FA Women’s Super League: Pre-break ‘Mop-up’

Chelsea extend their lead at the top of the WSL with a commanding win at Bristol City; Reading and Everton draw; two other games are lost to frozen pitches. We really are headed into the international break this time. So, D2B mops up the last two fixtures before Euro 22 qualifying recommences… 

Reading 1-1 Everton

Danish striker Nicoline Sørensen: came up with Everton’s equaliser at Reading.

“Our playing style is in transition. In our past two matches we’ve had 60 and 70-per-cent possession and not scored. Controlling games is the only way you achieve long-term success, you can’t have it by being a counter-attacking team. Our build-up play is better and more considered but our final-third play must improve. There are more opponents between us and the goal when we reach the final third, so it is something we are working on. We have exciting players in attack – it just needs one or two little things to come off for them and it will start clicking soon.”

Willie Kirk, Manager, Everton, via evertonfc.com (pre-game)

Honours ended even between Reading and Everton at the Madejski Stadium. The Royals made the better chances in the first half and took Rachel Rowe’s goal into the break. But Everton improved in the second period and levelled through substitute Nicoline Sørensen (pictured).

The two teams had a good look at each other in the opening ten minutes. The only chance came when Jess Fishlock and Dan Carter combined to get Amelie Eikeland in behind the Everton backline but Tinja-Riikka Korpela parried and Megan Finnigan was able to clear the danger.

The teams looked well matched and it wasn’t hard to see why they were good enough to sit 5th and 6th in the table respectively. Both sides deployed an aggressive, high intensity press which prevented the other from finding a passing rhythm.

Eikeland went close again, volleying against the post from Rachel Rowe’s free kick. Natasha Harding’s follow up header was cleared off the line by Finnigan.

Everton managed to find their way into the game and enjoyed a spell of pressure. Valerie Gauvin headed Rikke Seveke’s cross from the left well wide before Izzy Christiansen drove past the upright after the Toffees pressed Reading’s backline into an error.

But just as the visitors were getting on top, Reading took a 35th minute lead. Everton could only half clear a Royals attack to left back Lily Woodham. She centred and, when Dan Turner’s header away ricocheted off of Carter, the ball broke to Rowe who volleyed into an empty net.

After the break, Reading seemed content to try taking the sting out of the contest and sit on what they had. This handed Everton the initiative but, while they now looked better on the ball, the opportunities weren’t coming. Just after the hour Toffees boss Willie Kirk decided he’d seen enough and brought Simone Magill and Hayley Raso on for Alisha Lehmann and Gauvin – who both had disappointing games by their standards. Nicoline Sørensen came on ten minutes later.

It would be while Reading were working through a tactical adjustment, though, that the door was left ajar to change Everton’s fortunes. The Royals had literally just swapped out Woodham for right back Kristine Bjørdal Leine which shifted Mitchell over to her usual left flank role when the visitors came up with their best move of the match.

And it was Kirk’s substitutes paying dividends – manufacturing a really great team goal that moved swiftly from Turner on the left, through Magill and Raso to Ingrid Moe Wold on the right. The Norwegian international crossed to the back post and Sørensen arrived to loop her header over Grace Moloney for a 77th minute equaliser.

Going into the final few minutes both teams pushed through their tiredness to snatch a winner. Raso was caught in two minds heading into the Reading penalty box, and ended up scuffing a tame effort at Moloney. At the other end, Rowe cut inside her marker and tried her luck from distance after good work by sub Lauren Bruton and the tireless Fishlock.

As the clock ticked down Reading centre back Deanna Cooper nearly secured a victory when she arrived on time to meet Mitchell’s curling free-kick from the left, but clipped her volley the wrong side of the post.

“I thought that during the first forty-five minutes we were fully in control and should have been further ahead at the break. Everton put the pressure on and flooded our box with crossed, but I think that the girls were outstanding trying to defend. It’s just a shame that we didn’t defend the one that inevitably drew Everton level, but at the end of the day we had enough chances to win the game and put it too far out of their reach.”

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

Reading may feel a little frustrated getting just a point from this game. They made the bulk of the first half openings and then combined hard work and good defensive organisation under a lot more pressure after the break, restricting Everton to few good chances before their equaliser. They then nearly won it at the death.

The Toffees, conversely, need to replay their goal several time over and take some lessons from it. It was pretty much the first time in the game that they transitioned the ball quickly through midfield and fashioned a clear cut scoring opportunity.

The rest of the match they attacked at a pedestrian pace, individual players needed too many touches of the ball to get it under control, their passing was sloppy and quite often they failed to play forward when the chance arose.

Emslie and Christiansen both offered dangerous set-piece delivery, but no one seemed to know where to run to attack the ball.

Kirk’s substitutions sharpened them up with 20 minutes to go but this is an Everton team with good players looking painfully shy of confidence and considerably less than the sum of their parts.

Bristol City 0-5 Chelsea

How it stands in the WSL before the players head off to join their international squads.

“We’re really starting to find our stride and the players are getting more and more comfortable with each other. Last weekend was a blip for us and in the grand scheme of things we’ve been outstanding and I hope that continues. We’ve been working hard, believe it or not, on our defending and I want to make sure we understand our organisation out of possession. If there’s one thing I’ve done in my time is that I evolve the team and find new solutions and I found a way of playing with this group of players that is suiting us so it’s gelling at the right time which is great.”

Emma Hayes, Manager, Chelsea, via chelseafc.com

Chelsea picked up where they left off in midweek against Arsenal, firing five past Bristol City without reply at a rain-soaked Twerton Park. This result gives the Blues some breathing space on Manchester City heading into the international break.

The graphic for Chelsea’s starting eleven indicated a 4-1-3-2 but, once the game got under way it looked more likely an insanely fluid 4-2-2-2 with Ji and Sophie Ingle orchestrating from deep and Harder, Kerr, England and Kirby all interchanging positions to make tracking them almost impossible.

The visitors began with intent. Keeper Sophie Baggaley had to make good stops in the opening minutes to deny Pernille Harder and Jonna Andersson. Magda Eriksson and Ji So-yun had ‘sighters’ that failed to test the keeper.

Ji then turned provider for Sam Kerr, but the Australian headed wide. Moments later Baggaley was back in action making a terrific stop from Fran Kirby after a neat interchange between Kerr, Harder and Ji.

Undone by two left wing corners against Brighton last week, Chelsea forged ahead from one in the 14th minute. Maren Mjelde delivered to the front post and Kirby got the slightest glance on the ball which deceived everyone in a packed six-yard box.

Making the best of it on a pudding of a pitch the Blues continued to press forward. On the half hour Beth England half-volleyed inches wide from another Ji cross.

Harder made it 2-0 on 36 minutes. Mjelde, Kirby and England worked the ball from the right touchline into the box; the move seemed to be breaking down, but Sophie Ingle won possession and played in Harder who drilled the ball past Baggaley from ten yards.

Four minutes later Eriksson’s long ball sent Sam Kerr into space down the left. The striker centred off of the outside of her right boot, and defender Gemma Evans would have chalked up an own-goal had it not been for Baggaley’s reaction stop. Sadly, for the hosts, England immediately recycled the loose ball to Kirby who grabbed her second goal and Chelsea’s third.

It nearly got worse for the Vixens in first half stoppage time when Jonna Andersson’s wayward cross cannoned off the top of the cross bar.

The second period unfolded in torrential rain which progressively made the playing conditions more challenging, but didn’t seem to slow Chelsea down in their hunt for goals.

Kerr finally got on the score sheet in the 55th minute heading in from England’s left wing cross.

And England got her goal on the hour, stabbing in at the second attempt from Harder’s driven diagonal ball into the six-yard box.

The Vixens were unable to fashion many clear chances, but Ebony Salmon would have been disappointed to blaze over the bar after getting a yard of space on Millie Bright in the Chelsea penalty area.

Emma Hayes’ side go into the international break with a healthy lead on their main rivals – although it’s worth noting that they have played one more game than City in second. Chelsea have had a good week, delivering two highly proficient displays that largely highlight how poor a performance they put in against Brighton last weekend. However, the Blues had given themselves wriggle room for a ‘bad day at the office’. As league leaders the target remains firmly on their back, but two wins in give days has at least put some pressure on the chasing pack.

“Losing 5-0 to Chelsea is a frustrating result, but they do that to teams week-in, week-out. I’m not going to let this define where I am, but one thing I’ve learnt from today is that we need to be a bit braver in possession, because we have some really talented footballers at this club that can play. I never said to write these games off, I said at the start of the week that I wanted to give it a go, wanted to try and win it or even try and get something out of it. But I have to be realistic to know where Chelsea are and where we are, but if you look at our collective, we’ve just got to stick together and ensure we know the games that we need to win.”

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

Matt Beard and the Bristol City coaching staff may have viewed this fixture as a case of being as stubborn as possible for as long as possible to see if they could frustrate the reigning WSL champs into giving up a point. And for thirteen minutes it was a thing, with keeper Baggaley making a couple of fine stops. But once Kirby’s first goal went in the result never looked in doubt. Beard waved the proverbial white flag early in the second half and started withdrawing key players. And why not? There are surely bigger and far more winnable battles for his team ahead.

==

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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