Approaching the end of the footballing year, Emma Hayes’ Chelsea found themselves in an identical situation to last season. Two points clear going into the final round of fixtures, Chelsea knew that a loss on the final day could, once again, snatch the WSL crown away from them (provided Manchester City Women won). Could history repeat itself? Neil Evans has more.
Not this time. This time, Chelsea put in the kind of professional performance required to clinch the league in style, in front of their own fans, as they dismantled Sunderland Ladies 4-0 to claim a memorable league and cup double.
Rewind to my last update, and the league was very much up for grabs going into September’s fixtures. Arsenal Ladies kept the pressure on, winning away at Liverpool, whilst Manchester City squeezed past the Lady Black Cats 1-0 to maintain their title charge. Nick Cushing’s side would win all of their remaining games to ensure the heat firmly remained on Chelsea right to the end. They could do no more than that, clinching a deserved second place, and the stated objective of a UEFA Women’s Champions League place.
City really were on fire after the World Cup break, conceding just two goals in their final four WSL fixtures. Unfortunately for them, Chelsea secured the title with maximum points from their three remaining games. They started September with a nervous 2-1 triumph over Notts County, but an emphatic 4-0 away win at Liverpool steadied the nerves, before reversing their 4-0 away loss to Sunderland from back in July.
For Arsenal Ladies, third place will be again regarded as something of a failure. Kelly Smith has already stated that the club will have to examine this season – the second successive year without UWCL football. Meanwhile, after briefly topping the table, Sunderland Ladies simply ran out of steam, failing to win any of their last six league games. However, Beth Mead was WSL 1’s top scorer, and Carlton Fairweather’s charges far exceeded the predictions of many (myself included), finishing a more than respectable fourth. Women’s FA Cup finalists Notts County’s season ended with a whimper – three defeats – though they have reached the semi-finals of the Continental Cup, where they are joined by Liverpool, Arsenal, and Birmingham.
The big relegation six-pointer at the Stoke Gifford stadium was decisively settled in Birmingham City Ladies’ favour, as they vanquished the Vixens of Bristol Academy 3-0. That effectively sealed Bristol’s fate, and their 6-1 mauling in Manchester rubber-stamped their demotion to WSL 2. It has been a tough season all round for the Vixens, though they did deliver much needed cheer on the final day, beating Liverpool 4-2. Willie Kirk will have much to ponder during the off-season as he looks to build a side capable of bouncing back into WSL 1; whilst performances were not matched by results, the Vixens simply conceded too many goals.
Birmingham will need to score more goals next season – seven league goals being positively anaemic – to improve on their final sixth place finish. Former champions Liverpool collapsed to seventh, and though they were never in danger of relegation, this was a dismal title defense. Faring somewhat better in Europe, however, a narrow 1-0 loss away at Italian club Brescia leaves Matt Beard’s Reds with every chance of progressing in the UWCL. It promises to be a nail-biting second leg at the Halton Stadium. Meanwhile, at the time of writing, Chelsea are yet to play Glasgow City in their ‘Battle of Britain’ Champions League tie.
Hearty congratulations are due to the two promoted clubs from WSL 2, Doncaster Rovers Belles and Reading; both have thoroughly deserved their tickets to the big league. These are particularly exciting times for ‘Donny’, with the announcement of some full-time contracts and a multi-million pound training complex – no problems with meeting FA criteria this time for the Belles! The WSL 2 title remains up for grabs as we enter the closing stages, and I will round that up alongside the Continental Cup, as well as the ‘hits and misses’ of the season next time. Attendances up by nearly 50%, fast-flowing attacking football, and a post-World Cup feel good factor has played its part in building the momentum of the women’s game. Long may it continue!