We’re going to level with you: this week’s women’s football roundup comes to you from a slightly distracted place, a fact that is partially down to the close of the summer transfer window in men’s football (as an Arsenal fan, the word Özil has been stamped on my retinas all day) and partially down to the fact that your correspondent half-unintentionally signed up to run a half marathon on Sunday. Crikey.
Leaving all such things to one sides, this last week was one of the most gripping in FA WSL history and leaves a great many things up in the air as we enter the end game of the 2013 season.
6 matches in the past week have gone an awful long way to shaping what may be the final complexion of the FA WSL table. And it’s tighter than a very tight thing.
With the peculiar vagaries that effect the WSL in its current format, it’s a week that saw Arsenal, Chelsea, Doncaster and Lincoln in action twice, with Birmingham, Everton, Liverpool and Bristol all playing once and the table beginning to even out in terms of matches played. It’s a week that saw one club (Doncaster) record their first victory of the season, another (Chelsea) capitulate horribly to compound a collapse in form that has afflicted them desperately in recent weeks and one (Arsenal) squeak through matches to leave them just two points off the head of the table with a game in hand on a Liverpool side clinging to first place.
And, after a couple of weeks of comfortable, routine victories for the top teams, it’s a week that saw nail-biting tension return to the league.
Indeed, Arsenal – they of rampant recent form – were probably the most indebted to tight victories, their 1-0 defeat of Chelsea being followed up swiftly by a 3-1 victory over Doncaster, whom they had put to the sword in the teams’ previous encounter last week. The Belles’ narrow defeat (and it was far narrower than the 2 goal cushion suggests, the sides having been level early in the second half) was in many ways a final piece of vindication having previously recorded their first win of the season, a 1-0 victory over fellow strugglers Lincoln just three days beforehand. In both matches, former England winger Sue Smith proved the Belles’ heroine, slotting home delightful finishes in each game to give the beleaguered Belles’ fans something to cheer in what has been a largely torrid season.
With Arsenal’s two matches preceding their own kick off, Liverpool actually slipped temporarily into second place in the league over the weekend and went into their away match against Birmingham knowing only a win would guarantee them a place at the head of the league for another week. When Nicole Rolser put them 4-0 with her hat-trick goal after 50 minutes, all seemed serene as possible for Matt Beard’s Liverpool team, but with Birmingham pulling back to 4-2 with 20 minutes remaining, the game had the air of season defining. Ultimately Liverpool held out with some comfort, but with the pressure growing with each passing week, the three way battle between Liverpool, Arsenal and Bristol remains an intriguing contest of nerves as much as pure footballing talent.
Bristol ensured they remained in touching distance of the leaders with a hard-fought 1-0 away victory over Lincoln in a game the home side will feel they should have taken points from, with the scores tied at 0-0 as the game entered stoppage time. With the game seemingly drawn, Sophie Walton was adjudged to have handled in the area, Laura Del Rio guiding home the resultant penalty with virtually the last kick of the game to spark despair amongst the Lincoln ranks.
Elsewhere, a topsy-turvy match between Everton and Chelsea saw Everton pegged back from a 2-0 lead before finally sealing victory in the 84th minute through Chantelle Boyd-Hlorkah to compound a miserable few weeks for Chelsea and lift Everton back above them in the table.
With clubs now having as few as two matches (Chelsea) and as many as five (Everton, Bristol) remaining, the season is really beginning to warm up. The next couple of weeks will be crucial. Don’t take your eyes off it.
Chelsea 0 – 1 Arsenal
Doncaster 1 – 0 Lincoln
Arsenal 3 – 1 Doncaster
Birmingham 2 – 4 Liverpool
Everton 3 – 2 Chelsea
Lincoln 0 – 1 Bristol
Image from BBC Sport – Thanks!