Referees come under scrutiny, new training ground for Spurs and United’s strength in depth

Rich Laverty takes a look at some of the biggest talking points in the Women’s Super League.

Stoney got Groenen call just right

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It was a decision that could easily have had a negative influence on Manchester United’s ability to record another important three points against Aston Villa on Saturday, but Casey Stoney’s decision to replace influential midfielder Jackie Groenen inside 10 minutes was the right course of action.

After a solid if unspectacular first season in England, Groenen has been a key component of United’s unbeaten start to the current campaign with her energy and ability to press from the middle of the park aided by an attack stacked with top class talent compared to last season.

United no doubt lost that control and energy from midfield when Groenen was replaced having barely played five minutes, but Stoney stayed true to her word that player safety would come above all else.

After a challenge with an opponent, Groenen fell head first into another Villa player and was withdrawn after treatment from United’s staff. It appeared as though Groenen wished to continue, but as concussion and indeed the effects of it become more and more discussed, Stoney was absolutely right to put the player above the team and replace her with Lucy Staniforth.

As it happens, the new-found depth United have in both attack and midfield meant they got the points anyway thanks to goals from Leah Galton and a late chipped effort from Ella Toone. If Groenen has to follow official concussion protocols, she will likely miss this weekend’s game against Reading, who will prove no easy task for United.

Was Ward right to be so critical of officials?

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Another manager high up in the talking points post-weekend fixtures was Birmingham City’s Carla Ward, who was highly critical of referee Cristiana Hattersley after her side lost 3-0 away at Arsenal.

Joe Montemurro’s Gunners were awarded two penalties during the game, the first saved by Hannah Hampton at 0-0, before Kim Little made amends by sealing the points when Arsenal had already broken into a 2-0 lead.

Ward appeared generally unhappy with Hattersley’s overall performance, calling it “Sunday league standard” and “one of the worst refereeing performances I’ve seen.”

Ward’s comments were met with mixed reaction. Some felt she should have focused on her own side while others praised her for following in the footsteps of the likes of Stoney and Chelsea’s Emma Hayes in openly criticising officiating standards at the elite level of the women’s game.

There are certainly two sides to the coin. On the one hand, referees are still very much part-time and with that comes an understandable drop in standards. Baroness Sue Campbell has previously stated there is no set timescale of officials becoming fully professional by 2024, and fairly added that even the best full-time officials in the men’s game come under constant criticism.

On the other hand, the game won’t move forward without such scrutiny, and Ward’s comments have put those standards firmly back in the front of people’s minds. After using new technology to monitor every decision made throughout last season, the FA culled the list of officials for this season, with only 21 referees taking charge of an FA WSL game this season compared to 37 come the end of last season.

But there’s not a huge amount of games available for referees to gain any sort of momentum or build confidence. Only Abigail Byrne with seven has refereed has refereed more than four league games and we’re already in December.

11 of the 21 have only refereed one game each so far this season, so it does make you wonder how referees can improve if they’re not exposed to regular games and experience. For Hattersley, Birmingham’s defeat was just her second FA WSL match after Manchester City’s 8-1 thrashing of Bristol City last month.

Skinner’s perfect start ends a good week on and off the pitch for Tottenham

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Despite a winless start to the 2020/21 campaign, it’s fair to say Rehanne Skinner had big shoes to fill ahead of her first game as Tottenham Hotspur head coach.

Replacing the sacked duo of Karen Hills and Juan Carlos Amoros, the pair had been together at the club almost a decade, Skinner did the best job possible of announcing herself in the role with a vital first win and three points of the season against Brighton & Hove Albion.

It was also the perfect way to make herself known to the fans who were allowed back inside The Hive for the first time this season.

It wasn’t just the result either which would have given the former England youth team coach and recent assistant to Phil Neville cause for a smile either, with USA striker Alex Morgan netting her first goal in England from the penalty spot.

Beyond that, there were an array of impressive performances and it’s hard to believe there is such potential for Spurs to succeed with some exciting young players around experienced heads such as Morgan and Orlando Pride team mates Shelina Zadorsky and Alanna Kennedy.

It was another experienced head who got the first goal of the Skinner era, Kerys Harrop’s early free-kick ensuring she is now just the fourth player to be able to say she has scored in every single FA WSL season. Not bad for a defender.

Angela Addison was also on the scoresheet with a lovely solo effort, getting away from her defender and rounding Megan Walsh like she wasn’t there to restore the lead after Inessa Kaagman had equalised.

The return of exciting young forward Jessica Naz from an ACL injury would have also pleased Skinner, who announced earlier this week that Spurs are making steps off the pitch too, having moved into the club’s new Hotspur Way training ground on a full-time basis.

Previously, the team had been splitting training between the club’s training ground and The Hive, but the news is another progressive step for a club who enjoyed a solid first season in the top tier, and now look to have a foundation in place under a progressive young coach to move forwards at some pace, with Skinner stating that full-time was a “statement” from the club, and rightly so.

Follow Rich on Twitter @RichJLaverty

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