The ladies are back in business with the WSL underway after the break for FIFA Women’s World Cup. Neil Evans gives the lowdown on the action…
With the Lionesses barely off the plane basking in the warm after-glow of the best England football team performance since 1966, the WSL resumed amidst record crowds and unparalleled media attention. Before getting to the action, it’s worth dwelling on the impact the World Cup Third Place has had on women’s football. Later this year, ‘FIFA 16′ will include female players and teams. Now gamers will be able to choose Rooney or Kirby…the fanciful has become reality. The Football League Paper has also announced a dedicated eight page section on the women’s game. Two examples of why the women’s game will never be the same again. This weekend, Chelsea Ladies face off against Notts County in the first ever Wembley Women’s FA Cup Final. With over 30 thousand tickets sold, it’s a justified and positive decision by the FA.
Before both WSL leagues resumed, there was a transfer window to allow teams to strengthen ahead of the demands of league and Continental Cup. The most notable move was England’s Fran Kirby swapping Reading for Chelsea for what is believed to be a record transfer fee. Siobhan Chamberlain was loaned from Arsenal to Notts whilst Sunderland added Stephanie Roche (scorer of a certain Puskas nominated goal) and Norwegian Under 23 keeper Hilde Olsen. Promising striker Daphne Corboz has joined Manchester City Women whilst Willie Kirk bolstered his Bristol squad with seven new signings.
On the field, it appeared to be business as usual for Emma Hayes’ Chelsea side, beating Bristol four one at Wheatsheaf Lane. Inconsistent Liverpool had one of their better days with a three-one win at Arsenal and there were wins for Sunderland and Manchester City (both games attracting well over 2,000 spectators). And then the result that rocked the league, the Lady Black Cats humbling unbeaten Chelsea four-nil, courtesy of a Beth Mead hat-trick. Last weekend she followed that up with a brace in the win at Bristol. We were warned that Mead was ‘mint’ and the step-up to WSL 1 has proved that surely there is full England honours on the cards.
After a slow start, Manchester City have hit form too. Toni Duggan’s worldy set them on the way to three goals and points at Bristol, before ending Chelsea’s unbeaten home record with a two-one victory. Having not lost in seven, consecutive defeats have seen Sunderland top the table on goal difference from Arsenal. Carlton Fairweather has done a superb job as manager and confounded those who suggested Sunderland might struggle (I myself included). Free flowing up front and miserly at the back, they have been a breath of fresh air and have proved they belong in the top tier.
If its goals you are looking for, stay away from Birmingham City Ladies’ matches! Karen Carney’s penalty against Liverpool was Blues second WSL goal this season. It has, however, extended the gap between Birmingham and bottom club Bristol Academy to four points. The situation seems grim for Bristol. Performances have improved, with Spaniard Jade Boho-Sayo scoring four goals in three games, but the defense has to stiffen for the Vixens to beat the drop. In WSL 2 Doncaster Belles lead Reading by two points in the race for promotion.
The Continental Cup has also kicked off with a different format; three regional groups, two to qualify automatically plus the two best third place teams. Match day one saw Manchester City begin their trophy defense with a solid three-nil win against Doncaster. This week sees the second round of fixtures.
Chelsea’s collywobbles has blown the title race wide open, with four points now covering five teams. Before the break, Chelsea enjoyed a five point advantage and seemed comfortable at the top. That may not be the case anymore as Manchester City’s game in hand could prove pivotal in their quest for a first league title and Arsenal will feel very confident that they can regain top spot. It seems increasingly likely that Liverpool won’t retain the title they won in the last two seasons as they have lacked consistency. For now, Sunderland deserve the plaudits and with the chasing pack right behind them it’s sure to be a close race for the coveted WSL title and a feast of women’s footy is guaranteed. Brace yourselves!
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