up some dogged resistance against current Champions Chelsea, but Sam Kerr’s 21st minute strike was enough to seal the points for Emma Hayes’ side.

After last weekend’s defeat at Tottenham, Brighton manager Hope Powell dropped keeper Megan Walsh out of the firing line for Cecilie Fiskerstrand. And the 24 year-old Norwegian had a solid game, making first half saves from Erin Cuthbert and Pernille Harder.

But there was nothing she could do about the eventual winner. Harder, working the left wing, got to the by-line and crossed from a seemingly impossible angle. Kerr stole a yard on her marker and glanced the ball into the far corner.

What amounted to ‘normal service’ resumed in the second half with Chelsea pushing on to find a killer second clad in surely one of the worst away kits ever conceived. Salmon and royal blue?!! No… just no…

Fiskerstrand was again in good form to deny Kerr from close range and, later, was well positioned to fall on Fran Kirby’s cross/shot from the right.

The Seagulls didn’t offer too much threat going forward, with zero shots on target according to the BBC’s match stats. But midfielder Inessa Kaagman did have Chelsea hearts in mouths when she hit the cross bar with a neat turn and shot from the edge of the box in the second period.

Brighton have proved to be obstinate opponents for a number of teams this season, but the Blues with their Galactico-style strike force – driven by Ji So-yun and Pernille Harder – always looked like they could find extra gears if needed to get the result.

Seagulls manager Hope Powell was left to mull over what might have been but, in general, seems pretty happy with the way her players are stepping up week to week.

Reading 0-1 Manchester United

“We can only take it one game at a time. It sounds very cliché but we can. It wasn’t our best performance. It’s what we call an ugly win. But a win is a win, and it keeps us in and around the top three which is where we want to be. There are small error margins and need to find a way to win. Proud that the players have done that today.”

Casey Stoney, Manchester United Manager, via manchestereveningnews.co.uk

Manchester United left it late to get their winner against a feisty and physical Reading side who looked the Red Devils’ equal for much of the game.

Hayley Ladd headed home from close range on 85 minutes after Tobin Heath’s corner ricocheted off Reading’s Natasha Harding in a crowded six yard box.

In a cagey first half-hour the teams traded few chances. Jess Fishlock’s half-volley for the hosts cleared the cross bar before United’s Kirsty Hanson sliced wide following some Heath trickery.

Player of the match Leah Galton opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, finishing off a devastating counter-attack down the left involving Jackie Gronen, Heath and Ladd – the latter of whom threaded a perfectly weighted pass to Galton in stride. The winger ran into the penalty box unopposed and committed keeper Grace Moloney to guess wrong before firing inside the near post.

Less than thirty seconds earlier, the Royals had had a half-shout for a penalty when Emma Harries – making her first start for Reading – felt she’d been brought down by Amy Turner.

United had a couple of good penalty shouts themselves, with Kristine Bjørdal Leine the chief perpetrator in a blue and white hooped shirt. The Norwegian struggled all afternoon at right back and, frankly, was very lucky to make it to full time after getting away with a couple of agricultural challenges in the second half on dual tormentors Hanson and Galton.

By this point Reading had equalized. They’d made a bright start to the second period and fashioned an early half chance for Harding. But it would be international veterans Fara Williams and Jess Fishlock that got them on the board in the 56th minute via a bizarre deflection off Millie Turner.

Royals’ central defender Deanna Cooper then found her way in behind the United backline from a Williams free-kick but ballooned the ball over from a very tight angle when hooking it back across goal for Amelie Eikeland seemed a better bet.

The game moved fluidly from end to end without a quality final ball of note until Ladd arrived in all sorts of space to finish off Heath’s driven corner from the left.

Reading boss Kelly Chambers seemed limited in terms of her options from the bench. Nonetheless with Hanson and Galton both tormenting Leine for the duration, it was mystifying why she left her out there teetering on the brink of a red card from the 18th minute onwards. Chambers also chose not to bring Danielle Carter into the fray – a player that perhaps could have given Reading more edge up front as United’s legs began to tire. That said young Harries did well, looking quick, physical and fearless.

United fans may look at this display and feel that it was a bit below par against the standards that November Manager of the Month Casey Stoney has demanded up to this point. But serving up top drawer performances and / or dazzling moments of inspiration every week is extremely tough in the WSL. United primarily need those against each of the title contenders – which they have delivered up to this point.

The rest of the calendar amounts to either battling complacency or grinding it out. This match was a grind and they came through it with three points – which is better than the one point that they got in the same fixture last year.

Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal

“That was my first goal this season. I’ve been waiting a while. To be fair, I don’t remember too much about it! It fell right to me, I took a touch and saw a gap, and focused on hitting the target. Fortunately, it went in and we got the three points. My role is to help the team and it was nice to do that. To go 1-0 down after five minutes wasn’t ideal but we stuck to what we know – the game plan. The quality of the squad is there so it’s not about panicking. You have to keep your head in the game.”

Caroline Weir, Manchester City, via mancity.com

If you thought United left it late to win, get a load of how much later Manchester City left it at the Academy Stadium, trumping their cross city rivals to beat Arsenal in the 4th minute of stoppage time with a Caroline Weir special.

The Scot was quickest to respond after Georgia Stanway’s intial effort was blocked and drilled low past Lydia Williams from 20-yards, sparking frenzied on-field celebrations.

Needless use of away strip for (presumably) commercial purposes has long been a bugbear of kit ‘purists’, so the sight of Arsenal lining up for kick-off in white shirts and maroon shorts against City’s traditional sky blue may not have endeared Joe Montemurro’s team to some neutrals – like me.

Nevertheless, the Gunners started with real purpose. Dutch hot-shot Vivianne Miedema gave them a third minute lead lashing in from the edge of the box after City midfielder Kiera Walsh squandered possession.

But Arsenal couldn’t press home their early advantage and the hosts predictably found their way into the contest.

On the half-hour City levelled when Sam Mewis was in just the right place to power home a header from Chloe Kelly’s fiercely dipping corner.

The home side looked markedly better than the North Londoners in the second half and it just seemed a matter of time before they scored again.

Weir, who is in sensational form presently, tried an audacious 40-yard chip over Lydia Williams after the keeper got her clearance all wrong. Then the Gunners found themselves at panic station central from one of the 25-year old’s trademark in swinging corners – just about clearing their lines before City Captain Steph Houghton could get a clean shot away amidst all the goalmouth scramblers.

Into the dying embers of the game it was all City. Arsenal needed to keep their concentration and do the basics right, but couldn’t clear their lines. Stanway robbed Lisa Evans and fired goal wards – hitting team mate Ellen White – before the ball broke to Weir and she sealed the three points.

Arsenal are struggling to get results against their title rivals this season, picking up just one point from league fixtures against City, United and Chelsea to date.  These are the games that tend to decide where the title ends up in the WSL and Arsenal currently look light on the mental fortitude required to finish as champions.

But perhaps more concerning for Montemurro, despite being sat third in a division where there are now three Champions League places up for grabs, his side by no means look guaranteed of securing that berth.

City, meanwhile, have been on a steady run since their 2019 FA Cup triumph at the beginning of November. Only league leaders Manchester United have been good enough to hold them and, even in that game, Gareth Taylor’s charges looked dominant for long periods. Clearly they’d prefer to have more points on the board, but they’re back in the mix just one point behind the Gunners, with plenty of squad depth and looking like a group that is finally finding its groove.

Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Aston Villa

“I think we’re getting better at working off Alex and I think the more time we get, in terms of training and working around her and the more time she’s on the pitch – that will keep improving. She’s obviously getting sharper with every game and we’re now playing to her strengths, for sure.”  

Rehanne Skinner, Spurs Manager, via football.london

Tottenham Hotspur made it two wins in two for new boss Rehanne Skinner with a comfortable 3-1 victory over WSL newbies Aston Villa at the Hive.

American striker Alex Morgan played a part in both first half goals. She won and scored the penalty to put Spurs in front on 13 minutes, before providing a wicked cross from the left that Caroline Siems could only turn into her own net nine minutes before the break.

Sandwiched between the two home strikes Nadine Hanssen scored the pick of the goals for Aston Villa. Spurs defender Shelina Zadorsky got her pass into midfield all wrong, Hanssen anticipated it and clipped a first time shot over Becky Spencer from 30-yards.

Tottenham took the game away from their visitors in the second period. Good work from in-form Angela Addison on the right led to a cross that the Villa back-line couldn’t deal with and Rosella Ayane drove the ball in off Natalie Haigh to leave keeper Lisa Weiß stranded.

Villa boss Gemma Davies had introduced substitute Diana Silva at the interval and, although the Portuguese winger took some time to get going, she exerted more of an influence as the half wore on. She set up Jodie Hutton who volleyed over from point blank range before having a strike herself that rattled the crossbar in the final minutes.

Spurs have put together back to back WSL wins for the first time since they arrived last season and are unbeaten in five (all competitions). With forwards Morgan and Addison hitting a rich vein of form recently they’ve been able to turn draws against opponents of a similar standard into wins. But defensively they need to be better. No clean sheets in the league indicates where a lot of work needs to be done before they can realistically give one of the top sides a scare.  

Villa will be disappointed with this result but it’s not a huge surprise given their two road trips in a four day period – one of which was the 4-0 success at Bristol City.  They weren’t blown out and could still have made it interesting in the closing stages with more composed finishing.  And it’s not much of a stretch to argue that Davies’ side won the match they really needed to this week. The Villans remain four points clear of the drop zone.

Bristol City 0-4 West Ham United

Martha Thomas: Always puts in a shift and is benefitting from working alongside some world class players…

“I think we did really well. We built on a solid performance from last week and we continued it today against Bristol. I put that down to good players training hard, and enjoying themselves in training and working for themselves, as a squad. It’s great that Martha [Thomas] got her goal. She’s worked so hard in training and has been scoring goals in training. Like all strikers, they need to be finding the goal in training. She’s been doing that and it’s showing on the pitch.”

Billy Stewart, Interim Head Coach, West Ham United, via whufc.com

West Ham United put some much-needed space between themselves and the relegation zone with a 4-0 win at basement dwellers Bristol City providing interim Head Coach Billy Stewart with his first points since taking charge.

It was the second time in a week that Bristol City had received a four goal home thumping and makes it four times the Vixens have been beaten by this margin at Twerton Park.

And when it’s not going for you on the field, the football gods seem to conjure up all sorts of ways to pile on the misery. West Ham took the lead in the 11th minute from a left wing corner. Some six-yard box pinball appeared to be survivable when Yana Daniels was well placed to clear off the line, but she struck the ball against Jemma Purfield and in it went.

As with their midweek fixture against Aston Villa, the Vixens didn’t lose their heads and found their way into the first period. Gemma Evans appeared to have got them back on terms from a Purfield free-kick but was ruled offside by the Assistant Referee.

And then, as with their midweek fixture against, etc. all their hard work unraveled… in seven second-half minutes. West Ham centre forward Martha Thomas found space on the right, swung inside her marker and clipped a left-footed cross in to the box that Emily van Egmond deftly steered past Sophie Baggaley.

Australian international playmaker van Egmond has a languid, understated on-field presence which might explain why she’s flying below the radar a little bit in the WSL right now. But the 27-year old’s quality on the ball is unquestionable. And she’s scoring goals.

Suddenly at 0-2 City were completely on the back foot and the Hammers went in for the kill. Baggaley saved Kenza Dali’s 20-yard snapshot and then got down well to claw Thomas’s close range effort away. But the loose ball was retrieved by van Egmond wide on the left and she had time to pick out Rachel Daly who headed past Baggaley from five yards to make it 3-0.

Insult was added to injury four minutes from time when Dali ran unchecked into the Vixens’ defensive third and teed up Thomas who fired a low drive past Baggaley. It was no more than the Irons’ number nine deserved for some selfless, hard-working performances in recent weeks.

West Ham gave Chelsea a hell of a game in the last round of games and built on that performance with a convincing win here that also yielded the club’s first clean sheet of the league campaign. All season they’ve looked like a group that’s underperforming given the individual talent on show. They host another relegation scrapper next weekend in Aston Villa and have an opportunity to make Christmas so much more enjoyable if they can find a way to seal consecutive victories. 

For a shoestring budget club like Bristol City, well relegation has looked a reality since the opening day of the season. Their defence crumbles under any sort of sustained pressure, but neither are they likely to win a ‘gunfight’ every week, even with a decent striker like Ebony Salmon up front.

A couple of recent draws suggested that becoming harder to beat was the way forward for Tanya Oxtoby and her squad. In both of those games they scored first. Chasing games clearly doesn’t sit well on this group as it opens them up against teams capable of quick transition. Much thought is needed by the management team but at least there are still plenty of points to play for.

Birmingham City P-P Everton

A waterlogged pitch at Damson Park put paid to Birmingham City versus Everton which is a shame because this was an interesting match between a home team doing rather better than predicted against a visiting side nosediving somewhat following injuries to key individuals.

They will have to reschedule later in the season…

Earlier this year, we charted on the Feedspot Top 40 list of Women’s football blogs. No one was more surprised than us here at D2B Towers; there’s so much other good stuff out there. Anyhoo, check out the link above or our new Links page, there’s a heap of great blogs and websites written by people who really know their stuff and have an infectious passion for the women’s game…

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