And so, dear friends, we reach the end of domestic women’s football in 2013. From a first ever league title for Liverpool Ladies to a brace of cup successes (more on this below) for Arsenal Ladies, via England’s disastrous Euro 2013 and the subsequent termination of Hope Powell’s reign as England Head Coach. We’re not going to lie. It’s been emotional.
But what of the season as a whole? And of it’s final, showpiece occasion? Well, here’s our thoughts.
The Continental Cup
Following the rearrangement of the women’s football season on the launch of the FA WSL, one of the saddest points was the departure of the end-of-season showpiece cup final, the FA Cup remaining in its May date to coincide with the remainder of the footballing pyramid. Step forward the Continental Cup, a tournament won by Arsenal Ladies in each of its first two outings, and this season contested by the holders and Lincoln Ladies in their last outing before re-emerging as Notts County Ladies.
In a match that had been expected to produce a tight contest, Shelley Kerr’s Arsenal side shrugged off the disappointment of surrendering the league title for the first time in a decade to deliver a victory that was decidedly more emphatic than the 2-0 scoreline that greeted the final whistle. Indeed, the biggest shock of the match itself was that it took the Londoners until the 76th minute to eventually open the scoring, Ellen White finally shooting past Karen Bardsley before Kim Little made the game safe with four minutes left to play.
Arsenal, no doubt, will find some solace in what has been a disappointing year by their lofty standards. Lincoln, meanwhile, await the next chapter in their history – one that will take place without their famed name.
The Year In Review
Team of the Year – Liverpool Ladies
Who else could it have been? In fairness, they were run this close by Bristol Academy and there’s no doubt whatsoever that it would be the West Country side holding this spot had they managed to shock the Liverpool faithful with a final day victory to take the league title. Indeed, under other circumstances, and without their illustrious history, Arsenal might have been contenders for this spot. But really, it was only ever going to be Liverpool.
Back in March, when putting together our previews for the 2013 FA WSL, we suggested that despite investment and new backing from the main club hierarchy, Liverpool would do well to finish anywhere higher than the lower reaches of mid table. Consider our words well and truly eaten.
From the moment Liverpool put Arsenal to the sword towards the beginning of the campaign, putting 4 past the home team at the Emirates Stadium, this has been their campaign. A richly deserved league title is the very least they earned.
Player of the Year – Natasha Dowie
Similarly, were there any other real contenders? Actually in this case, of course there were. From Liverpool’s ranks alone, Louise Fors and Nicole Rolser offered an outstanding contribution, while at Bristol, Natalia and Laura Del Rio struck up an almost telepathic partnership to bring their club to within 90 minutes of honours in both the FA Cup and the league itself.
Beyond the top 2, Arsenal’s Steph Houghton enjoyed another fine (albeit disrupted) campaign, as did fellow defender Gilly Flaherty and England’s great new hope, Jordan Nobbs. At Everton, Toni Duggan’s form throughout the season demonstrated the depth of her ability. At Lincoln Ladies, Jess Clarke’s had a fine season.
Nobody, though, could hold a candle to Natasha Dowie. Newly returned to the England fold following Powell’s departure, Dowie’s 13 league goals and 17 altogether throughout the campaign are heady testament to her power, penetration, drive, pace and ability to lead the line. An absolute monster of a centre forward, Dowie can be frankly unplayable. English football should be delighted to see her back in the fold.
Manager of the Year – Mark Sampson
In some ways, it feels churlish not awarding this to Liverpool Coach Matt Beard, but as astonishing a job as he has done – and he really has – it’s a job that has been made possible through significant financial investment from Fenway Sports Group and the support of one of England’s most successful football clubs.
Mark Sampson, meanwhile, has taken a club with few financial prospects, a hard-earned partnership with Bristol Academy (the academic institution from which the club takes its name), a core of domestic, youth players and an unfashionable footballing heritage to the edge of the league and FA Cup double.
That’s pretty special.
Young Player of the Year – Jordan Nobbs
Did Jordan Nobbs cost Hope Powell her job? Seasoned observers, including the powerful Trevor Brooking, might argue so, for surely if Powell had thrown her naturally conservative instincts for just one moment and unleashed the outstanding Nobbs during Euro 2013 instead of keeping her consigned to the bench, results might have been different.
In truth, that’s pressure that shouldn’t yet be heaped on young Nobbs’ shoulders. Yet it’s tough not to when one considers how rounded and developed the Arsenal midfielder’s game has become in the last twelve months. Goals? Check. Assists? Check. Vision and direct running? Check and double check. As an offensive midfielder, Nobbs has everything in her game – and at just 20 years of age, all the time in the world to improve.
Disappointment of the Year – The F.A.
We’ve been over this before, but the decision to unilaterally relegate Doncaster Rovers Belles as part of the reshuffle and introduction of the FA WSL 2 from next year was an horrendously insensitive and nonsensical decision.
We remain unimpressed.
Match of the Year – Doncaster Rovers Belles 3 – 4 Bristol Academy
There have, once again, been some outstanding matches in this year’s FA WSL. But none more so than Bristol’s comeback victory over Doncaster to offer them a final day league title showdown with Liverpool.
Frankly, it’s the sort of league denouement you couldn’t even script.
Trailing 3-0 away from home at half time, needing a victory to ensure their title challenge would go down to the final day, Sampson’s team looked down and out. A hattrick from Natalia sandwiching a strike from Ann-Marie Heatherson (assisted by Natalia, of course) said otherwise, though, and set up the best finish to an FA WSL season to date.
And so, that’s the weekly football roundup concluded for another year. Thanks for reading us, thanks for sticking with us and we look forward to getting back to it for the 2014 season.]
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Image from thefa.com – thanks!