Little’s absence costs Arsenal dearly at City
A nervy, pressurised game in Manchester ended up with City victorious and Arsenal’s title hopes hanging by a thread. Joe Montemurro’s side are now outsiders in the race after losing to their nearest rivals in quick succession, and they badly missed Kim Little on Sunday. She did not even make the bench, presumably due to a knock, and it meant their link from back to front was badly disrupted. Vivianne Miedema became isolated as a result and, with Lia Walti’s absence in front of the back four also keenly felt, a lack of strength in depth was exposed again. They rallied after going two goals down but, one fine save apart, Ellie Roebuck was not tested often enough in the City goal and they will have to find a way to recover from this.
It was a great way for Nick Cushing to sign off from his time at City, though, after winning six major trophies with them. He leaves for the US on Wednesday and has big shoes to fill, but it is a fantastic legacy for his successor to build on. His team had to battle it out against Arsenal in a feisty game with little relaxed, flowing football, but they deserved their goals from Pauline Bremer and Lauren Hemp – and now need to keep winning with a potential title shoot-out against Chelsea just around the corner.
Scintillating Chelsea look good for a treble
Chelsea are playing a scintillating brand of football at the moment and it is simply brilliant to watch. They showed that again in pummelling West Ham, scoring eight times with six different players on target and the momentum they have built up looks irresistible. The title seemed almost out of reach for them earlier in the season but they are on a superb run now and look hard to stop. Would anyone be brave against them going on to win the domestic treble?
It looks as if they have given themselves a really good kick up the backside after that stuttering start and it is all coming together – with world-class signings in tow, squad depth that nobody else can match, and a player in Beth England who is having an outstanding campaign. They now look utterly ruthless. Goal difference could end up amounting to an extra point, effectively, and they seem fully aware of that in the way they are putting teams to the sword. West Ham’s manager, Matt Beard, was despondent afterwards and of course nobody likes to be embarrassed. But this is the best ever Chelsea team, one that will show no remorse if you are not at 100%, and what we are seeing now is the result of investment on and off the pitch that makes them a fearsome proposition for both present and future.
Everton’s swagger cut short by gutsy Brighton
A narrow defeat at Brighton was tough for Everton to swallow. Did a little complacency creep in? It feels as if Willie Kirk has instilled a bit of swagger into them, in a positive way, and that a sense of confidence and identity has returned. They would have travelled to the south coast expecting to win, particularly on the back of a productive transfer window. Perhaps this was a bit of a reality check: a reminder that you need to respect every team you play. There is a sense that the good times are on the way back but you still need to graft out a result sometimes, and that was definitely the case this weekend. Next up for them is a local derby with Liverpool at Goodison Park and Kirk will be expecting a fiery response.
Brighton deserve a lot of credit though. Their gameplan worked and their match-winner, Aileen Whelan, again showed how important she is to them. They look as if they are pulling away from the relegation zone and can start looking at stabilising themselves in mid-table. Hope Powell has done a very good job and their long-term plan is, at current rate, bearing fruit.
Refereeing farce at Reading show it’s time for a change
There are two particular issues that have driven women’s players in top leagues to distraction down the years and one of them reared its head at Adams Park. Reading’s equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United came about when Katie Zelem bravely headed a free-kick over her own bar. It was inexplicably interpreted as a handball, leading to a penalty that Fara Williams converted, and even in real time it is hard to make any case for the decision. What it comes down to is that the quality of officiating has simply not moved with the sport. The referees themselves are underpaid and it’s not fair anyone – including the refs themselves– to have sub-standard officials thrust into the profile women’s football has now gained.
Every game has cameras present; every clip will be circulated online to a potential audience of millions; there is no hiding place. The league is now fully professional and it is time the refereeing kept pace. This is a problem that has been bubbling away for years but, when you are a professional who spends all week training to give your all on the pitch, you expect better and come to feel let down. The only silver lining is that an incident like this might shame those in charge into making things better.
Pitches and postponements do sport a disservice
The other issue that drives us mad? The quality of too many WSL pitches. Spurs’ match with Bristol City at the Hive was postponed, as was Liverpool’s meeting with Birmingham at Prenton Park; both surfaces were waterlogged and it can’t escape the attention that those stadiums each host home fixtures for three teams across the men’s and women’s games. Quite simply, neither pitch is conducive to good football and they cannot be considered permanent solutions for WSL teams next season.
Liverpool’s situation is particularly disappointing. They have ticked the boxes for the FA’s licensing criteria, sure, but it hardly took an expert to see that the pitch would be a problem as the season progressed. I feel they have underinvested in their women’s team right across the board, and they are getting a taste now that people do care and that “it’ll do” just isn’t enough. They wouldn’t take that attitude with the men’s team – it wouldn’t even be a discussion – and that’s why the Premier League table looks as it does. You have to speculate to accumulate in women’s football at the moment, otherwise nothing develops. Liverpool were a title-winning club a few years ago and have been a top-tier club for so long, but they they have not put a proper infrastructure together at a time when their city rivals, Everton, are achieving exactly that. They are doing themselves and the sport a disservice, and the weekend’s issues were a further reminder.