Unlucky for some, but not Manchester United, who took back top spot after a weekend of more postponements; City go third after hitting Brighton for seven; Villa and Reading share the spoils in the Saturday lunchtime fixture. All other games were snowed out… so take a number. It’s week 13 of the Women’s Super League…
Manchester United 2-0 Birmingham City
“We didn’t hit the target enough, but we were getting in the right areas, we were taking shots and having a go and their keeper made good saves. We just knew we had to be patient so it was really good to get that goal early in the second half. I don’t like one-nils, so we were still on the edge there. I thought it was quite a professional performance from us.”Casey Stoney, Manager, Manchester United, via manchestereveningnews.co.uk
Manchester United reclaimed top spot with a convincing 2-0 win over Birmingham City. Leah Galton and Ella Toone were on target with second half strikes to keep the points at Leigh Sports Village.
In a goalless first half chances fell to United’s Lauren James, Galton and Jackie Groenen but only Galton was able to test Hannah Hampton who made two fine stops.
Just a minute after the break, Casey Stoney’s side were ahead. United moved the ball down the right, James crossed to the back post and Galton stole a yard on Sarah Mayling finishing at close range.
The hosts pushed on for a killer second. Hampton parried substitute Kirsty Smith’s effort before comfortably catching a tame shot from Toone on the turn.
But there was nothing the young Lionesses keeper could do to thwart United’s number 7 when she latched on to a poor attempted clearance inside the penalty area and fired home off the post for her 5th goal of the league campaign.
This was the response Casey Stoney would have been looking for after defeat at Chelsea a week ago. Americans Tobin Heath and Christen Press did not feature again (although the latter was on the bench) but it should be remembered that this side looked highly competitive last season without them even in the squad.
Lauren James was at her bamboozling best on the ball and, when she was substituted, striker Ivana Fuso kept the Blues backline honest with a genuine threat in behind. Maria Thorisdottir joined from Chelsea this week to add international depth to Stoney’s back line, although the Norwegian did not feature.
Birmingham meanwhile have been blighted by postponements, illness and injury which may account for a form wobble which has yielded just four points from their last five fixtures. However, they have the joint best defence outside the top four including a very promising keeper in teenager Hannah Hampton.
Manager Carla Ward has made them stubborn opponents but needs to generate more goal threat. Claudia Walker was on a good run before the schedule interruptions and Veatriki Sarri has joined from Sheffield United to add creativity. The Blues won’t drop into relegation trouble from their current position. But neither do they look likely to push into the league’s top half.
“I’ve got full admiration for the team today. The players are disappointed in the changing room, but I’m delighted with how we defended. We know that we are not blessed with big numbers so we know we have to be defensively organised and that’s something we build our game on. Out of possession we are excellent, it’s in possession that needs some work.”Carla Ward, Manager, Birmingham City, via bcfc.com
Brighton & Hove Albion 1-7 Manchester City
“It’s taken a bit of time for us to get the build-up play right but I always felt comfortable that when we were arriving in the final third, we were in good control. We want to stay in the mix. We know that when it’s crunch time, as long as we’re in contention, teams will take points off one another. Games where we play against the top four will be really important – potential title-deciders – but we’ve given ourselves a good chance.”Gareth Taylor, Manager, Manchester City via mancity.com
City Captain Steph Houghton scored a brace on her 150th WSL appearance to help Gareth Taylor’s side record a seven-goal haul in consecutive weeks.
The Citizens – who have now won four on the spin – glided into the Champions League spots ahead of Arsenal and dramatically improved their goal difference in the process.
Brighton shifted the fixture from their Broadfield Stadium home in Crawley to the Amex Elite Football Performance Centre with weather forecasts predicting snow in and around the M25. It was a (highly commendable) decision that sadly they would rue in a big way. The match played out in beautiful sunshine on the Sussex coast but in the distance a foreboding bank of black clouds could be seen hanging in the sky just beyond the South Downs.
On the pitch, a foreboding group of black shirted City players brought a blizzard all of their own. In the 12th minute Georgia Stanway and Lucy Bronze combined to put Chloe Kelly on her way down the right wing. The ex-Everton forward crossed, Ellen White dummied and Caroline Weir arrived to score with a scruffy finish.
Four minutes later the Scottish international scored again, finishing a neat and tidy team goal which had Brighton admiring it along with everyone else. Houghton, Stanway and Keira Walsh had already been involved before Weir combined with Lauren Hemp and slotted to Cecilie Fiskerstrand’s left. One person who certainly wouldn’t have been impressed, though, was Seagulls’ manager Hope Powell who had to endure the sight of her entire team failing to get within five yards of the ball throughout the move.
Houghton got her first goal from Alex Greenwood’s in-swinging corner on 41 minutes. Ellen White won first contact at the front post and City’s captain was in the right place to bundle in at the back stick.
Brighton – no doubt reeling from one of those frank dressing room discussions – looked to make life more difficult for the visitors early in the second period, but their resistance didn’t hold out for long. Ellen White got the goal that her unselfish performance deserved in the 58th minute, nonchalantly stroking in left footed from another Kelly cross.
Three minutes later the talismanic Houghton got her second – and City’s fifth – when she curled a trademark free-kick in off the crossbar from 25-yards.
The Seagulls got themselves a on the board with 20 minutes to go. City midfielder Laura Coombs played a loose pass straight through her backline and Rianna Jarrett nipped in and beat Ellie Roebuck confidently.
But any small consolation Brighton may have got from their goal dissipated inside four minutes. Coombs made amends for her earlier error, played Kelly in behind the defence and the winger blasted in number six.
Kelly, who made a strong case for player of the match, turned provider again for number seven, putting ‘one on a plate’ for substitute Janine Beckie.
Earlier in the season Manchester City laboured to a 0-0 draw with Brighton but they look a very different proposition now. Laden with talent, the management team has been able to rotate the players without it adversely impacting on performance levels. Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle and new signing Abby Dahlkemper have all been away with the US National Team so they will add significant quality at both ends of the pitch on their return.
Granted, City have only beat teams they are expected beat in Brighton and Villa recently, but before Christmas they took six points off Arsenal and Everton and it feels like they are finally in the title mix. West Ham are up next for Gareth Taylor’s team as they begin the second half of their WSL schedule. His players are getting healthy and hitting form at a good time.
For Brighton, well they are about where neutral observers would expect them to be in the table. But Hope Powell’s side haven’t won in five and only Bristol City have scored fewer goals this season.
Interestingly, Brighton’s next match sees them travel to Twerton Park at the end of the month to face the Vixens. So, can the battered and bruised Seagulls respond with a much needed victory to restore pride and get their campaign moving again? Or will Bristol City benefit from Brighton’s faltering form and grab a much-needed lifeline for their survival hopes?
Aston Villa 2-2 Reading
“Coming off the back of [last] Sunday I think we’ve probably had our most challenging week to date and the one thing we asked of the players was just to be themselves and to graft and give as much as they can. That’s what we are about. [Mana Iwabuchi] is going to be really important to us. We often do really well in our build-up phase and it’s always that last little pass – Mana gives us that. She linked really well and combined in really important spaces. Moving forward I think she can fill a void where we’ve been lacking.”Gemma Davies, Manager, Aston Villa, via birminghammail.co.uk
Aston Villa came back twice from a losing position to draw with Reading in an entertaining match at the Bescot Stadium. Villa’s recent signing Mana Iwabuchi scored their first and set up the second in her full home debut, showing fans how important she’s likely to be in the relegation scrap.
Manchester City gave the Villans a complete hosing last weekend, so manager Gemma Davies would have been looking for a big reaction. “Alas”, as Boris would say, they couldn’t have got off to a worse start.
In the 3rd minute Reading worked a short corner from the left over to Jess Fishlock untracked outside the box. The Welsh international let fly, keeper Lisa Weiß saw it, but late, and could only parry into the path of Angharad James who nodded in from a couple of yards.
A pattern emerged. It seemed Royals boss Kelly Chambers had made a point of asking her players to test the Villa keeper whenever possible. Emma Mitchell and Bethan Roberts both brought good saves out of Weiß from distance. James couldn’t get her effort on target.
The hosts got back on terms ten minutes into the second half with what looked like a designed set piece. Villa won a free kick on the right and, rather than lump it into the mixer, centre back Nat Haigh threaded the eye of a needle to locate Iwabuchi between defence and keeper and the Japanese international stabbed into the net.
Reading must have been quite put out by this turn of events and immediately got back on the front foot, scoring within two minutes. Fishlock played Rachel Rowe into the penalty area; Rowe’s ball control deserted her for a moment, but Villa’s back line was unable to recover before her low drive hit the net.
Snow had begun to fall when Weiß prevented Danielle Carter from giving Reading a decisive two-goal lead. It was settling on the pitch surface by the first minute of stoppage time when Villa equalised. Iwabuchi combined with Shania Hayles on the left of the penalty area, beat a defender and crossed for substitute Diana Silva who stuck out a leg and grabbed her team a crucial point.
Manager Gemma Davies was pleased after the match. She witnessed a mixture of players trying to step up after the City thrashing, some decent goalkeeping, and a pinch of star quality. Iwabuchi was what Villa needed in the big moments. But without her you have to wonder how this match would have looked.
Most importantly the West Midlanders have kept the scoreboard moving on a weekend when relegation rivals Bristol City and West Ham couldn’t play. Villa now have a five point lead over the Vixens and a game in hand.
A casual observer may idly wonder whether they have enough points already – although the team will be entirely too professional to entertain such notions. Nonetheless, a win against Bristol City the next time they meet may be all Villa needs to see ‘project survival’ realised. Next up, a midweek match against champions Chelsea. Fans will probably grant them a ‘free-pass’ for that one.
Meanwhile the Reading conundrum continues. Last week a really good draw with Arsenal. This week they can’t put Villa away despite a perfect start and a dominant first half performance.
Tottenham Hotspur and Birmingham City both have enough games in hand to surpass the Royals and pitch them into the lower half of the table – Spurs, in particular, have been on a good run recently.
Reading have become the draw experts – in fact they have twice as many stalemates as anyone else in the division this season. They’re struggling to win (1 in the last 9), yet they’ve only lost two matches in that same period.
Manchester United and Everton are up next for Kelly Chambers’ side. Both sit higher than Reading in the table, although that really provides no gauge of how these matches will unfold. The Royals gave both a competitive game last time round. Two more draws wouldn’t be a poor return but it would be nice to see them find a bit more attacking intensity and end up with a win and a defeat. In terms of league standings it would actually better serve their aspirations…
“It feels like a loss. I’m really disappointed about not coming away with a win from a game we looked very, very comfortable in. We had enough opportunities in the first half to put the game to bed and unfortunately, that’s cost us. There were times in the second half where we were comfortable again but we weren’t ruthless which was frustrating. But the second half doesn’t come into the equation if you put the first half to bed.”Kelly Chambers, Manager, Reading, via getreading.co.uk
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