By Neil Evans.
Not much has been shuffled for the Lady Blues as their performance in the upcoming WSL season may largely depend on the existing players stepping up their game.
I ask the question on the title because and perhaps in spite of arguably the Lady Blues’ most successful and consistent ever season in 2014 (Champions League Semi-Finalists, and third in the WSL). The harsh reality, however, was that Dave Parker’s side came away with nothing, not even the consolation of another crack at the Women’s Champions League. Such is the fine line between success and (relative) failure.
Third place was an outstanding achievement and I could easily be writing about the defending champions from last season. A controversial equaliser direct from the restart against champions Liverpool and not getting the one goal that would have seen off Notts County left Blues fans dreams in tatters. Now the task of lifting themselves from what must have been a galling experience is in front of them.
Dave Parker has largely decided that the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach applies to his squad. An extremely solid group has been bolstered by former Vixen Alex Windell, who will provide extra midfield steel and promising former Arsenal forward Freda Ayisi who will provide extra pace in the final third.
Apart from that, Blues will continue as they finished last season. Becky Spencer is a capable goalkeeper and she should be protected by a proven rearguard. Emily Westwood is a dependable international defender and alongside Kerys Harrop, Aiofe Mannion and Cristina Torkildsen, Birmingham has a combative and coherent unit. However, it is in midfield that Birmingham’s real strength lies and the aforementioned Windell compliments the class and power of Jo Potter. When Potter commands the centre of midfield, Birmingham really are a threat to anyone. Jade Moore and Jess Carter add real strength in depth. Add to the mix the emergence of Remi Allen, a real talent going forward, and the composure of Emily Simpkins. Lots of ability to be found and that’s before I even mention Karen Carney!
Kaz Carney almost needs no introduction. An England regular and Blues first female inductee into Birmingham City’s ‘Hall of Fame’, she gives everything to the cause (playing for the club she supports and loves). Carney has all the attributes that any attacking midfielder could ever need, and her nine goals last term was proof that she was hard to handle. Her feisty side can, occasionally, get the better of her. But if you want someone ‘in the trenches’ fighting on your side, there is nobody better. The welcome addition of Ayisi should ensure that the goals are spread around a little more whilst Kirsty Linnett was another revelation, the England Under 23 International netting five times last term. Birmingham has a fine tradition of bringing players through from their youth system and this tight-knit group is no different with three more included in this season’s squad.
Dave Parker has achieved outstanding results with one of the smallest budgets in the WSL and he will need to produce more rabbits out of the hat to keep up with the big spenders in the division. They will be competitive, for sure, but I feel they rely far too much on Potter and Carney to improve on last year’s third place. I think they need more pace at the back and a little bit extra going forward. It’s time for the likes of Mel Lawley, for example, to deliver on her undoubted promise.
Birmingham’s continuity is their greatest strength and perhaps a slight weakness too. Manager Dave Parker has a tried and tested style of play and the personnel to fit his system. I fancy they could enjoy a good run in a cup but with Liverpool to play in their first game in the FA Cup plus two tricky opening league games, we may well have an early indication as to where they are at. Much, as ever depends on Potter and Carney. My verdict: mid-table respectability.
2015 Prediction: 5th
Key Player: Karen Carney
Birmingham City Ladies begin their 2015 season at home (Solihull Moors FC) v Manchester City Women on March 29th.
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