A Fresh Start For Southampton Women

This weekend welcomes the return of competitive grassroots football. While the pause will have been a disappointment to all, the break might prove to be a blessing for Southampton Women. There is no sugar coating it, they have had a poor start to the season and all involved will be feeling a mixture of disappointment and frustration. Everyone involved will be focused on returning refreshed and performing somewhere near the standard expected of such a talented squad.

Aaron Smith‘s side currently occupies ninth place in the National League Division One South-West, with only Poole Town and Brislington beneath them – neither side have picked up a point so far this season.

While many will have put their city neighbours, Southampton FC, as title favourites, Aaron and his players will have gone into this season looking to compete with Saints and believing that they have the quality to do just that, and I would agree.

Any hopes that the club had of promotion were dashed after two defeats in their opening two games. The first being a 2-0 defeat to Buckland Athletic, followed by a humbling 6-0 defeat in the derby. I understand that you might come back and suggest that there are still lots of points to play for but Saints’ form over the last two seasons implies that they will go the season unbeaten and for any team to take a point off them will be a big achievement. After the derby Aaron was quite open with his assessment, stating, “We didn’t show up, it wasn’t good enough and disappointed is an understatement.”

While Southampton Women will have been frustrated to have only picked up a point away to Exeter City they will have been pleased with the improved performance, followed by a 7-0 victory against Poole Town. Two steps forward were followed by one step back with another derby defeat against AFC Bournemouth in the FA Cup, a competition which the club has a rich history in after winning the first-ever competition in 1971.

Having to wait so long to bounce back from that defeat will have been incredibly frustrating for Aaron and his team.

The team lost three quality players over the summer with Rosie Kite and Jane Yeates both moving to sides in the league above. While Ellie Bloomfield left to take up a place at University over in the United States. That is their top two goalscorers and an England youth international keeper, that is going to be hard to replace, especially mid-COVID.

While those players were big losses the club have retained the core of what is a talented, hard-working and experienced squad, as well as adding Meg Vella, Tiffany Taylor, Jodie Burchell, Chloe Tucker and Ellie Parker.

Going into this weekend’s trip to Larkhill Athletic, Southampton Women will be without highly influential captain Lauren Cheshire who is recovering from a long term injury. However, the team are not short of leaders with them naming a group of three captains before the start of the season, with Lauren Clark and Kellie Warren completing the trio.

Larkhill have had a mixed start to the season with a good draw against Cheltenham Town but their last game was an FA Cup defeat to AEK Boco Ladies from two leagues below them. That being said, the previous form goes out of the window after a break of over five weeks as both teams will be a little ring rusty with only two weeks of training available.

I cannot see a scenario where Southampton Women won’t up for this game. Their squad possess ball players as well as battlers so they should be able to pick up the three points which could see them into the top five with a game in hand on rivals. If they are to do so then the likes of Gracie White and Tiffany Taylor in the Southampton defence will need to keep Adele Hooper and Rhian Robbins quiet, the pair have scored fourteen goals in five games. While at the other end Vella and Burchell will hope to add the the single goal scored between them.

While competing with Saints for top spot is out of the question, with one more game against Maidenhead United the addition of six points before the league closes down for Christmas then the league table would look much rosier for Aaron and co going into 2021.