Jessy Parker Humphreys reviews the top talking-points from this weekend’s WSL action.
With only four games left for some, the WSL relegation fight heats up
Birmingham City and Bristol City played out a 1-1 draw to ensure that the relegation battle in the Women’s Super League remains wide open. The point saw Bristol City move up to tenth, albeit having played two games more than Aston Villa who are below them in eleventh.
Excitingly, all four of the teams in the race to avoid the drop have winnable games remaining this season, meaning there is little predictable about it. The key fixtures will be West Ham and Aston Villa’s double-header – currently the bottom two sides. Bristol and Birmingham will be watching those matches with care; if one side were to lose both fixtures, they would likely be the ones to start next season in the Championship.
Aston Villa wait to see whether Bignot appointment will pay off
The appointment of Martin Bignot was intended to provide Aston Villa with a safe pair of hands in order to keep the side in the WSL. Gemma Davies has remained at the club, but under Bignot’s stewardship, they have only picked up one win in six games.
Bignot has faced a number of tricky fixtures in that time – including playing Chelsea twice – so the results have not necessarily been a surprise. The upcoming games will shed more light on whether the unusual appointment has been a success, or whether Aston Villa were too hasty in deciding Davies needed the support.
Lauren Hemp’s brilliance keeps Manchester City in the title race
With 86 minutes played against Reading, Manchester City looked destined to round out a disappointing week with a draw that would have left them adrift in the WSL title race – on top of being all but dumped out of the Champions League.
But then Lauren Hemp stepped up.
Having been City’s one bright spark in the 3-0 loss to Barcelona mid-week, Hemp took matters into her own hands here too. She slalomed past four Reading players before fizzing the ball across to Chloe Kelly on the goal line. Kelly could not miss from there, and the deadlock was finally broken.
Hemp had been quiet for much of the match, with a lot of City’s play going down the right hand side; Bronze, Lavelle, and Kelly combined neatly, but to no avail. Yet with the ball at Hemp’s feet there is always a sense that she can make something happen. Her dribbling ability is unmatched by almost anyone else in the league; Lauren James is the only other player who arguably comes close.
For all of the focus on City’s American acquisitions, their greatest asset this season has been the 20-year-old from Norfolk.
Narrow Manchester United bailed out by Jackie Groenen
Managing an injury crisis the scale of Manchester United’s would be no easy task for any manager. Yet there is also a sense of nerves creeping into some of Casey Stoney’s tactical decisions.
Stoney changed little about the side who had lost to Arsenal, and in the first half against West Ham they were very narrow. Ella Toone, Lucy Staniforth, and Jackie Groenen were all trying to take up very similar positions between West Ham’s back five and their midfield. Meanwhile, Lauren James’ tendency to drift across the pitch with the ball also left her in a similar area.
A slight tweak at half time to push Groenen forward and Toone backwards seemed to do the trick. Groenen’s cute pass sent Christen Press through on goal for United’s second, and she excelled in the advanced position.
Yet there is still something not quite clicking for this United line up. All sides need moments of brilliance to win games every now and then, but lining up with this many players who want to move centrally is limiting the team’s creativity.
Grace Fisk’s increasing experience is valuable asset to West Ham
Playing in defence for a side that concedes 2.25 goals per game is not an ideal job for any footballer. Yet 23-year-old Grace Fisk seems to be growing into her role at the heart of the West Ham back line.
Against Manchester United, Fisk did well to marshal Christen Press for much of the game. Press has not necessarily been at her best in the WSL this season, but marshalling a World Cup-winning attacker is no mean feat. Her reading of space in the penalty area particularly frustrated Manchester United in the first half.
Under Olli Harder, West Ham have switched to a three at the back, which the underlying numbers suggest is starting to make them harder to break down. Grace Fisk’s increasing confidence within this set-up will only help.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph