WSL1 Preview: Women’s FA Cup finalists Notts County Ladies targeting silverware

With the new WSL season starting next week, Neil Evans takes a look at Notts County’s chances of improving on last season’s mid-table finish.

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Team: Notts County Ladies
Home: Meadow Lane, Nottingham
Manager: Rick Passmoor
2015: 5th WSL1

Last season was all about changing the way the Lady Pies went about playing; a stylistic and cultural shift away from defensive, low-risk football towards a much more attacking, fluid approach. Notts had decided that risk would equal reward. Now in their third season, after their move from Lincoln, Rick Passmoor’s team would no longer be associated simply with stifling the opposition. The sheer cheek of that free-kick from Ellen White against Arsenal was welcome evidence of an established WSL team starting to embrace a different philosophy.

This didn’t mean that County became too gung-ho but 20 league goals scored and conceded was proof of the balance between attack and defence. Last season was a successful one, with two cup finals reached, including the first Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley, but it would be the disappointment of being runners-up that lingered.

Those two cup finals saw the two sides of Notts. At Wembley, we saw the old County looking to contain the Chelsea attack whilst overly-relying on Jess Clarke’s magic at the other end. Whereas the Continental Cup against Arsenal saw them take the game to the opposition, despite an early red card. Sadly, for Lady Pies fans, this enterprise wasn’t rewarded with Jordan Nobbs’ double leaving them without that elusive trophy.

This year’s model looks promising enough. Carly Telford is, arguably, the successor to Karen Bardsley in the England goal. A super shot-stopper, and a reassuring presence, Telford is the solid bedrock that underpins a strong defence. Laura Bassett became a national treasure after her World Cup own-goal, and it is the memory of her joy and pride in helping England to win the Bronze medal that will stay with fans for a long time. Sophie Bradley-Auckland offers as much quality at the back and the rather unsung heroes, Fern Whelan and Amy Turner, can sometimes get overlooked. This is a well-drilled, quality defensive unit. Maja Krantz has been snapped up to add depth and alongside Laura-Jayne O’Neill makes up a formidable roadblock for opposition strikers. They will, however, miss the pace of Desi Scott with the Canadian international returning to former club Kansas City.

In midfield, the hard-working Dani Buet has signed a new deal along with the equally industrious Leanne Crichton, and Passmoor, after some protracted negotiations, secured the signature of Angharad James from Bristol. AJ will provide a little extra guile and craft giving his team more creativity in midfield. They had signed former Manchester City starlet Natasha Flint on a year’s contract but she has this week left the club for “personal reasons”. That, and the departure of Alex Greenwood is a setback in Passmoor’s plans but there are still plenty of options available.

Clarke can turn a game in an instant; the winger-come-striker with electrifying pace will want to prove England boss Mark Sampson wrong for leaving her out of the current squad. Seven goals was an excellent return for a player who isn’t strictly an out-and-out striker. As good as Clarke is, it is Rachel Williams who drives this team forward. A superb passer and finisher, she can play across midfield or further forward as required and her six goals in 2015 was a sizable contribution. White is the target woman up top and is known for her strength and heading. The goals may have dried up slightly but her nous is crucial in sustaining many a Notts attack. Aileen Whelan is another established forward option who will hope for more game time this season.

In Passmoor, Notts have one of the most astute coaches in the women’s game. He has achieved a lot with, relatively, little resources and his sides are always competitive and hard to beat. They will have no trouble retaining their WSL status with this current squad and can beat anyone on their day. But after losing half of their 14 games in 2015, I can only envisage another mid-table finish.

As ever, they pose the greatest threat in the cups and don’t be surprised if the Lady Pies make another final this year. Fifth place was an improvement on the previous two seasons but that, for me, is the uppermost limits of what they can achieve. A tough test awaits them on opening day when they visit Manchester City at The Academy Stadium. However, there are a number of winnable games that could see the black and whites amongst the early pacesetters.

First Game: Notts County Ladies v Manchester City Women – March 23rd

Likely Line-up: Telford – Turner, Bradley, Bassett, Krantz – Yankey, James, Crichton, Clarke – White, Williams

Key Player: Rachel Williams
Prediction: 5th

Read more from Neil here

Follow Neil on Twitter @swinfan69

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