FA Women’s Super League: Week 12 Review

Chelsea go top after victory against United; Hemp shines as Manchester City thrash Villa; Spurs win three straight; Bristol City’s woes continue at Everton; Reading hold the Gunners; still no home win for West Ham; Birmingham finally get a game on, but it’s no classic. This week’s fixture list re-matched all the sides that squared up on the opening weekend of the WSL. So, don’t adjust your screen. It’s week 12 of the Women’s Super League…

Chelsea 2-1 Manchester United

(Previous Meeting 1-1)

Fran Kirby – guiding Chelsea to the WSL summit.

“We should have been out of sight at half-time with the chances we created. Our game-plan worked, the players executed what I asked of them and because there is so much quality in both teams, it became a bit transitional. The team don’t get caught up in disappointments that happen in the moment and Fran came into the game in the last 30 minutes with a wonderful strike – I think we’re deserving winners.”

Emma Hayes, Chelsea Manager, via ChelseaFC.com

Frank Kirby scored a 65th minute winner to propel Chelsea to the summit of the FA Women’s Super League for the first time this season.

The Blues had 17 attempts on goal and quite how they weren’t at least four up at the break is a mystery known only to Sam Kerr who had another one of them days in front of goal.

As always her work in each build-up was exemplary. The finishing not so. Earps saved the Australian’s first scuffed effort from point blank range after a good run.

Then Kirby played her in behind the United defence but this time Kerr sliced wide off her left foot.

Ji and Kirby worked to get the striker in again but this time – changing tack – she shanked the ball off the outside of her right boot and watched it career towards the empty stand.

Chelsea kept the pressure on. Mjelde worked an opening for Kirby in the penalty area but Earps was well stationed to make the save at her near post.

From the subsequent corner Chelsea took the lead. Cuthbert delivered and Magda Eriksson powered the ball goal wards only for Amy Turner to clear off the line. United couldn’t clear, and the ball broke to Kirby who rattled the post before Pernille Harder bundled in the rebound.

United found more of a rhythm in the second half and manager Casey Stoney brought on young striker Lauren James in the 55th minute to try and shake up the Chelsea backline and test keeper Ann-Katrin Berger.

It paid dividends almost immediately. Just after the hour James picked the ball up from Kirsty Smith on the left, beat Ji, played a one-two off Ella Toone around Harder, feinted left, moved right past Millie Bright and curled the ball low around Eriksson into the keeper’s bottom left hand corner. It was a terrific strike.

Chelsea, ever resilient under Emma Hayes in the face of adversity, went through the gears again. Ji made a yard of space for a shot from edge of box which was blocked.  Kerr was on to the scraps quickly, cut inside her marker but her tame shot was easily dealt with by Earps again.

And then the hosts got their winner, without any of the crisp one and two touch passing they’d looked to pick United apart with throughout the afternoon. Blues keeper Berger drilled a long, high ball out from the edge of her penalty area, Millie Turner misjudged the flight and Kirby nicked in behind her at pace, allowing herself a couple of scruffy touches before finishing emphatically.

“I don’t think we were good enough in the first half. They’re a good side, a very good side, so if we don’t make the right decision, don’t move the ball quick enough, don’t play in the right areas, they’re going to cause you problems. I thought in the second half we were much better. It’s disappointing from us, but at the same time, I’m proud of the effort, the application and we’ve come here and had a real go. I’ve said it before, it’s not going to define our season, and it won’t.”

Casey Stoney, Manchester United Manager, via manutd.com

So, Chelsea take over at the top of the WSL with a result that made the match look significantly closer than it was. Unlike the opening day match up where they looked laboured at times – and perhaps a bit surprised at United’s desire to take the game to them – here their experience told and they were able to control the match for long spells.

While Sam Kerr missed a cart load of chances, other players stepped up got the job done. Kirby – who is ‘on fire’ right now – is the club’s top WSL scorer having moved on to eight goals. Harder has chipped in with three.

United, without Tobin Heath, weren’t at their best on the day and got just the one shot on target – but what a shot!

Casey Stoney will be disappointed with the score line but is probably allowing herself some bigger picture perspective. United are half way through their league programme and have sustained just one defeat – to the defending Champions. They’re still in the mix for European football, Arsenal stalled at Reading and Manchester City still have ground to make up.  United will look to bounce back next weekend when Birmingham City are the visitors to Leigh Sports Village.

Manchester City 7-0 Aston Villa

(Previous Meeting 2-0)

Alan Mahon – Taking the reins while City manager Gareth Taylor is isolating…

“Obviously today we put a good performance in but it’s only the start and we have to continue now to the end of the season and keep fighting. I think you’ve got to keep your standards throughout and that’s something that we pride ourselves on. I thought we were very clinical today. All credit to the girls, they worked extremely hard.”

Alan Mahon, Assistant Manager, Manchester City, via mancity.com

Manager Gareth Taylor was in Covid isolation. Their Americans players were all in international camp. Other key players were unavailable. But it made no difference. Manchester City blew Aston Villa away with six first half goals at the Academy Stadium, adding just one more in the second period to reflect their drop in intensity. Villa, meanwhile, were abject from start to finish.

City had to shuffle their pack without Gemma Bonner, Demi Stokes, Kiera Walsh and Caroline Weir available. Lucy Bronze moved to left back. Janine Beckie took Bronze’s right back role. Esme Morgan came in to central defence, and Laura Coombs played the holding midfielder role with Jill Scott and Georgia Stanway either side of her. Karen Bardsley made her first WSL start in goal.

The Villains signed Japanese world cup winner Mana Iwabuchi over the festive period. But despite featuring in Villa’s Continental Cup defeat to Bristol City last week, the striker began the afternoon on the bench.

The last time these two teams met, City ground out a 2-0 victory with more than a little help from Villa’s back line and goalkeeper. And Villa’s defence was in an even more generous mood in this game, gifting possession to the hosts over and over again.

The rout got started inside 2 minutes. Jill Scott fed Chloe Kelly into the right wing channel and the winger crossed low to the far post where Lauren Hemp was arriving to finish emphatically.

Led on the day by Assistant Manager Alan Mahon, City were about to give a masterclass in clinical finishing. Yet, early in this match, it could have played out so differently. Villa forward Shania Hayles pounced on a loose pass from Steph Houghton and teed up Nadine Hanssen to equalise. She fluffed her lines and fired wide. They would be punished for that wastefulness.

Four minutes later, another warning shot when Kelly hit Villa’s post after Chloe Arthur squandered possession in midfield.

But on 16 minutes City did double their advantage. Villa couldn’t clear their lines from a corner. Hemp recycled the ball on the left, played the ball back to Bronze and the full back’s in-swinging cross was perfect for an onrushing Jill Scott to head past Lisa Weiß.

Georgia Stanway made it 3-0 just after the half hour. Lucy Bronze clipped a delicious first-time ball over the Villa defence and Stanway had all sorts of time and space to consider her options before beating Weiß at her near post.

Hemp got her second in the 37th minute, stooping unchallenged to head in Kelly’s in-swinging corner from the left – yes, you read that right: stooping to head in…

Three minutes later it was 5-0 when Scott seized on another awful pass out of the Villa defence. She found Hemp down the left, who outpaced Asmita Ale and crossed for Ellen White arriving in the six-yard-box. Nat Haigh’s knee got there first and the Villa defender was on the scoresheet.

Going in five down would have been bad enough but the first half capitulation wasn’t quite over. Anita Asante, under pressure from White, sold Weiß short with a back pass. The keeper shanked her attempted clearance it to Hemp and the winger kept her composure to pick out White for number six.

Iwabuchi and Elisha N’Dow started the second half for the visitors as manager Gemma Davies switched to a 5-4-1 formation that felt around 45 minutes late. Their performance improved in parallel with City taking their foot off the gas but the Citizens were still creating all the chances.

Stanway drove a distance effort wide and Kelly then hit the post for a second time. Substitute Jess Park blazed over the bar after White picked Haigh’s pocket. Villa’s N’Dow nearly scored the second own goal of the game off Hemp’s cross but Weiß was fortunately positioned to save her blushes.

And then manager Davies made one of those completely unfathomable management decisions that only she could possibly explain. Chloe Kelly had left back Caroline Siems completely on toast in the first period. Kelly then moved to the left wing when Park came on and utterly tormented Asmita Ale. So, it didn’t feel like the sort of day to give 16-year-old full back Olivia McLoughlin her debut – 6-0 down at Manchester City.

But on she came and Kelly was straight on the offensive outpacing the youngster before firing over.

With just over ten minutes to go, McLoughlin under hit a back pass and Kelly was in, winning a 50-50 with keeper Weiß (who just didn’t seem to fancy it by this point) and slamming into the empty net. It was heart-breaking for the teenager and even the goal scorer seemed to subdue her celebration so as not to rub it in.

And that was almost it. City captain Steph Houghton curled a 25-yard free kick just wide. At the other end Sophie Haywood missed the chance to get Villa a late consolation – but in truth they didn’t deserve anything that would console anyone.

“We simply didn’t turn up as a group today.”

Gemma Davies, Aston Villa Manager, BBC Women’s Football Show

City stay fourth in the table but have made up ground on Arsenal who drew at Reading. Gareth Taylor’s side can now pass the Gunners with their game in hand. This was a professional performance with a number of first team players unavailable.

Aston Villa, meanwhile, are struggling to get up to speed with the standards of the Super League. In this one, frankly, they simply did not looked at all prepared to play a game of football – let alone take on one of the best teams in Europe. Passing, ball control, movement, team work, decision making, execution, work rate… all of it was off. And the players got no help from the side lines as they blindly continued to try and play out from the back with City picking them off over and over again.

Results like this are a problem for the long term credibility of the Women’s Super League – which has worked hard to get the UK mainstream media crown it the ‘best league in the world’. That label is bandied about on the back of the top international players coming over to play for the big Premier League backed clubs – indeed just this weekend Manchester City confirmed that US World Cup winning defender, Abby Dahlkemper, has transferred from North Carolina Courage on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

But while it’s brilliant to have top players, it’s also not unreasonable to expect the ‘best league in the world’ to be a bit more competitive top to bottom. There are only twelve WSL teams after all. And yet the gap from 1 to 12 only seems to be getting wider.

To be fair, Villa aren’t the only ones who are susceptible to a Sunday afternoon implosion.  Reading, West Ham, Spurs, Brighton, Everton and Bristol City (repeatedly) have all been blown out this season. But as long as there are regularly score lines where one top flight team beats another by more than four or five goals, the WSL can’t realistically expect to be regarded by its peers overseas as much more than a place where a few high quality players go and earn (relatively) good money in a sport where there was precious little to go round in the past.

Reading 1-1 Arsenal

(Previous Meeting 1-6)

“We were below-par for the whole game today, I don’t think we can pinpoint a period, we just didn’t get into our rhythm and didn’t position ourselves well enough for the passing opportunities and we need to fix that.  Sometimes you get these situations in a season and it was always going to be a tough game coming here. We’ve lost a bit of fluidity, a bit of zip and we have to position ourselves better and do it better, we’re just not doing it well enough at the moment.”

Joe Montemurro, Arsenal Manager, via Arsenal.com

Reading improved dramatically following their week 11 drubbing at the hands of Chelsea to hold Arsenal at the Madejski Stadium. The Gunners meanwhile have accrued just eight points from the last eighteen available – not the kind of form that’s seriously going to trouble the league’s pacesetters.

Despite the attractive brand football that Arsenal are capable of playing, they don’t endear themselves to this blogger when they choose to wear white ‘away’ shirts against a team that sports blue and white hooped shirts.  There’s no need!

So, when Lauren Bruton neatly cushioned Emma Mitchell’s free kick past returning keeper Manuel Zinsberger on five minutes, the merest hint of a self-satisfied smirk appeared upon mon visage, claiming that some sort of mystical footballing justice had occurred.

When these teams last met Arsenal ran out 6-1 winners with Jill Roord scoring a hat-trick. Roord wasn’t able to take any of the chances that came her way in this match but was involved in Arsenal’s equaliser in the 40th minute. The Gunners worked the ball down the right, Wubben Moy crossed and Roord’s brought a good save out of Grace Moloney before Vivianne Miedema knocked in the rebound.

Into the second half and Mitchell – up against her former team mates – speculated from 25-yards but Zinsberger got across well, parrying to her left.

At the other end substitute Beth Mead was starting to exert some influence. She cut inside Mitchell and crossed for Miedema, but the striker couldn’t keep her effort down.

Mead then blazed over herself after Roord had played her into space behind the Reading backline.

Towards the end, Caitlin Foord got the better of Deanna Cooper on the left of the penalty area and found Roord, but this time Moloney was able to push her volley away from danger.

“Obviously, I’m very happy with the performance. How we played against Arsenal, what we put on display is what we are about. I’m glad that the girls got the result as well. We came out and delivered exactly what we had prepared for during the week. Obviously Arsenal had a very strong bench that they brought on at half-time and we saw the impact of those players. To be fair to my girls though, they were incredible – not just at pressing – but when they needed to defend their box and their goal; they were magnificent at doing that.”

Kelly Chambers, Reading Manager, via readingfc.co.uk

Everton 4-0 Bristol City

(Previous meeting 4-0)

Izzy Christiansen – not getting carried away despite her brace against Bristol City

“We’re happy but we aren’t getting carried away. We started the day much higher up the table than Bristol City, so we were never going to settle for anything less than the three points. I am pleased to be able to implement my qualities into the team and I’m obviously pleased that we got that win today.”

Izzy Christiansen, Everton Midfielder, via liverpoolecho.co.uk

If Matt Beard though winning at West Ham was difficult he got an up close and personal look at the challenge facing him at Bristol City covering Tanya Oxtoby’s maternity leave. Everton beat the Vixens by the same result as their meeting on the opening day with Izzy Christiansen bagging a brace and Simone Magill and Megan Finnigan chipping in with one apiece.

The writing was on the wall early at Walton Hall Park. In the 4th minute, Lucy Graham robbed Fay Bryson on the left and played Nicoline Sorensen into space. The Dane provided a low cross into the six-yard box and Christiansen made a timely arrival to punch home.

They nearly scored a carbon copy second but this time Christiansen was denied by debutant keeper Benedicte Håland.

Sadly the Norwegian stopper was directly responsible for Everton extending their lead seven minutes before the break. Hayley Raso this time provided a driven cross from the left flank and when Håland spilled it, Magill was on the spot to bundle in.

Everton continued to make the running in the second period. Maéva Clémaron had an effort cleared off the line after good hustle from Magill in the box. Abby Stringer then fired wide after a driving run through City’s midfield.

But the Toffee’s commitment to a high press paid off in the 58th minute when Magill robbed substitute Jasmine Matthews on the edge of the penalty area, found Graham, who in turn fed Christiansen and the Lioness drilled the ball into the top corner.

Finnigan gave the performance some extra shine six minutes later when she headed in Christiansen’s corner from the right, consolidating Everton’s fifth spot in the WSL table.

“I think there are positives to take from the game and I have learnt a lot about the group today. Two or three of the goals were frustrating today as they are preventable. They’ve scored from a set play, two crosses and us turning the ball over. With players that we’ve got to coming back from injury and isolation I think we have what we need to kick on and I’m pleased by what I’ve seen from the last two day’s training and hopefully we can pick results up moving forward and get amongst the teams above us.”

Matt Beard, Interim Manager, Bristol City, via bcfc.co.uk

The Toffees came into the game winless in their last five, so this was the perfect way to kick start their 2021 – particularly after the controversy surrounding the postponement of their fixture with Manchester United last weekend. Next up is a trip to Damson Park on Wednesday night to play a catch up fixture against Birmingham.

Bristol City haven’t won in the league all season. While they do have a Continental Cup Semi Final took look forward to, it’s against FA Women’s Championship high flyers Leicester City – with all signs indicating that the Foxes will take the Vixens WSL berth next year. The squad looks pretty rudderless so Beard has his work cut out to conjure up a miracle to dig out some results and stave off relegation. Fans, meanwhile, must be wondering where their next point is coming from. League leaders Chelsea are their next opponents.

West Ham United 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur

(Previous meeting 1-1)

New Hammers boss Olli Harder. Confident despite defeat in his first game.

“We’re disappointed that we didn’t get the three points today. We didn’t get anything out of the game but on the whole, two weeks in, we’re pleased with a lot of the things that we’re seeing on the pitch. The league is as I expected it to be: it’s very physical. The pace is certainly there, the technical quality varies from team to team but the standard is about what I expected. We want to tweak a few bits and pieces but then I think we’ll be able to get some results in the future.”

Olli Harder, West Ham United Manager, via whufc.com

It was an unhappy start for new Hammers’ boss Olli Harder as his below-par side was beaten by a single Lucy Quinn strike. Meanwhile (not quite as) new Spurs manager Rehanne Skinner has now secured three WSL wins out of three since her arrival at the beginning of December.

The visitors edged a tepid first half without consistently testing Mackenzie Arnold in the West Ham goal.

Substitute forward Quinn – who replaced Rachel Williams after just 20’ minutes – had a half chance in the penalty area which she half-volleyed over.

But she made no mistake on 35 minutes, arriving in the box to convert Gemma Davison’s slide rule ball from the by-line. The match winner would later be substituted for Kit Graham in one of those unusual sub-the-sub moments. But her work was already done.

West Ham improved in the second half, but couldn’t take any of their chances. Emily van Egmond and Grace Fisk both had headers saved by Becky Spencer. Left back Maz Pacheco fired marginally wide from just outside the box.

At the other end Spurs forward Rianna Dean could have sealed the points as the clock ticked down but hit the post.

US striker Alex Morgan’s loan deal ended recently but internationals Alanna Kennedy (Australia) and Shelina Zadorsky (Canada) have made their deals permanent ensuring some stability through the spine of the Tottenham team.

England international Rachel Daly has left West Ham and returned to parent club Houston Dash, but on the positive side Australian international van Egmond has made her loan deal permanent.

Birmingham City 0-0 Brighton & Hove Albion

(Previous meeting 0-2)

“It is a great point. First and foremost credit has to go to both sets of players. When you look at the two team sheets there were a lot of changes with both squads being hit by injuries and Covid but they made it an entertaining game. Overall, I am fairly happy. On a different day, our basics would have been better and we could have come away with all three points but the one thing we always say is that we get points through hard work.”

Carla Ward, Birmingham City Manager, via BCFC.com

Neither side significantly tested their opponent’s goalkeeper in a largely forgettable affair at Damson Park.

But both teams will likely be happy enough with a point, moving them another step further away from the relegation strugglers.

“It’s a bit frustrating, in terms of the chances we created I’m disappointed that we have only come away with one point. But the most important thing when you go away from home is not to lose the game so that is a positive for us. “I was pleased with the spirit and application but unfortunately we just couldn’t get the goal we probably deserved.”

Hope Powell, Brighton Manager, via brightonandhovealbion.com

Birmingham have found it a real challenge to get full complement of players for match days recently, but were able to name four substitutes for this one (which matched Brighton’s number).

Ruesha Littlejohn came in to the club this week from Leicester City and Emily Murphy has arrived on loan from Chelsea. Both started in midfield for the Blues. Rachel Corsie’s loan spell has come to an end and the Scottish international defender has returned to Kansas City (formerly Utah Royals).

Last 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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