The WSL 1 and 2 title races heat up this weekend with a bumper fixture list in both divisions. Neil Evans brings us up to speed…
Manchester City have taken what looks like an unassailable stranglehold in the race for the title, with back-to-back victories over Reading and Doncaster giving the Citizens a 10-point lead with games running out. Nick Cushing’s side also claimed a Continental Cup semi-final place with another victory over the Belles.
It’s devastating news for their title rivals but confirmation that City are the dominant force in the league ahead of Sunday’s clash with Reading. A goal difference of plus 27 and only three goals conceded reinforces just how much they have controlled what is a competitive league. Barring a meltdown of Devon Loch proportions, City are set to justify the huge investment in infrastructure and talent in delivering a first ever league title.
The secret to their success has been the shrewd addition of Jane Ross and Demi Stokes, along with the emergence of teen sensation Georgia Stanway. Factor in a core group of players and a stable management structure, and it may not be such a surprise that City are odds-on to win the title.The rest are left scrapping it out for second place with Chelsea, Arsenal, Birmingham, and Liverpool all in with a shout.
It’s now full speed ahead until the end of the season, with no more frustrating long breaks as the games come thick and fast from this weekend onwards. Two of the contenders for a coveted Uefa Women’s Champions League spot face off at Solihull Moors as Chelsea visit Birmingham on Sunday, whilst Arsenal travel to Meadow Lane knowing they cannot afford to slip up against an inconsistent Notts County.
At the bottom, the battle for survival will be equally intense. Rock-bottom Doncaster Rovers Belles are still pointless and shipping goals at an alarming rate. They have a tough assignment away at Liverpool on Saturday before a run of five successive home fixtures that will decide their fate.
The first of those is a virtual ‘six-pointer’ against struggling Sunderland. Win that, and Donny have every chance of avoiding demotion but any other result would likely consign them to an immediate return to the second tier. It will help their cause if they can avoid conceding after 12 seconds as they did against City. A porous defence did for Bristol in their fruitless battle for survival last season and unless Doncaster can keep the back door locked, they will be relegated.
Arguably, a much more exciting race is unfolding for the two promotion places out of WSL2, with a potentially pivotal round of fixtures approaching. Everton and Bristol City face each other at Stoke Gifford in a massive game at the top on Saturday, while leaders Yeovil face a tricky trip to Sheffield the following day.
Andy Spence’s Everton are no longer in control of their own destiny after being held at home by a Durham side that’s having a fine season. Five points behind the Vixens but with a game in hand, the Toffees can wrestle back the initiative with an away win. However, a Bristol victory could mean yet another season in WSL2 and a lot of soul-searching for the league’s biggest club.
Meanwhile, it’s been quite a turnaround for London Bees. Dave Edmondson’s side are to be congratulated for going from ‘whipping girls’ to reaching the Continental Cup semi-final where they face WSL1 Birmingham. As with City, it was always going to take a little time for the Bees to establish themselves.
This cup run has been a fitting reward for the huge work put in by everyone connected with the club. Can they beat Dave Parker’s Blues next Saturday? Having knocked out Chelsea, Bees fans will be buzzing with optimism that they can set a date with the winners of Arsenal v Manchester City. Fireworks are guaranteed.
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