FAWSL Week 1: Round-up

There were no draws in week one of the Women’s Super League. Both Manchester clubs won their opening games with City thrashing Everton at Goodison Park; Arsenal made a bold statement beating London rivals and defending Champions Chelsea at the Emirates; Aston Villa rained on Leicester City’s WSL debut, and there were victories for Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton & Hove Albion…

Manchester United 2-0 Reading

Nice formation: Ona Batlle (17) leads the chorus after scoring United’s second goal against Reading.

The Red Devils kicked off Marc Skinner’s management tenure with an opening night win over Reading. But their victory was not without some controversy.

The hosts took the lead six minutes before the break when Ella Toone threaded Kirsty Hanson in behind the Royals’ backline and the Scot coolly finished off the outside of her left boot,

Reading looked to rally in the second half. United full-back Ona Batlle scuffed a bog-standard clearance into Brooke Chaplen’s path, but the midfielder’s shot rattled the underside of the cross bar and bounced out.

Sky TV were broadcasting their first Super League game and replays of Chaplen’s effort would soon suggest that the ball had gone over the line, prompting debate about whether goal line technology and VAR should be used in the top flight of the women’s game. It wouldn’t be the last time that subject came up over the weekend.

Batlle, blushes spared, then went on to make the game safe for United in the 54th minute combining with Toone on the left of Reading’s penalty area before thumping the ball into Grace Moloney’s top-left corner.

United head to Leicester City next; Reading host Arsenal.

“The two goals also gave me goose bumps for different reasons. The interaction was brilliant for the first goal, and there was the outstanding ability and finish for the second. I just had to stand and clap for both goals. There are so many wonderful players in this squad, and now they’ve got to keep growing their personalities. I can’t single anyone out of course, but they’re at Manchester United remember and they know what’s required of them.”

Marc Skinner, Head Coach, Manchester United, via manchestereveningnews.co.uk 4/9/2021

Aston Villa 2-1 Leicester City

Villa turned around a half-time deficit to inflict defeat on newly promoted Leicester City at the Bescot Stadium.

Jonathan Morgan’s side began well. Striker Natasha Flint saw her 25-yard drive pushed away by summer signing Hannah Hampton at full stretch.

In the 39th minute Shannon O’Brien did some good approach work to give Flint another sight of goal. The Foxes top scorer from last season had more luck with this effort, which was so much more straightforward for Hampton to deal with but it slipped through her grasp and Leicester had the lead.

Former Manchester United forward Jess Sigsworth had a gilt edged chance to extend the visitors’ advantage, running in for a 1v1 with Hampton – the keeper won this one, staying big and saving with her left leg.

The Foxes would rue that missed opportunity as the Villans turned the game on its head inside sixty seconds.

Self-confessed Villa fan Sarah Mayling got the home side back on terms curling a 25-yard free-kick into the top left-hand corner.

Straight from the kick-off Swiss international Alisha Lehmann showed some good hustle which culminated in her providing a cross from the left that former Leicester midfielder Remi Allen converted from six yards out.

Next up Aston Villa make their first trip to London for a claret-off against West Ham United; Jess Sigsworth gets to reunite with some former pals as Leicester City host Manchester United.

Everton 0-4 Manchester City

Gareth Taylor’s pre-season squad preparation may have been hampered by the late return of no less than twelve Olympians, but his City side looked imperious as they put Everton to the sword in front of 5,998 spectators at Goodison Park.

Vicky Losada gave the visitors a 26th minute lead firing in from 12 yards after keeper Sandy MacIver had denied Caroline Weir.

Ten minutes later Janine Beckie made it two with an unchallenged run and low shot from 20-yards.

Jamaican international Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw tapped in a cross from former Toffees’ winger Hayley Raso two minutes after that.

After Beckie hit the cross bar from close range in the second period, City captain Steph Houghton rounded off the scoring with an excellent 25-yard free-kick that zipped over the wall and found MacIver’s top right corner.

Everton did have decent chances in either half to get on the board but WSL debutant keeper Karima Benameur made good stops to deny new forward Anna Anvegård and left-back Dan Turner.

A full report on this match can be found here.

It doesn’t get any easier for Willie Kirk’s side who travel to Chelsea for their next fixture. Manchester City host Tottenham Hotspur.

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Birmingham City

Spurs began their campaign with a narrow victory over Birmingham City.

Tottenham forward Kit Graham only scored the one league goal last season. It was against the Blues on the closing day of the 2020/21 season.

Technically, then, she can claim back-to-back league goals. In the 40th minute Graham whipped in a ball from the right wing that looked for all the world like a cross, but no one got a touch and into the net it whisked.

Spurs nearly extended their lead in the second half but Angela Addison’s approach play down the right was better than the final shot which pinged off the side netting.

Spurs will be happy to get an early three points on the board, they’re on the coach to Manchester City next; Birmingham, who started the season with new Head Coach Scott Booth in tenure, host Brighton and Hove Albion.

Arsenal 3-2 Chelsea

Agony flanks ecstasy: Arsenal’s Beth Mead heads for the crowd after scoring her first goal in a 3-2 win over Chelsea.

Arsenal began life under new boss Jonas Eidevall with a contentious victory over defending champions Chelsea, who started with all-bar-one of their available returning Olympians on the bench.

A slightly underwhelming crowd of 8,705 was in attendance, which doubles anything that the Gunners can accommodate at Meadow Park of course, but with the Emirates Stadium made available during the men’s international break, a London derby between fierce title rivals should perhaps have drawn more.

Arsenal looked inspired nonetheless and forged ahead through a familiar source of goals. Katie McCabe put Vivianne Miedema in space down the left and the striker drew defending wingback Jess Carter into the penalty box before cutting inside and then beating Ann-Katrin Berger at her near post.

The Blues equalised a minute before the break. Erin Cuthbert’s corner from the right appeared to have been dealt with, but while Chelsea recycled it, no one in an Arsenal shirt picked up Cuthbert who drifted into the penalty area, latched onto Melanie Leupolz’s pass and drove low into the net.

It was a great time for the visitors to score but Arsenal wrested control back almost immediately in the second period when Miedema threaded Beth Mead in behind the Chelsea backline. Mead raced away from Magda Eriksson and Millie Bright, shaped to check back on to her right foot as she arrived at the penalty area and then rifled past Berger with her left.

Berger had to be sharp to prevent Mead getting her second, saving at the winger’s feet after Miedema again loaded the gun.

But Mead did get her second, and Arsenal’s third, on the hour. The Gunners moved the ball quickly down their right through Kim Little, Miedema and Mana Iwabuchi. Mead was in the middle and Iwabuchi put the ball in just the right spot for her to round Berger, put Cuthbert on her backside and pass into an empty net.

It was a terrific play. The only problem was Mead was a yard offside. The Assistant Referee didn’t think so and Arsenal had a two-goal lead. As with the United v Reading game discourse began about the need for VAR, etc. in the WSL – led unsurprisingly by Blues boss Emma Hayes after the match.

Of course Chelsea did have thirty minutes to find a way back and got the job half done by the 64th minute when Cuthbert whipped in a cross from the right wing by-line begging to be powered home, and Pernille Harder duly obliged.

But the visitors couldn’t find another and Arsenal notched up an important three points over one of their closest title rivals.

Arsenal travel to Reading for match day 2; Chelsea will try and get their title defence back on track hosting Everton at Kingsmeadow.

[On Mead’s second goal] “It’s a yard offside. The positive is there’s goals for fans and a brilliant weekend for women’s football, there’s been good attendances. The negative is that by putting our product in such a brilliant place with Sky in particular, it means everybody’s asking the question: ‘well why don’t we have goal-line technology and why don’t we have VAR?’ I heard before the game that there was conversations around it and that it’s not a priority because it’s really, really expensive and I think we sell our game short.”

Emma Hayes, Manager, Chelsea, via dailymail.co.uk 5/9/2021

Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0 West Ham United

The Seagulls had the hoodoo over West Ham last year, and got off to a winning start against them in the final match of week one at the Broadfield Stadium.

All the damage was done in the first half.

Danielle Carter’s shot was blocked by Hawa Cissoko’s arm in the 32nd minute. Match official Emily Heaslip pointed to the penalty spot and then sent off the centre-back for good measure.

Inessa Kaagman applied the double punishment. West Ham keeper MacKenzie Arnold guessed correctly, but the Dutchwoman’s spot kick was too hot for her, flying into the top left.

Lee Geum-min made it two just before the break, enjoying the outcome of some pinball on the edge of the box that led to Hammers’ defender Grace Fisk inadvertently putting the forward in on goal. The South Korean made no mistake finishing confidently off the outside of her right boot.

The visitors had hit the bar earlier in the match through Adriana Leon, but were unable to go as close again.

West Ham will host Aston Villa in their next fixture; Brighton travel to Birmingham City.

“I haven’t looked at the situation back, but obviously, [the penalty and sending off] pretty much killed the game. We were on top, and we were here to get points and that’s very difficult to do when you’ve got 10 players on the pitch so obviously it’s frustrating. We had chances and we made the effort to try and get out and not lay back and do double shifts basically because of the one player down. It’s a huge credit to the girls.”

Olli Harder, Manager, West Ham United, via football.london 6/9/2021

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