FA Women’s Super League – Post International Catch-up Weekend

City march on with another convincing win; Birmingham are made to play home games at St George’s Park; Arsenal get a glut of second half goals at Villa; Everton secure just their second win in nine thanks to a Jill Scott header; Spurs lose third match in a row. Does anyone know what weekend of the Women’s Super League this is? It wasn’t scheduled in the initial fixture calendar, so we’re going with Week 15 and ¾. Play nice kids. It’s your WSL review…

Tottenham Hotspur 2-3 Everton

What a week: Jill Scott gets her 150th England cap, and then only goes and scores a weekend winner for Everton…

“I think the score line was more uncomfortable than it needed to be. At that stage [2-2], when you’ve gone so long without a win, it would’ve been easy for the players to accept a draw and maybe feel hard done by but they showed a bit of character, dug in, got the goal. I feel we should have put the game to bed on a number of occasions. We needed that win. We needed three points. There was pressure on us to deliver a victory and we’ve done it.”

Willie Kirk, Manager, Everton, via Twitter @EvertonWomen

Everton reignited their stalling season with a 3-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur who now find themselves on a three-game losing streak.

The Toffees edged a lively and well contested match at the Hive with Jill Scott heading in the decisive goal on 61 minutes, capping an excellent week for the midfielder who celebrated her 150th England cap last Tuesday.

On paper the two teams looked like they would be the most evenly matched of the weekend’s fixtures and they didn’t disappoint.

The hosts started on the front foot and winger Angela Addison was denied an opening strike by a great last-ditch block from Everton captain Dan Turner.

But just as Spurs were building a head of steam, Everton took an 8th minute lead from the penalty spot. Danish international Nicoline Sørensen crossed from left, Claire Emslie got her head to the ball but Kerys Harrop’s hand stopped it travelling back across goal and referee Abigail Byrne had a key decision to make.

It looked a soft one but replays show the defender’s hands raised and protests were brief and muted. Striker Valérie Gauvin stepped forward and slotted confidently to Aurora Mikalsen’s left.

Ten minutes later the visitors were awarded a second spot kick. Harrop, clearly not having a classic even this early in the game, was adjudged to have hauled down Rikke Sevecke as the Dane tried to elude her at a corner. The exasperated full back was not best pleased with the award, so the match official garnished her decision with a booking for good measure.

Gauvin, meanwhile, had already placed the ball and proceeded to drive it into the opposite corner for her fifth WSL strike.

According to the match commentator it was the sixth penalty that Spurs had conceded during the campaign – as unwanted a Super League record if ever there was one.

The French striker nearly got her hat-trick when she headed inches over the bar following a slick interchange between Emslie and Ingrid Moe Wold down the right wing.

Spurs continued to look competitive but without seriously troubling returning stopper Sandy MacIver. They gave themselves a lifeline, however, in the 35th minute when Kit Graham cleverly played Addison in behind the Toffees’ backline and the diminutive attacker neatly clipped the ball over the onrushing keeper.

The visitors nearly restored their two-goal cushion a minute later when a mishit cross from the left had to be clawed away by Mikalsen at full stretch.

Four minutes before the break, Harrop nearly grabbed a moment of redemption when she played Rosella Ayane into space behind Everton’s defence but the forward wasn’t able to replicate Addison’s earlier finish.

Spurs were improving, though, with skilful, free-role attacker Kit Graham clearly pulling the strings. Everton boss Willie Kirk responded by substituting defensive midfielder Abbey-Leigh Stringer and centre back Megan Finnigan at half-time; replacing them with Maéva Clémaron and Gabby George respectively. The brief: stop Tottenham getting in behind by giving Graham less time on the ball.

Spurs began the second half with the same energy they finished the first. Ayane’s snap shot was well struck but straight at MacIver after Addison had blocked an attempted clearance.

Everton responded. Gauvin mistimed Izzy Christiansen’s cross from the left and put it wide.

Tottenham got the equalizer their endeavour merited in the 57th minute when Gemma Davison set off from the right touchline in midfield, beat Sørensen and Clémaron before trying to put Addison in on goal. Her pass ricocheted off Sevecke and quick as a flash Davison chested the ball down and half-volleyed inside MacIver’s right hand post.

At 2-2 did Spurs convince themselves that the hardest part of the job had been done? If so, Everton had other ideas. The visitors got their winner just four minutes later. Emslie’s in-swinging corner delivery from the right was made to measure for Scott at the front post and the midfielder did enough to squeeze her header between Mikalsen and the defender on the line.

The match had ebbed and flowed so it would have been no surprise to see Spurs rally again. Sadly, Rehanne Skinner’s side had expended much of their energy getting the first two goals back and began losing their way. The manager, not unreasonably, felt she needed to freshen up the entire front three but it would be one of those days where changing things only succeeded in knocking Tottenham more out of rhythm.  

At the other end swashbuckling Scot Emslie – having her best game for weeks – cut in from the right, played Christiansen in on goal, but the Lioness sliced a very decent opportunity to wrap things up wide of the upright.

Kirk swapped in Simone Magill and Hayley Raso for Gauvin and Emslie and some fresh energy ensured that the Spurs backline didn’t get another comfortable moment on the ball. The two combined in the 76th minute and Mikalsen needed to be well positioned to save Raso’s effort.

Inevitably Spurs would get one more gilt-edged chance to grab a point. Shelina Zadorsky got something on substitute Lucy Quinn’s right wing cross but saw the ball come back off the post.

As the clock ticked down Everton full-back Turner tried her luck from 25-yards but saw the ball sail into the empty stand behind the goal, which served as a useful way to waste time as anything. Magill got the last chance but fired disappointingly wide after Spurs gifted possession away on the edge of the penalty box.

Everton are unbeaten in three matches and, sat fifth in the table, have some breathing space over Reading including a game in hand. This win will feel good, particularly with Manchester City on the horizon, but manager Kirk will be mindful that they let a two-goal lead slip and at times looked a bit sloppy.

In the end it was more of a victory for game management. Once Jill Scott had put the Toffees back in front they were able to suck the life out of the game. Good substitutions (in terms of defensive adjustment and, later, intensifying the forward press) meant that Spurs couldn’t rekindle their earlier fire.

It was particularly good to see Gabby George back on a football field after a year out recovering from a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament.

“We showed a lot of belief and character today. We have come back from two goals down and obviously come back to a level playing field. Overall, we stuck to the game plan throughout the course of it, I was really happy with that and I think we deserved to get points out of the game from the way that we played.”

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

For Tottenham, well they conceded three goals but two were penalties. On another day those decisions possibly go a different way. Besides, getting right back Ashleigh Neville back will improve Spurs in both penalty areas and allow combative Kiwi Ria Percival to shift back into central midfield.

For D2B, questions remain about their front four. Skinner still seems to be shuffling players around looking for the right combination. Addison and Graham definitely offer something and should cement their places at ‘11’ and 10’ respectively. Indeed Addison has recently extended her contract terms with the club.

None of the centre forward options, though, are looking like they will contribute enough goals. Ayane was selected for this match – presumably for pace in behind – but fluffed both of her chances. We’ll also have to await the outcome of a nasty looking wrist injury to Jessica Naz towards the end of the match.

Recently departed loan striker Alex Morgan has never looked so good, and clearly made more of an impact than observers realised.

Birmingham City 0-4 Manchester City

Bosh! Returning midfielder Sam Mewis gives Manchester City the lead against Birmingham.

“I thought the second half performance was really good. In the first half, we were really impatient in the final third. I spoke to the girls a little bit about that at half-time. I think that the [first] goal helped us massively. It was important to get the goal before half-time. It was a great cross from Chloe [Kelly] and I think we upped it in the second half. We knew there were only limited games on today, so it was important to keep winning.

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

Manchester City thrashed another side in the bottom half of the division to move within two points of league leaders Chelsea.

The match was switched last minute from Damson Park, Solihull, to be played at St George’s Park – the England team’s ‘country residence’ in the Midlands. So, it was little surprise that City, choc-full of Lionesses, took to the new environment like ducks to water.

City striker Ellen White, on the back of a midweek hat-trick against Northern Ireland, would have the best of the early opportunities but was unable to find the net. Birmingham, for their part, demonstrated the kind of defensive stubbornness that one would normally associate with an Eastenders character. They sat deep and frustrated their adversaries.

But the Blues couldn’t quite eke it out to half time. The visitors took the lead in the 40th minute and the goal was generated by an all-too-familiar source. Lucy Bronze played Chloe Kelly down the right and her cross was headed in by returning midfielder Sam Mewis arriving at the front post.

Early in the second period Mewis brought a good save out of Hannah Hampton with a drive from the edge of the box. But the American wasn’t to be denied her brace, lashing home a volley at the second attempt after Alex Greenwood’s corner had created chaos in the six yard box.

Just a minute later it was 3-0. Lauren Hemp shanked a cross from the left under pressure and the unexpected flight of the ball eluded Hampton’s reach.

Caroline Weir wrapped up the goals in the 66th minute. Steph Houghton threaded White into the right wing channel, the forward played it first time into the penalty area and the Scot arrived to convert with the deftest of touches round the keeper.

City’s win streak stretches to eight games but it’s the way that they are blowing opponents out that’s particularly foreboding.  Who would want to play them right now? Imagine being the team that’s got to watch their previous week’s highlight reel – that’s not going to cheer anyone up.

Anyway, Fiorentina are at the front of the queue for the next go, visiting the Citizens for Wednesday’s Champions League Round of Sixteen first leg tie. And maybe that’s the kind of challenge City need – a team that they won’t know as much about to focus their minds.  After that Everton make the trip to the Academy Stadium, off the back of their first WSL win in a while. Gareth Taylor’s side know all about them and have beaten them regularly, including the 2019/20 FA Cup Final.

“I still don’t quite understand what’s going on. I only kind of got given 45 minutes to tell the players and the staff. It’s safe to say that no one’s particularly happy because the sun’s shining, the pitch is absolutely fine. I’ve just read some tweets [that say] the ground doesn’t meet regulations and my question is – for the last five years has that been the case? Do we now not play any more games there between now and the end of the season, is that it, what’s the situation? People have their opinions on Solihull but we like playing there. We enjoy playing there, it’s our home, it’s where we’re comfortable.”

Carla Ward, Manager, Birmingham City, via Birminghammail.co.uk [on the change of venue]

Birmingham, in fairness, probably wouldn’t have had this fixture highlighted on the calendar as a ‘must-win’ encounter. They kept it locked up for 40 minutes and maybe, if they had got in level at the break, it could have all gone differently. Mewis’s opener heralded a torrid twenty-five minute spell that there was no coming back from.

The Blues haven’t looked like a relegation side this season, but the news that they may not be able to play the remainder of their home games at Damson Park is a blow. The Solihull-shared ground has presented some notable challenges this season – particularly following heavy rain – with several matches being called off. Nonetheless, spring is here, matches can be caught up midweek and Carla Ward’s side would surely rather play in familiar stadium surroundings rather than the wide open pitches of St George’s Park…

“I think the bit that we’re disappointed with is the two goals in a minute shortly after half-time, but we’ll have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off.  It’s a big season and those games won’t define us, that’s for sure. They’ll make us stronger, we’ve now got to look after each other and kick on.”

Carla Ward, Manager, Birmingham City, via Birminghammail.co.uk [on the match]

Aston Villa 0-4 Arsenal

Don’t ballet dance in front of Vivianne Miedema – She’ll score and then give you a ‘bunch of fives’ – and here’s the proof…

Four second half goals in a devastating 30 minute spell gave Arsenal a comfortable win over WSL ‘freshers’ Aston Villa.

Despite virtually camping in Villa’s defensive third for most of the first half, only Noëlle Maritz and Vivianne Miedema managed to draw saves out of Villans’ keeper Lisa Weiß.

Further misses by Miedema and Daniëlle van de Donk after the break suggested it was becoming ‘one of those days’ for the Gunners in front of goal. Villa defender Elisha N’Dow even threatened to give the hosts an unexpected lead when she tried her luck from twenty yards, watching as the ball floated just over Lydia Williams’ cross bar.

Finally Arsenal got themselves in front. Jill Roord found Beth Mead on the right and the winger created just enough space on her marker to whip in a cross that Miedema converted from two yards out.

Mead nearly got on the score sheet herself when she drove a 20-yarder towards the top corner that Weiß brilliantly pawed away.

Jordan Nobbs made it 2-0 in the 67th minute when she combined with Roord to put Miedema in behind the Villa back line. The Dutch striker couldn’t beat Weiß, but the ball broke at speed back to Nobbs who did well to control her finish.

Right back Maritz crashed a dipping left-footed effort of the cross bar from the edge of the box, before Ireland left back Katie McCabe, with that left foot, showed the Swiss defender how it should be done, finding the keeper’s top right hand corner with a rocket from 25-yards.

McCabe turned provider for substitute Lisa Evans to round off the scoring with two minutes to go. Evans started and finished the move which involved Caitlin Foord and Mead, before McCabe crossed and the Scot arrived to power her header past Weiß from close range.

Joe Montemurro’s side incredibly still have Champions’ League qualification within their own control. Win a game in hand, match Manchester United’s record and then find a way to beat the Red Devils at Meadow Park on March 18th and goal difference will propel them into the top three. Simples, right?

Of course, the issue that Arsenal have had this season is getting enough points out of the top sides to remain competitive for the European berths.  A solitary point from Chelsea is all they’ve been able to accrue from five games against their main rivals, so that match up with Casey Stoney’s side is about as ‘must-win’ as it gets.

Injuries haven’t helped but the best squads, including Arsenal’s, are loaded with talent from all over the planet.  Montemurro, for some reason, hasn’t been able to figure out how to get his team to play somewhere near their very best no matter who is pulling on the red and white jersey. Against their main rivals, with eighteen points per season at stake: that’s a big problem.

Before all that that, though, the Gunners are back in the West Midlands to take on Birmingham City.

“For large parts of the game it was encouraging. You’re going to suffer a lot in this game when you’re playing against [one of] the top four. But it’s about surviving in them moments and we did that really well in the first hour. The first goal going in on the hour kind of knocked us back. After that it was disappointing. It’s lessons learnt from that last 30 minutes…”

Marcus Bignot, Manager, Aston Villa, via Twitter @AVWFCOfficial

Aston Villa, meanwhile have to contend with United and Chelsea in two of their next three league games. It’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for players that got used to winning last season either with Gemma Davies’ championship side or the overseas clubs they transferred from. 

But there’s a fair to good chance that just five wins could secure their WSL status for another year. They already have three on the board.

So, while getting duffed up by Arsenal at the Banks Stadium must feel a bit soul destroying, sat at home on a quiet Sunday night in front of the Antiques Roadshow, there are bigger, more important battles ahead. Villa fans will be hoping that manager Marcus Bignot can fire up those big characters within the dressing room to grind out the results they need.

==

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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