FA Women’s Super League – Week 14 Review

Chelsea remain top of the WSL; Manchester United beat Everton to stay second; City coming up on the rails after thrashing West Ham; Bristol City get first WSL win of the campaign against toothless Brighton; Rehanne Skinner’s first league defeat as Spurs boss. Plus… PLUS midweek action. Hold on to your bobble hats. It’s week 14 of the Women’s Super League…

Aston Villa 0-4 Chelsea

(Midweek Catch Up Fixture)

Emma Hayes – A record-breaking unbeaten run with the Blues…

“I didn’t think about it prior to the game because it’s not a trophy, but it’s a record that shows just how consistent this team has been in the last couple of years. I represent a fantastic team who are all deserving, they put a shift in, they work hard and I’m very proud of all of them and everybody that works at the football club.”

Emma Hayes, Manager, Chelsea, via chelseafc.com

Chelsea returned to the top of the league for at least a few guaranteed days following a comfortable four-goal win at Aston Villa. In doing so, the Blues broke the league’s record for an unbeaten stretch (32 matches).

Emma Hayes made six changes to her starting line-up. There was a first WSL start for Canadian international midfielder Jessie Fleming, while Carly Telford and Niamh Charles lined up for a league fixture for only the second time this season.

Before a ball had been kicked Villa changed their manager in what can only be described as a masterclass in making a low-key managerial appointment. Former Birmingham City Women’s manager Marcus Bignot joined the club as an ‘interim’ manager (which must fill him with confidence), while Gemma Davies – who we all thought was the manager – and her team remain on Villa’s books as first team coaching staff.

Villa salvaged a draw against Reading on Sunday and Bignot started with the attack that finished that match, bringing Nadine Hanssen and Shania Hayles in to start alongside Mana Iwabuchi.  Asmita Ale replaced Caroline Siems.

Chelsea were on the board quickly. Guro Reiten found Charles on the left in the 3rd minute. The ball was swung in, Nat Haigh’s poor headed clearance fell to Sam Kerr and the Australian lashed it into the roof of the net from fifteen yards.

Beth England had already hit the bar when she made it 2-0 with a header. Reiten was involved again, swinging the ball out to Kerr on the right, the striker crossed and England powered through two defenders at the back post for her fourth league goal of the campaign.

The Blues had to wait until the 68th minute for number three. Pernille Harder was being given a lot of space to work between the Villa defence and midfield. Having already fired left footed efforts high, then wide, the third time was a charm – driving low past Lisa Weiß from 20-yards.

And having got the score line moving again, Chelsea scored their fourth two minutes later. Reiten, who was involved in all four goals on the night (and must be wondering what she has to do to get into the starting line-up more) clipped a perfectly weight cross from the right flank over the Villa backline and into the path of the onrushing Magda Eriksson – the Swede finished with a crisp half-volley.

Villa nearly got themselves a consolation near the end but Telford foiled Iwabuchi’s cheeky attempt to nutmeg her at point blank range.

Chelsea face a resurgent Spurs next at Kingsmeadow, while Villa host Arsenal.

“In reflection, tonight’s not going to define our season. What I’ve seen tonight is encouraging in terms of moving forward with this group. Really pleased with our off-the-ball organisation. In the second half we grew into the game and I thought we had some big moments.”

Marcus Bignot, Interim Manager, Aston Villa, via avfc.co.uk

Chelsea 4-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Chelsea midfielder Melanie Leupolz – Arguably the most underrated player in the WSL right now…

“Until the first goal we were sloppy, we were slow in our build-up, we played into their hands and the bodies they had in the inside of the pitch. Our decision making and composure struggled until the first goal. We made some adjustments just prior to that which helped and from there on we dominated. With so much experience you have to be calm under pressure and it’s important to recognise that you’re not going to dominate for 90 minutes but when the momentum is not with, you work hard to keep a clean sheet in that moment.”

Emma Hayes, Manager, Chelsea, via chelseafc.com

Chelsea held on to the WSL top spot with what ended up being a comfortable four goal victory in the North/South London derby. Just twelve first half minutes took this match away from a Spurs side that had started much the brighter of the two teams.

Both sides traded early opportunities. Blues’ striker Sam Kerr had two half chances but volleyed the first wide and then failed to beat debutant keeper Aurora Mikalsen with an attempted chip. At the other end Shelina Zadorsky fired inches over the bar after Chelsea failed to clear a free-kick.

Spurs, playing an aggressive, high press (in a bizarre dark green away strip with pink and black trim) upped the pressure and nearly took the lead when Kit Graham teed up Ria Percival for a shot from the edge of the box. Ann-Katrin Berger’s fingertips diverted the ball on to the left-hand upright.

Graham then tried her luck just inside the penalty area but Berger was well positioned to make a diving catch.

Chelsea were struggling to play out from the back under duress, so manager Emma Hayes slotted midfielder Melanie Leupolz between defenders Millie Bright and Maren Mjelde to combat the potential overload. Now Spurs were faced with a ‘stick or twist scenario’ where pushing too many up-field could leave gaps in midfield for the Blues to play through.

It gave the visitors just enough of a dilemma to take the heat out of their opening twenty minutes and Chelsea started to find their groove. Fran Kirby hit the side netting from a tight angle after some slick passing between Mjelde, Kerr and Reiten. Ji then robbed a defender and found Harder in the penalty box but the Danish striker’s tame effort couldn’t beat Mikalsen.

The Blues took the lead in the 27th minute. Ji found midfield partner Leupolz in space outside the Tottenham box. The German international got the ball out of her feet and hit a low drive into the bottom left hand corner. Mikalsen didn’t even attempt to dive for it and replays would reveal that she simply didn’t have her feet set in time.

It got worse for the Spurs stopper two minutes later when she played a loose pass out to Zadorsky. Ever alert to an opportunity Kirby, beat the Canadian defender to the ball, hared into the box and crossed for Harder. The forward didn’t really get hold of her shot so Mikalsen looked like she would atone. Sadly, fellow debutant, defender Abbie McManus, headed the ball past her for an own goal.

Suddenly, it was one-traffic. Ji and Harder both drove shots wide. Kerr was denied by McManus after a poor first touch.

But the Australian got on the score sheet in the 38th minute to make it 3-0. Ji played a terrific defence-splitting ball to Harder on the left and she crossed for Kerr to head in untracked at the back post.

From a high-tempo beginning Spurs went into the break facing a complete blow out. Manager Rehanne Skinner – unbeaten since her arrival – had some tough decisions to make in the dressing room. She switched to a 4-5-1 with Jessica Naz up front alone and substituted Graham for hard-running midfielder Josie Green. With that their ambition dried up somewhat and they seemed content with a second half containment strategy.

Harder nearly pulled off a spectacular volley from Reiten’s corner in the 54th minute but Percival bravely headed off the line – the ‘masked midfielder’ ending up in the net herself!

Emma Hayes didn’t need to see too much of the second period before she was making substitutions. Beth England replaced Kerr and Jessie Fleming got another WSL run out, swapping in for Kirby.

England’s first major involvement was winning the penalty that Leupolz converted for her second and Chelsea’s fourth goal in the 63rd minute. The striker’s attempted cross hit Kerys Harrop’s elbow and the referee felt that was enough to award the spot kick.

Reiten and Harder tried the same corner routine as earlier in the 71st minute, but this time the Dane half-volleyed over the bar. Reiten later had a half chance from England’s headed flick on but Mikalsen was well placed to deny her. Substitute Drew Spence also went close, driving over the bar on the turn.

In stoppage time Mikalsen clawed Ji’s 30-yarder past the right hand post although the shot looked like it may have been heading wide anyway.

For three seasons Chelsea have looked the most mentally resilient side in the WSL. They didn’t start this match well and Spurs were able to give them plenty of problems. But timely tactical adjustments combined with high quality players who can keep a clear head when it’s not going to plan enabled the Blues to work through some difficult moments and eventually win with room to spare – their second 4-0 win of the week in fact.

“In the first 25 minutes of the game we worked incredibly hard and created some really positive chances. The thing is, against teams like Chelsea, we’ve got to be able to put those chances away. We’ve just got to be more clinical.”

Rehanne Skinner, Manager, Tottenham Hotspur, via tottenhamhotspur.com

Spurs boss Skinner talked before the game about this being a “massive test” for her side after three consecutive league wins. She was looking to get a gauge on where the team is in their process. After a really good opening 20 minutes they lost their nerve once Chelsea went ahead.

Goals change games so the cliché goes and it was true in this instance. Despite Skinner asserting differently after the match, damage limitation seemed to become the focus after the break, which was a shame. However, there was enough in the opening quarter to suggest that her front four of Naz, Graham, Davison and Angela Addison will give future opponents some problems.

Bristol City 3-0 Brighton & Hove Albion

Ebony Salmon – Default setting: tormenting Brighton’s Maya Le Tissier…

“I thought there was some really good individual performances and collectively I thought we were brilliant. Everyone put their bodies on the line, and the most pleasing thing is we have got a clean sheet, scored three goals and we also had a number of other chances. I’m delighted for the players and staff, they’re a good group of fantastic footballers and I think we can now show our potential and really kick on.”

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

Hard working Bristol City gave themselves a lifeline in their struggle against relegation from the WSL with a resounding 3-0 win over toothless, ten-player Brighton. It was the Vixens’ first victory of the league campaign.

Yana Daniels’ early strike from distance was complemented by two neat finishes by striker Ebony Salmon either side of the break – one of which was from the penalty spot.

Seagulls’ full-back Kayleigh Green was sent off in the second half for violent conduct after stamping on Daniels following a bit of a wrestling match.

On a heavy pitch that wouldn’t facilitate too much in the way of quality football, the Vixens scored inside three minutes. Daniels picked up the ball outside the box, spun away from Green and speculated from 25-yards. The ball dipped over Cecilie Fiskerstrand and went in off the underside of the crossbar.

Now the hosts had something to hold on to they were content to stay organised defensively, let Brighton have the ball and hit on the counter when possible.

So it was unsurprising that the Seagulls’ started to exert some consistent pressure around the Vixens’ penalty area, but could only manufacture half chances at best.

Midfielder Inessa Kaagman fired a shot from outside the box but returning keeper Sophie Baggaley saved comfortably. Megan Connolly met Maya Le Tissier’s cross from the right but headed straight at the City custodian. Green blasted high and wide. Later, Ellie Brazil got her feet all wrong and fluffed a close range finish after Rianna Jarrett had engineered a cross from the by-line.

In amongst the huff and puff, City’s Aimee Palmer let fly a rasping drive past the post from 30 yards, just to let Brighton know that they still carried a threat.

And it was a warning the visitors failed to heed. Having sustained a fairly aggressive press on the Bristol City defence, Brighton were having a bit of a breather when centre half Jasmine Matthews was allowed to pick a 40-yard ball in behind their back line on 34 minutes. Salmon was on to it tout suite, outmuscled Le Tissier and fired past Fiskerstrand.

Brighton manager Hope Powell now had plenty of thinking to do at half time.  She responded by bringing on Manchester City loanee, attacker Lee Geum-min which made sense, but then substituted top scorer Kaagman. Those of us who would assume Lee’s introduction would see her line up in a front two alongside Jarrett, would then be confounded as she took a midfield berth.

Salmon continued to torment Le Tissier in the second half bullying her way past the centre back but driving wide. City then worked the ball down the left but Salmon couldn’t control the power in her shot and it sailed over the bar.

The killer third goal came on the hour with the Vixens again working the ball down their left. Jemma Purfield crossed and Brighton centre back Victoria Williams couldn’t get her body shape adjusted in time to avoid handballing in the penalty area. Salmon immediately grabbed the ball and proceeded to send Fiskerstrand the wrong way from the spot.

The visitors made a couple of substitutions which could have been viewed as a last ditch effort to shift the pattern of the match, but removing Bowman and Jarrett from the fray seemed more of an acknowledgement by Hope Powell that the game was up and that she should rest some important players.

The sending off came in the 68th minute when Green and Daniels tussled for the ball in front of the dugout. Both went to ground in a heap but as the Brighton full back got to her feet she stamped on her opponent and referee Lucy Oliver had a straightforward decision to make: back pocket, red card

Salmon should have claimed the match ball in the 74th minute, left all alone at the back post from a corner, but she half-volleyed against the post.

So, one home game in charge for interim manager Matt Beard and one win. Not bad given the Vixens’ awful WSL record at Twerton Park this season. Hard work, determination and some decent organisation largely got the job done, but they also had the one quality player on the pitch in Ebony Salmon.

Was it a good time for City to play Brighton, who now have just one point from the last six fixtures, struggle to score goals and got a 7-0 shellacking from Manchester City last weekend? Well yes, and no. The Seagulls certainly arrived in a bad way. And when Yana Daniels hit an early bullet into the roof of the net from distance it felt like the stars were aligning for Bristol City. But we have to be a bit careful with this narrative. Had the result gone the other way one could make virtually the same case – bottom of the league, no wins in eleven, can’t score, goal difference is horrendous, no clean sheets, etc.

“It was really tough for us. We tried to play, but on the day if you don’t score goals you end up losing. We’ve got to accept it’s not good enough by our standards. It feels like we’ve hit a brick wall and we have to re-evaluate and go again. We’ve still got a few players out which has been tough and we’ve had to move players around. We’ve just got to do better, we will do better. We’ll have to do better to stay in the league.”

Hope Powell, Manager, Brighton & Hove Albion, via fawslfulltime.co.uk

The fact is neither of these teams are very good. But in the race for survival grinding out enough points is all that matters – even if that ends up being less than 10. Only one WSL team will get relegated. The rest won’t.

Brighton head to league leaders Chelsea next so they’re going to need to dig very deep to come out with anything there. It’s unlikely but not impossible. They got a draw out of the Blues to a draw last year and held Manchester City goalless earlier this season. They can be very stubborn. Just not this weekend… Or last weekend…

Bristol City, meanwhile, head to West Ham United – Matt Beard’s former team, so that’s spicy – with only two points separating them in the table. They last met in mid-December and the Hammers ran out 4-0 winners. But this is a clean slate. We pondered last week where Bristol City’s next point was coming from and they answered that slightly unintended flippancy with an emphatic victory. Can they keep their train rolling? Two things are for sure, they’ve given their supporters fresh hope and they’re definitely not dead yet…

Everton 0-2 Manchester United

Christen Press – Got her second league goal of the season for Manchester United.

“In the first and second half I thought it was more difficult for us to get out but, I have to say, chances created, I thought we dominated that area and I have to be really pleased. [Walton Hall Park is] a hard place to come and I’m pleased with the clean sheet and three points.”

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

Manchester United consolidated their top two status with an important victory at Everton.

Looking to ensure that they remained hard on the heels of leaders Chelsea, Casey Stoney’s side came out breathing fire from the first whistle with Leah Galton causing problems down the left.

Christen Press went close before surely-young-player-of-the-year contender Ella Toone opened the scoring in the 9th minute – converting after Everton keeper Sandy MacIver could only block, not hold, Galton’s run and shot.

Press was denied by the keeper again after she’d outmanoeuvred Dan Carter and Rikke Sevecke down Everton’s left. Then Katie Zelem played Toone in behind the Toffees’ defence but MacIver stood up well and parried.

Press got United’s second three minutes before the break, rolling away from two defenders to finish Hayley Ladd’s neat through ball.

Everton were more competitive in the second half but the closest they came to scoring was when new arrival Jill Scott hit a 30-yard pile driver that keeper Mary Earps pawed away at full stretch.

“The damage was probably done in the first half. It was too big a hill to climb. We were the architects of our own downfall – in possession, just simple things caused us problems. When we tidied up the simple things in the second half, we were much better.”

Willie Kirk, Manager, Everton, via Twitter @EvertonWomen

The Toffees are getting some key players back, so their fans will expect an upturn in results over the next few weeks. Central defender Rikke Sevecke has returned to the starting line-up and there were useful minutes for attackers Valerie Gauvin and Claire Emslie. Manchester City loaned the evergreen Jill Scott to her old club which gives Manager Willie Kirk another international standard midfield option now Damaris Egurrola has departed for Lyon.

United have won five out of their last six WSL matches so their sortie on the Champions League spots continues unabated. They square up to Reading at home next with the Royals fully rested after a weekend off.

Manchester City 4-0 West Ham United

Midfielder Rose Lavelle – Scored rampant City’s fourth of the afternoon. (Photo: Lynne Cameron, The FA)

“There are bits we could improve slightly in spells but I have to give credit to the girls. I seem to be bit of broken record about lack of personnel available but credit to them, we’ve had to move a few positions around but they’ve coped really well – 4-0 is a good result, no matter which way you look at it: a clean sheet, four goals… We’ve been scoring goals freely since the turn of the year and in some games before that. We have to be happy. It was important to put three points on the board.”

Gareth Taylor, Manager, Manchester City, via mancity.com

Manchester City opened up a four point gap between them and fourth-placed Arsenal with a comprehensive win over West Ham at the Academy Stadium.

City scored early yet again to get the juggernaut rolling. Lucy Bronze was too strong for Maz Pacheco in the 9th minute and sent Chloe Kelly of down the right wing. Kelly crossed, Lauren Hemp had a nibble, but more importantly dragged defenders towards her, and the ball broke to Caroline Weir who finished at close range.

Georgia Stanway made it 2-0 six minutes before the break with a similar looking build up to the first. This time Kelly sent Bronze to the by-line, the England full back crossed, Hemp – you guessed it – had a nibble, but eventually the ball broke to Stanway who converted for her fifth WSL strike of the campaign.

Alex Greenwood’s in-swinging corner from the right was glanced in by Ellen White at the front post on 64 minutes, putting the game well beyond a West Ham side who mustered only one shot (off target) in 90 minutes.

Seven minutes later substitute Rose Lavelle took advantage of Pacheco’s slip, raced into the penalty area and ‘sat’ Mackenzie Arnold down before clipping the ball over her.

Before the end City Manager Gareth Taylor introduced defender Aoife Mannion who had to endure 15 months out of the game to recover from a ruptured ACL in her right knee.

City visit Arsenal next Sunday in a match that already looks crucial in terms of deciding the top three Champions League spots. But Gareth Taylor’s side will surely have loftier ambitions given they have won six out of their last seven.  Reeling in cross-city rivals United and Chelsea remains the longer-term challenge. There are goal scorers throughout the squad, Sam Mewis will be returning from international duty and that Kelly / Bronze ‘axis of creativity’ on the right wing is clicking into gear very nicely.

“For me, I’m pleased with the attitude and the application of the girls, particularly competing all the way until the end, but for us it’s about assessing that, being realistic. Making sure that we didn’t end up at the back end of a really big score line was important for us, and the goals that they scored were from our mistakes – not from opening us up. They had a lot of possession, but in areas that weren’t hurting us, so we managed to control the game in the sense that we controlled a lot of spaces in the game, and unfortunately four errors, either positionally [sic] or technically, cost us today.”

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

It won’t have escaped the attention of Hammers’ manager Olli Harder that Bristol City enjoyed a good win over the weekend clawing them to within two points of his side in the table – games in hand notwithstanding. The Vixens are up next at Victoria Road. West Ham have not won a home game in the WSL yet.

It also shouldn’t escape his attention that the previous team Manchester City thrashed lost… to Bristol City… the following week. That defeated team, Brighton, was able to beat West Ham at Dagenham earlier this season. There are no ‘givens’ in the top flight of women’s football. West Ham are arguably the most underachieving squad in the WSL. They need to discover their mojo. And quick…

Aston Villa P-P Arsenal

This match was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch proving that Birmingham City aren’t the only west Midlands club that have trouble getting a game on after a downpour.

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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 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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