Blues are back on top but the chasing pack are looking to take the WSL1 title race down to the wire. Things are also heating up for Doncaster and Reading in WSL2 – and the Continental Cup.
August began with Sunderland at the top, and while they remain very much part of the title race, it has ended with Chelsea Ladies back on top. Football is so often about momentum and the Blues’ triumph in the first Wembley Women’s Cup Final has re-energised Emma Hayes’ charges. Their recent away win at Arsenal may have further shifted the pendulum in a blue direction.
With Fran Kirby now firmly ensconced within the Chelsea family; winning a penalty and tormenting the Lady Gunners back line; she might give them that extra edge in yet another dramatic denouement. But they could be preoccupied by October’s battle of Britain tie with Glasgow City in the Uefa Women’s Champions League.
With just the two WSL1 fixtures played in August, as the Continental Cup shared the limelight, it was Arsenal’s title challenge that took the biggest hit. Two home defeats, against fellow contenders Chelsea and Manchester City, has left Pedro Martinez’s side rank outsiders in what is now a four- way fight. For Carlton Fairweather’s Lady Black Cats, one point from their two fixtures leaves no further room for slip-ups if they are to secure a top-two finish.
It may well be Manchester City ladies that provide the biggest threat. Their win against Arsenal and Toni Duggan’s propensity for the spectacular (she appears to be having her own private goal of the season competition) has propelled City into the title tussle. With a game in hand against a resurgent Liverpool – who are in European action against Bescia – Nick Cushing’s team can ramp up the pressure on the leaders and displace Sunderland from that all-important Champions League spot.
For a project that began last season with the Continental Cup masking a disappointing campaign, City are now justifying the huge investment and stellar squad put in place. They may regret squandering a two-goal lead at Notts County, with the Lady Pies showing commendable spirit in claiming a point.
In other news, the Uefa Women’s Champions League draw (based on last season’s league positions) has been made. Liverpool travel to Italy to take on Bescia in a tricky tie whilst there’s a battle of Britain as Chelsea face Glasgow City.
It seems likely that in WSL1 we could be in for a promotion and relegation last-day drama. Like last year, but even more dramatic! It really is too close to call.
In WSL2, both promotion spots are looking increasingly locked down by Doncaster Rovers Belles and Reading. In spite of a strong season, recent draws appear to have left third-placed Yeovil too large a gap to close. Doncaster have been the standout team all season, whilst Reading have showed there is life after Kirby with the astute acquisition of former Vixen, Nikki Watts for added fire- power.
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Elsewhere, Oxford, Millwall, Durham and London Bees have all had more encouraging campaigns. The Bees, in particular, are no longer being thrashed and their comeback at Watford illustrates they are heading in the right direction. The same cannot be said of Everton. With Andy Spence no longer at the helm, they have rather lost their way and the expected promotion campaign has not materialised. It’s probably fair to say that Nikita Parris won’t be returning to Merseyside after her season-long loan at City officially ends. They do have games in hand but it will take a gargantuan effort to deliver promotion this season.
The Continental Cup is now taking shape, with the three regional groups producing two qualifiers plus the two best third-placed sides. Liverpool and Manchester City have guaranteed their places in the northern group, whilst it remains a three-way battle in the Midland/South West group between Notts County, Birmingham and Bristol Academy.
Undoubtedly, Dave Parker must be somewhat perplexed as to why his Birmingham team are scoring goals for fun in the cup (seven at Villa Ladies, four against Yeovil and three more against Oxford) whilst their league total has crawled up to just three, with Freda Ayesi’s opener in the score draw with Sunderland.
In the South group, Arsenal and Chelsea lead the way but both have been shaken up by strong opposition
from WSL2 opponents, most notably, Reading, who have lost by the odd goal to both London sides.
The cup hasn’t just raised Birmingham City’s morale it has also galvanised Bristol Academy, building much-needed confidence and belief ahead of what may well be their season defining clash, at the Stoke Gifford Stadium on September 6th. No quarter will be given as Willie Kirk looks to complete the Vixens’ great escape.
In striker Jade Boho-Sayo, they have something Blues desperately need: goals. With a two-point advantage, Brum have the advantage. A Bristol win, however, will leave their destiny in their own hands. Interesting that they have a full dress rehearsal this weekend, same venue and time.
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