FA Women’s Super League: Week 10 Review

Manchester United secured the Christmas number one spot, running riot against Bristol City; Arsenal go second with a comfortable victory over depleted Toffees; Jess Fishlock shines in Reading win at Brighton; two games postponed for COVID protocols; and Birmingham… er… don’t get to play again, because it rained… again. Happy Holidays, it’s week 10 of the FA Women’s Super League...

Arsenal 4-0 Everton

Willie Kirk – taking “responsibility” for Everton’s form dip…

“We need to identify where things are going wrong and the first ten minutes were unacceptable. I’ll look at myself in terms of the way we’ve prepped the team. I’ve got to take responsibility for it. The first ten minutes were so passive it was like watching a different team…”

Willie Kirk, Everton Manager, via Everton WFC Twitter

Arsenal got back to winning ways with a 4-0 drubbing of an Everton side that has lost its way in the league since mid-October.

It took Joe Montemurro’s side just four minutes to get on the board. Everton failed to clear their lines from an Arsenal throw and the hosts worked the ball to Beth Mead on the right, who beat two defenders and crossed for Jordan Nobbs to tap in from close range.

Caitlin Foord – assuming centre forward duties with Vivianne Miedema rested – scored the second inside ten minutes. Leah Williamson provided a pinpoint ball over the top for Jill Roord to chase and the Dutch international midfielder outpaced the back line, putting her cross on a plate for an easy finish.

Foord nearly struck again on the quarter hour but fired over the bar following a neat interchange between Malin Gut and Nobbs.

Everton, who got a morale-boosting 1-0 Continental Cup win against Manchester United during the week, finally forged a goal scoring opportunity after 22 minutes.  Grace Clinton played Nicoline Sørensen into the penalty area but Arsenal keeper Lydia Williams got her angles right to deny the Dane at her near post. Williamson should have tidied up defensively but the ball broke to Hayley Raso who fired wide.

Seven minutes before the break Jen Beattie headed Katie McCabe’s driven corner from the left over the bar. That was a warning Everton failed to heed.

Toffees’ boss Willie Kirk replaced left back Dan Carter with Poppy Pattinson at half time, presumably to stem the flurry of attacks Arsenal had successfully built down that side of the pitch, and to find some sort of attacking foothold. Everton certainly increased their intensity but remained toothless in the penalty area without injured French international Valérie Gauvin.

The hosts, playing more sparingly, were still dangerous. Nobbs outmanoeuvred Megan Finnigan on the edge of the Everton penalty area and teed up Roord, but keeper Sandy MacIver saved with her legs.

From the subsequent corner, Everton completely switched off.  McCabe hit the corner to the back post, MacIver misjudged it in flight, Finnigan lost her footing and Beattie nodded in unchallenged for 3-0.

The game already looked done and dusted, but Mead made absolutely sure two minutes later. The winger got on to Nobbs’ superb diagonal ball, swung inside Pattinson on the edge of the box and curled left footed around Damaris Egurrola and inside MacIver’s right hand post.

MacIver stayed on her feet to deny Foord at the second attempt on 68 minutes and was well placed to save from Kim Little at point blank range in the last ten minutes.

Everton, to their credit, kept beavering away, foraging for a consolation goal as the home side applied the brakes. With two minutes left, substitute ‘Chaney’ Boye-Hlorkah hit the Arsenal bar with Williams beaten but it was the closest they would get.

Even without Miedema on the field for most of the match, Arsenal were clinical in front of goal and – in patches – looked typically smooth moving the ball around. Their fast start was excellent and would have torn up the Everton game plan, but there were moments where sloppiness in possession, particularly near their own goal, would have cost them against a better strike force – like Manchester City’s last week for instance. Nonetheless a good, comfortable win against an opponent that will surely provide better resistance in the return fixture.

If any WSL team needs a Christmas break and a transfer window to freshen things up, it’s Everton. The Toffees simply don’t have the squad depth to offer any of the top teams a challenge right now. They are missing Gauvin’s penalty box prowess and Claire Emslie’s attacking thrust. With centre backs Rikke Seveke and Gabby George also out, there are square pegs sat in round holes on the field. Raso at centre forward is certainly not the answer. And better option Simone Magill never even made it on to the pitch which perhaps hints at a fitness issue.

As the game unfolded, there was plenty of graft but very little craft. This was summed up in midfield where Maéva Clémaron was running her socks off, box-to-box, making tackles and trying to get things going, but got little relief from her more attacking team mates Izzy Christiansen and Lucy Graham who couldn’t keep hold of the ball. These are capable players, but they need to be able to put the team on their backs occasionally and find their ‘A’ game when the going gets tough. If they can’t Everton’s early season promise is going to fizzle away and they’ll be fighting just to remain in the top half.

Manchester United 6-1 Bristol City

Casey Stoney – Top of the Pops at Christmas in the WSL…

“We were outstanding today, we played some good stuff and it was great to be in the stadium to see that. We moved the ball well, but I was disappointed with how we conceded. We could have been more clinical if I’m honest, but getting three points going into Christmas. We knew we would have to fire from distance and go wide, and we did that exceptionally well and scored some outstanding goals. Tobin’s goals were incredible, she came alive late on and good players do that.”

Casey Stoney, Manchester United Manager, via Manchester Evening News (online)

There was no complacency on show at Leigh Sports Village as league leaders Manchester United delivered a very professional thrashing of bottom side Bristol City.

This fixture threw up one of the surprise results of last season when Ebony Salmon’s goal had been enough to beat the Red Devils. Salmon did get on the scoresheet in this game but by that point Casey Stoney’s side were already four goals to the good and Tobin Heath would add two more.

The rout started on 26 minutes when Leah Galton hit a fierce, dipping 25-yard drive that keeper Sophie Baggaley couldn’t get a solid glove on.

United doubled their lead in first half stoppage time when Millie Turner arrived in the six-yard box untracked to head in Katie Zelem’s right wing corner. It was one of those where, as a spectator, you find yourself asking “why don’t they put defenders on the posts anymore?”

Jess Sigsworth put the game beyond the Vixens early in the second period lashing in from close range after the defence twice failed to deal with the aftermath of Tobin Heath’s in-swinging corner.

Galton got number four from a crazy angle on the left which suggest she hadn’t sufficiently wrapped her foot around the ball when crossing. It was well struck but Baggaley may feel she should have done better.

Salmon had her moment against her former team mates, getting on to Charlie Welling’s ball over the top and scoring at the second attempt to give the score line a thin sliver of respectability.

Heath then took that respectability and fire bombed it into ashes with a few minutes remaining; firstly with a sumptuous, left-footer on the run which swirled over Baggaley from 20-yards.

Three minutes later the American, named in FIFA’s ‘World XI’ for 2020, scored again, nutmegging Gemma Evans before casually slamming the ball low into the far corner like it was a training ground match.

Things can’t really get much worse for Bristol City who have conceded 45 times in ten WSL matches and are four points (technically five with goal difference) from safety. In fairness, they were never really expected to go to the league leaders and get anything, but it’s the bad recent defeats to teams like West Ham and Aston Villa that have been so much more damning for Tanya Oxtoby’s side.

They’ll be starting 2021 with a home fixture against Brighton & Hove Albion and it’s not feeling hyperbolic to suggest that that is a must-win game.

For Casey Stoney and United, well they came into the season with a very good squad, strong through the spine and had handled itself well last season. The individual ability was never in question but mentally this year they’ve looked tougher – the comeback against Manchester City recently was testament to that.

And then there’s that bit of ‘X’ factor on both wings in Leah Galton and Tobin Heath who have nine WSL goals and four assists between them. Every contender needs these kinds of players and United have proved beyond question that they are contenders…

Brighton 1-3 Reading

Reading boss Kelly Chambers – You’ve got to be pleased with a cheeky little away win right before Christmas…

Where the other fixtures in the WSL were horribly one-sided, Brighton and Reading was refreshingly competitive. Player of the match Jess Fishlock scored two and set one up as the Royals picked up their first WSL win in seven attempts. 

Both teams made enough chances to win but it was Kelly Chambers’ side that came out on top.

Fishlock opened the scoring in the 17th minute latching on to a poor pass across the middle of the pitch by ‘Fliss’ Gibbons. The veteran Welsh international drove towards the box, feinted to pass left which made Rebekah Stott slip and, as the Kiwi defender tried to recover, Fishlock fired low into the keeper’s bottom right corner from 18-yards.

Brighton were back on terms just four minutes later from the penalty spot. Centre back Deanna Cooper inexplicably lunged in on Ellie Brazil who was heading away from goal and the referee had a very straightforward decision to make.

Inessa Kaagman stepped up and sent Grace Moloney the wrong way.

The Seagulls had a good spell following the equaliser. Maya Le Tissier drilled a 20-yard effort wide and then Kaagman was presented with a half chance at a difficult angle but shanked her volley high and wide.

The visitors, however, took a lead into the break. Lily Woodham’s run and cross from the left by-line wasn’t dealt with and broke to Fishlock who controlled on her chest and half-volleyed in from six yards.

The hosts came out swinging early in the second period and Gibbons’ shot from 20 yards was well dealt with by Grace Moloney,  although the Reading keeper was fortunate that team mate Molly Bartrip got to the rebound before Aileen Whelan.

And Brighton’s left back Gibbons was in the thick of it again when she combined with Lee Geum-min in the penalty box but hooked her effort wide.

Reading weathered the storm and nicked another goal at the end when Fishlock played substitute Rachel Rowe into the penalty area and the Welsh international winger deftly clipped over Cecilie Fiskerstrand for the decisive strike. It could have looked even glossier for the Royals in stoppage time but Emma Harries blasted over. A three-goal margin, in truth, would have been very harsh on Hope Powell’s side.

Reading remain 6th, a point behind Everton having played one game more. They are largely what was expected by pundits and fans alike – tough to beat but sometimes lacking a clinical edge when they are on top. They’ve held Manchester City at home this season but then found they couldn’t win against Bristol City.

So, this victory should serve as a boost. Kelly Chambers’ side soaked up their fair share of pressure and were then able to convert with all three attempts on target. Fishlock was outstanding and looks like a player really enjoying her football.

Brighton, meanwhile, don’t look nearly as fragile as 9th in the table suggests.  They are hard-working and determined, but they haven’t solved the challenge that dogged them last year. They still struggle to score goals. In 2019 they scored 11 in 16 (0.69 GPG) and this season it’s just 7 in 10 (0.70).

Hope Powell has already stated in press conferences that she’s not looking to bring in players for the sake of it. But even if looks unlikely that the Seagulls will become a relegation side, someone who could get five or six league goals before the end of the season would really take the pressure off. There will certainly be a little chunk of wage budget available. Denise O’Sullivan’s loan has now ended and the Irish international midfielder will head back to the US to join up with parent club North Carolina Courage. The WSL will be just that little bit poorer without her.

Chelsea P-P Tottenham Hotspur

The thought of Millie Bright fronting up to US start Alex Morgan for the first time since the 2019 World Cup Semi Final was something we were relishing here at D2B Towers. Millie’s an entirely different proposition at Kingsmeadow on a wet Sunday afternoon.

Sadly, players testing positive for COVID-19 meant the game was postponed and it’s been since announced that Morgan’s loan is over. She will head Stateside again having made four WSL appearances, scoring twice and making one assist.

West Ham P-P Aston Villa

This one looked like it could be a tasty encounter given the sides’ close proximity near the foot of the league table. But COVID-19 was detected in some of the players and that was that.

Birmingham City P-P Manchester City

A waterlogged pitch for the second week at Damson Park put paid to Birmingham City versus Manchester City.

There was a mixture of dissatisfaction and relief on Twitter as Blues fans pontificated on the poor state of affairs that a topflight women’s side can’t secure a playable pitch, against their team’s injury situation going into a fixture with one of the division’s top clubs.

Merry Christmas!!

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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