This is why we love the beautiful game. Just when every WSL match was looking like a foregone conclusion the top two are beaten at home – by Brighton and Reading respectively. Manchester City are right back in the title race winning at Arsenal; Villa claw further away from trouble with victory over Spurs; Bristol City get a point at West Ham; Everton and Birmingham play out a draw. Later than billed (because I was recovering from a Superbowl all-nighter), it’s week 15 of the Women’s Super League…
Chelsea 1-2 Brighton & Hove Albion
“I don’t think anyone expected us to beat Chelsea today, I think sometimes that takes pressure off. Credit to our girls, they kept going, believed in the game plan and more importantly, executed it. Certainly the underdog mentality gives you a little bit extra, it certainly gives our team a bit extra. We knew Chelsea would have more possession of the ball. It was about us being very organised, disciplined, having a good attitude and good effort. I’ll take all the luck we can get, sometimes you make your own luck.”Hope Powell, Manager, Brighton, via fawslfulltime.co.uk
Brighton shocked league leaders and defending WSL champions Chelsea with a 2-1 victory at Kingsmeadow.
Chelsea’s unbeaten league run is over. But it would have taken a brave person to put good money on the Seagulls being the team likely to end it. Hope Powell’s side turned up at Kingsmeadow on the back of a six-match winless run including a seven-goal mauling from Manchester City plus defeat last weekend to basement dwellers Bristol City.
And it didn’t look like it was going to go well for Albion early on in this match. Returning keeper Megan Walsh dallied on a straightforward clearance allowing Beth England to charge the ball down and cross for Sam Kerr, but the Brighton stopper somehow recovered to make a save.
However, from the subsequent corner Erin Cuthbert found Kerr ten yards out and the Australian was in no mood for second chances, heading into the keeper’s top right hand corner.
Three minutes later, though, the visitors levelled from a corner of their own. Megan Connolly swung in a great ball from the left to the back post and Aileen Whelan wanted it the most, heading powerfully past Carly Telford.
Chelsea would go on to fashion 30 (yes, THIRTY) chances altogether according to the post-match stats. Their best chances fell to England whose shot clipped the top of the crossbar, and substitute Pernille Harder whose lunging effort came back off the upright.
But in the 78th minute it was Brighton who set themselves up for a surprise three-point-haul from another left wing corner. Connolly curved this one in towards the front post. A dozen players converged but no one was able to make contact, leaving Telford flapping at thin air as the ball sailed straight into the net.
This was an outstanding rear guard effort from Brighton who have been through the wringer recently. Whether it can spark a longer revival is one for debate, but sat eighth with twelve points will look a hell of a lot better to Hope Powell today than continuing to head towards West Ham and Bristol City at the bottom. They face the Hammers next, so if ever there was a good time to build some momentum…
“Our intention, our intensity, our aggression were really poor. When you play in these games you have to take the game to the opponent and you have to work for spaces and you have to work for chances, you have to work to regain the ball and I don’t think we did that very well at all. It’s a reminder of the importance of how humble you have to be going into games and that if you don’t do the basics or fundamentals well enough that any team will turn you over and it’s proved it in this game.”Emma Hayes, Manager, Chelsea, via chelseafc.com
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, meanwhile, made a significant number of changes to her starting line-up and shuffled a few players around to accommodate the shape. While the Blues have a strong starting eleven whoever shows up, rotating out Ji So-yun, Pernille Harder and Fran Kirby came over as a bit disrespectful to Brighton, and seemed to disrupt Chelsea’s recent attacking flow – all three of those players were subbed on within the first hour, by the way.
They have one more match day before the international break, a midweek game against Arsenal. Dare we suggest that the Blues had one eye on this fixture rather than giving their full attention to the south coasters? The club’s line here would likely be a resounding ‘no. But it sort of looked that way. And did all the media noise about Emma Hayes being linked with the vacant AFC Wimbledon managerial position (men’s team) last week further distract the champions? They already would of known that Manchester United had slipped up versus Reading, so this was a big opportunity missed to open up a gap at the top. Still, keeps it interesting, right?
Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard enough – an oldie but a goodie, and there’s more than a hint of it here. Credit to Hope Powell and Brighton, though. No one but surely the most optimistic Seagulls fan would have given them a chance and they royally stuck two fingers up at the rest of us.
Manchester United 0-2 Reading
“We have said all season that we haven’t been ruthless enough in front of goal and my two strikers have a goal each on the scoresheet, so we’re very happy with that. I knew we had a win like this in us. Over the course of the season we have shown glimpses of just how good we can be, and there have been games where we’ve probably deserved to win but haven’t and haven’t been taking our chances. But with the performance against United I feel we did everything right and the girls should take huge confidence from that.”Kelly Chambers, Manager, Reading, via readingfc.co.uk
Reading flipped the form book upside down to beat Manchester United at Leigh Sports Village. Arriving with just one league win in their previous ten games, the Royals rocked their title challenging opponents with two goals in three second-half minutes from Natasha Harding and Danielle Carter.
Manager Kelly Chambers had urged her players to “minimise the individual errors” and be “more ruthless in both boxes” before the game and they didn’t let her down.
But the Reading boss had also clearly learned some important lessons of her own from their previous encounter at the Madejski, setting up her charges brilliant to nullify United’s attacking threat.
Notably, Chambers benched right back Kristine Bjørdal Leine who’d had a torrid time against Leah Galton, bringing Emma Mitchell over from left back to focus on the Red Devils’ winger. It turned out to be a key match-up.
The match started at a good pace with both teams showing attacking intent.
United’s lone central striker Christen Press had the first chance inside 4 minutes, using her pace to get on to Ella Toone’s through ball but firing straight at Grace Moloney.
At the other end Rachel Rowe arrived at the back post to meet Mitchell’s fizzing in-swinger from the right winger but she couldn’t guide her header on target and it seemed to take an age for the ball to drop before Millie Turner could clear away. Moments later Amelie Eikeland half-volleyed wide from Rowe’s cross.
United started to find their rhythm. Press’s clever flick put Toone in space and the young midfielder combined with Kirsty Hanson on the right before shooting against the inside of the post. Moloney, prone on the ground, was relieved to see the ball spin directly into her grasp with Galton and Press arriving just a fraction too late to convert the rebound.
United manager Casey Stoney swapped wingers Galton and Hanson over for a few minutes and it nearly paid dividends. Following a neat spell of passing Katie Zelem drove in a cross from the left but Galton’s bullet header at the far post was straight at the keeper.
Reading were struggling to keep possession but continued to counter attack when they could. Carter’s headed flick on sent Rowe into the United penalty box but the Welsh international’s lightweight shot was standard fare for Mary Earps.
As the first half drew to a close, the hosts were limited to pot shots. Ona Batlle cut in from the left but her drive was gathered by Moloney low to her left. Galton fired over the bar from twenty yards. Hanson then failed to hit the target after Press had blocked Moloney’s attempted clearance.
With Reading looking to play out from the keeper United pressed higher and higher. Chambers responded by dropping deep lying midfielder Jess Fishlock into a back five when they had the ball – similar to Chelsea’s approach against Spurs last week. Now Reading had an overload and an extra defender in place if things went wrong.
But it didn’t stop the Royals’ midfielder getting up the other end of the pitch and drilling over the bar in the 49th minute following a counter-attack she’d engineered with Harding and Rowe.
United’s clearest opening came in the 54th minute. Hanson’s cross from the right wing by-line was met by Galton on the full from seven yards but Moloney brilliantly saved with her left foot. And the hosts looked to ramp up the pressure. Zelem fired over the bar before Toone and Hanson combined to give Batlle another sighter, but Moloney was well positioned again.
Just past the hour Carter broke into United’s penalty box and crossed for Harding. Some six-yard box pinball ensued before Angharad James thumped a volley goalward which Earps acrobatically tipped over the bar at full stretch.
From the subsequent corner Reading took the lead. Emma Mitchell swung the ball in, Eikeland’s front post flick hit a defender and looped up for Harding to nod in virtually on the goal line.
Two minutes later, the visitors doubled their advantage from another Mitchell set-piece after Toone had fouled Carter on the left of the penalty box. The Scottish international swung the ball in and Carter arrived unmarked to head powerfully past Earps. It was the ex-Arsenal striker’s last touch of the ball before she was subbed off. Talk about leaving on a high.
Reading went into ‘game management’ mode, happy to stay physical and frustrate United who by now were starting to lose their way.
Zelem had a tame half-volley saved after some neat skill in the box. Debutant right back Maria Thorisdottir then fired over the bar after Deanna Cooper had brilliantly blocked Toone’s initial effort.
In stoppage time substitutes Jess Sigsworth and Ivana Fuso couldn’t convert half chances and Reading held on to register their first WSL win over United.
This should be a very satisfying result for Kelly Chambers’ side, who now reside on eighteen points with Everton.
The manager was able to come up with tactical adjustments from the last time they faced United that really made the difference in this match.
Galton was quieter than she’s been for some weeks up against Mitchell, Press became increasingly less impactful and Reading were able to turn United’s back four around by committing numbers on the counter attack.
Mitchell’s dead ball delivery was excellent and led to both of Reading’s goals.
“I don’t think it was good enough from us today. I think in both boxes we need to be better. We could’ve finished the game, we had tons of chances but we didn’t do that and then concede from two set-pieces. I think we still dominated the ball but it doesn’t matter… unless you take your chances. We have to dust ourselves down, we have to move forward. We have to look at City now and we need a big response from all of us here, staff and players, so we can go and get a result because we’ve put ourselves in a difficult position losing.”Casey Stoney, Manager, Manchester United, via fawslfulltime.co.uk
While defeat will be a bitter pill for United, the timing of it might actually end up working out for Casey Stoney’s side.
They remain level on points with Chelsea (who also lost) and face their arch cross city rivals Manchester City next in a midweek fixture before the international break. So, this defeat should refocus the players’ minds and get them fired up.
Not to suggest that it was complacency that was the problem, but United did rather ‘beat themselves’ with individual errors and lapses in concentration at key moments.
Yes, they could have done with some more of their game breakers in Lauren James and Tobin Heath who would have offered something different, but this can’t be an excuse. There were still plenty of good players wearing red out there on the pitch.
Arsenal 1-2 Manchester City
“On the face of it yes, it looks like a big win [but] I always try to keep the focus on what we do. It was difficult conditions today, the wind was pretty bad and the cold as well but I thought the battling and work ethic of the players, especially after Arsenal equalised, the character was top class. It’s still three points, we’ll always take that additional support from elsewhere but we focus on what we do.”Gareth Taylor, Manager, Manchester City, via mancity.com
Manchester City put themselves right back in the WSL title race and drove a massive stake through Arsenal’s Champions League ambitions with a 2-1 win at Meadow Park.
Unbeaten in nine, City are now the form team in the division, completing a league double over the Gunners that moves them to within two points of leaders Chelsea.
Ellen White gave the visitors a 24th minute lead, thumping Chloe Kelly’s cross into the net from 12-yards on the half volley.
Arsenal had a first half equaliser denied by the Assistant Referee’s flag but found their way back into the game in the 57th minute when Vivianne Miedema released Jill Roord down the right and the Dutch international crossed for an untracked Caitlin Foord to calmly slot beyond Ellie Roebuck.
City, clad in all-black presumably for commercial purposes, responded by ramping up pressure on the Arsenal backline, similar to their meeting earlier in the season.
Lucy Bronze’s header from an Alex Greenwood corner was scrambled off the line. Then White hit the post after seizing on a dreadful back pass from Daniëlle van de Donk. Lotte Wubben Moy and Leah Williamson needed to be sharp to prevent White and Lauren Hemp from scoring off the rebound.
But left winger Hemp was not to be denied. In the 79th minute the excellent Kelly outpaced Noëlle Maritz down the right and delivered the kind of cross that demands to be buried. Hemp arrived on cue to power past Manuela Zinsberger from seven yards.
“City had rhythm straight after we scored – that was probably their best part of the game, in terms of consistency. But all credit to them, they are a quality side. I didn’t look at any other results, we never look at other results. We’ve got our own direction and our own scenario to worry about. I can only complement the girls on their fight and their effort. It’s always a tough game against City and they definitely showed their quality, their consistency and the ability to keep their rhythm and tempo for the whole 90 minutes.Joe Montemurro, Manager, Arsenal, via football.london
Arsenal travel to Chelsea next in the knowledge that their campaign is already on the line.
They have failed to beat any of their top four rivals this season – results indicating to date that they are not much more than classic ‘flat track bullies’ capable of thumping sides near the bottom of the table but falling short when the going gets tough.
Wednesday’s match up with the Blues – who will be stung themselves after a Brighton defeat – will tell us a lot about Arsenal’s mental fortitude.
Gareth Taylor’s City, meanwhile are riding the wave.
Chloe Kelly is in the form of her life on the right wing and moved on to eight assists for the season against Arsenal – to go along with her six goals.
Talking of scorers, Ellen White has struck eight times in the WSL and her emphatic finish in this match illustrates a striker who is full of confidence and expecting a quality ball to arrive in the box whether it’s Kelly, Hemp, Bronze or left back Alex Greenwood delivering it.
The Manchester derby precedes the international break. Even though a draw would still leave matters in their own control, a win would elevate City above their cross-city rivals in the table.
United were the last team to take a point off the Citizens with a Tobin Heath-inspired second half comeback at Leigh Sports Village. Sadly Heath is not available for this one with a long term ankle injury, but City will already know that there are plenty of others out there that they’ll need to keep an eye on…
Everton 1-1 Birmingham City
“As a staff, we said before the game that we felt we were going to get something. It is a credit to them; the players deserve all the credit for that performance. We knew we would have large spells without the ball because Everton have a lot of quality. We needed to nullify any pockets that they like to get into, and I thought we did it brilliantly today. The way they defended today was absolutely superb.”Carla Ward, Manager, Birmingham City, via bcfc.com
Everton and Birmingham played out a forgettable stalemate at Walton Hall Park which did little to perk up the ambitions of either side.
Dan Carter gave the Toffees a 22nd minute lead from a free-kick on the edge of the penalty box, virtually passing the ball round the defensive wall into the bottom right hand corner of the net.
Birmingham responded 12 minutes later when referee Lisa Benn awarded a penalty for handball that nobody seemed to appeal for. Everton keeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela saved Claudia Walker’s spot kick low to her right, but Jamie-Lee Napier sped in to convert the follow-up.
Neither keeper was significantly troubled beyond this point.
Birmingham have won just once in their last six matches but their fixtures schedule has been very disrupted, with home games being postponed repeatedly.
They remain a stubborn opponent for anybody and are five points clear of Bristol City at the bottom but manager Carla Ward will be keen to make sure her side doesn’t get drawn into the relegation frame – especially if they are having to play catch up games between weekends.
We looked as if we were feeling a bit sorry for ourselves a bit from last week. Just a disappointing performance. We made a few changes from last week [but] individuals, collectively, things never got flowing for us. It’s crucial that we took three points today to be honest and that’s a huge failing, which is my responsibility.”Willie Kirk, Manager, Everton, via Twitter @EvertonWomen
Despite being seven points better off, Everton’s form is really no better. In fact, take out their opening four matches of the campaign (all victories) and the Toffees have accrued just six points from the last 24 available.
They’ve had a few injuries to key players but most of these individuals are back. The team has stalled, Reading have crept up, and now only goal difference separates them. The two meet on Wednesday at the Madejski Stadium.
Everton are due a big performance because right now their high-quality-side-on-paper is ‘flattering to deceive’…
Aston Villa 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur
“In order to get results at this level, when you first come up [to the WSL], you have to be organised, you have to be hard to beat, you have to have a structure, you have to have players knowing their roles and responsibilities. You also have to change their mind-set because going from the [Women’s] Championship with win after win after win, to then coming up to the WSL where it can be loss after loss after loss – confidence is damaged. You have to pick that back up and drive their mentality in a different direction.”Marcus Bignot, Interim Manager, Aston Villa, via 7500toholte.sbnation.com
Aston Villa eked out a bit more space between themselves and the relegation zone with a dogged, single-goal win over Spurs. It was the Villans’ first home victory of the league campaign.
Mana Iwabuchi provided the one bit of genuine quality in a drab affair hammering past Aurora Mikalsen from 25-yards in the 12th minute.
Spurs meanwhile, dominated possession, but simply didn’t test Villa keeper Lisa Weiß enough.
The opening fixture of the weekend, it took eleven minutes for either side to manufacture a meaningful attempt on goal, but Kit Graham’s deflected effort was easily gathered by the Villa keeper.
Sixty seconds later a long, high, aimless ball out of Villa’s defence was only half dealt with by the Spurs backline; Iwabuchi arrived in an ocean of space, got the ball out of her feet and hit a viciously curling drive into Mikalsen’s top right hand corner.
The visitors were suddenly behind having been under no real pressure and now Villa had something to hold on to. The battle of wills had begun.
Spurs attacker Angela Addison tried to lob the keeper who was well off her line after a poor clearance but the effort went wide. Then left back Kerys Harrop robbed Asmita Ale and sent in a cross for Rianna Dean that Weiß did well to claw away.
Alanna Kennedy and Iwabuchi traded distance strikes, the first sailed over, the second whisked comfortably into Mikalsen’s midriff. And the lack of attacking penetration continued with more overly ambitious long-range efforts from Villa’s Nadine Hanssen and Harrop.
Weiß saved Kennedy’s header after Spurs worked a quick give-and-go from a corner but that was the only time they were able to engineer a goal scoring opportunity with most of their set-pieces wasted through poor delivery or bumbling execution.
Jessica Naz and Rosella Ayane subbed on for Addison and Dean at the start of the second half but it didn’t take too long to see that this was the footballing equivalent of pushing furniture around while the lights were off. Tottenham’s approach play was low tempo and now they had no penalty box threat. If the idea was to draw the hosts out and use Naz and Ayane’s pace to get in behind, Villa boss Bignot was having none of it.
The hosts’ attacking ambition waned in the second half but their strikers continued to press Tottenham’s back line to keep them honest and exploit any errors. Diana Silva intercepted a poor back pass and was brought down as she rounded Mikalsen on the edge of the penalty box. The Spurs stopper got away with a yellow card; Villa were unable to capitalise from the free-kick.
With the home side visibly tiring in the closing stages, it was inevitable that an opportunity would fall out of the sky for Tottenham to equalise, but loan signing Cho So-hyun fluffed her lines 15-yards out and half-volleyed over the bar.
Victory for Marcus Bignot’s side has only moved them up to tenth in the table but they have a four point gap (plus goal difference) to the drop zone.
It looks like they’ve accepted that success in the WSL this year is simply surviving, and that this is more likely to be achieved through hard graft rather than technical craft. All game they hustled, harried, put the foot in, disrupted, intercepted, and forced Spurs into mistakes.
Nowhere was their determination better illustrated than in the performance of centre back Anita Asante. The veteran defender was immense from start to finish.
That said, the game was won by the one superb technician on the pitch. In Iwabuchi, Villa now have some X-Factor. In possession she was on another level to everyone else and provided a world-class moment of magic to ensure Villa got three points rather than settling for just the one.
Tottenham, like last weekend, turned up in their dark green away kit, this time to play a team in claret and blue. There was really no need for it and, let’s face it, it’s not helping them.
Of course they had a world-class attacker of their own, until recently. Alex Morgan’s short loan spell may be remembered as slightly underwhelming but it’s carrying ever more significance week by week as Rehanne Skinner’s side continue to stutter in front of goal. The US striker wasn’t around for long but Spurs were winning and Morgan provided that bit of composure in and around the penalty area that the team now lacks.
The manager is making a lot of changes to the front four, suggesting that she doesn’t know her best combination. She’ll need to figure it out soon to ensure Spurs continue to hold their ground in mid-table.
West Ham 1-1 Bristol City
“I think we deserved to win the game. Tactically we were excellent, the players knew when to step on and then when to get back into the shape. At the moment everything is out of our hands but all we can do is keep putting in performances like today and hopefully that will be enough for us. As long as we continue to work really hard, like we have done today, then we give ourselves a really good chance of staying in the division.”Matt Beard, Interim Manager, Bristol City, via bcfc.co.uk
Neither West Ham nor Bristol City could find a winner in this bottom-of-the-table encounter played out in snowfall that made the pitch steadily more challenging as the match unfolded.
Bristol City interim boss Matt Beard returned to Victoria Road to face his former club and probably would have left the happier of the two managers.
West Ham’s Olli Harder would be hoping for a confidence boosting victory after a 4-0 WSL defeat to Manchester City and a 6-0 Conti Cup drubbing at the hands of Chelsea.
City midfielder Carla Humphrey nearly scored in the first minute but hit her half volley straight at keeper Mackenzie Arnold.
However, the Vixens wouldn’t have to wait long to take the lead from a catalogue of West Ham mistakes. Yana Daniels had pressured a Grace Fisk into giving up a cheap corner in the 7th minute. Everton loanee Molly Pike drilled it in from the left, Arnold completely missed it and the ball ricocheted off of Hammers’ midfielder Emily van Egmond for an own goal.
Buoyed, the visitors pushed on trying to find a second, while nearly every West Ham players’ self-assurance on the ball began to look more and more brittle.
Just after the half hour City centre forward Ebony Salmon hit the post after taking on Fisk and Gilly Flaherty for pace.
Canadian Adriana Leon had been the single bright spark for the hosts, and eventually inspired an improved final ten minutes of the half as the hosts started to find their way into the game. But even she couldn’t make more of a good free-kick opportunity three minutes before the break, shooting straight at Sophie Baggaley.
Hammers’ boss Olli Harder got into his players at half time and they started the second half with more intensity.
They equalised in the 49th minute when Katerina Svitkova exploited some hesitant defending and drilled into the net from close range.
But the goal didn’t provide the fire that Harder may have anticipated. That may have been, in part, due to the snow which was now turning the pitch steadily whiter and preventing the ball from rolling true.
Chances came and went at both ends. Baggaley made her best save in the 64th minute pawing Laura Vetterlein’s free-kick over the bar as it headed for the top left hand corner. At the other end Humphrey rifled in a shot that West Ham cleared off the goal line before Jemma Purfield blasted over.
Then Purfield hit the underside of the bar from a free-kick and City couldn’t direct the rebound on target.
As the clocked ticked towards stoppage time, Arnold misread a hopeful ball over the top of the Hammers’ backline, stranded as Salmon rounded her, but the Robins’ striker couldn’t direct her angled effort on target.
Both teams will be glad they didn’t lose this one and were able to keep their points tally moving. As pointed out earlier, Bristol City’s Matt Beard may be more satisfied with the outcome but in truth it was a wasted opportunity for both sides who would have targeted this fixture as a must-win.
“We weren’t good enough in the first half, were better in the second half – and a point is probably a fair reflection of what was not a good advertisement for football today. I think the weather affected both teams. With snow on the pitch, it’s not really conducive to anything constructive regarding football. It was both teams just trying to play very low-percentage, low-risk football which is obviously not very attractive for anybody watching.”Olli Harder, Manager, West Ham United, via whufc.com
Svitkova provided Harder with his first goal since arriving at the club and he came away with his first WSL point.
But for long periods his players looked like they lacked confidence, particularly going forward where they largely struggled to string two or three passes together, wasted a number of dead ball situations and couldn’t create any chances for returning centre forward Martha Thomas.
They are particularly poor at home, failing to win any of their six WSL fixtures at Dagenham.
It’s an interesting time. Bristol City – effectively three points from safety – go to Tottenham next and have a chance to draw the Lilywhites into the relegation scrap, while West Ham visit Brighton – who went from inglorious defeat at Twerton Park last weekend to spectacular victory at the reigning WSL Champions on Sunday. Who knows. perhaps the Hammers can benefit from a bit of ‘after the Lord Mayors’ syndrome…
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