FA Women’s National League’s Surprising Strugglers (So Far)

Photo: @DCFCWomen

While it is still early in the National League season there are a number of coaches, players and fans who will be scratching their heads at their team’s start of the season, given the talent available. I wanted to look at those teams and reflect on what it will take to reverse the early season poor form. 

In last season’s Northern Premier, it was Nottingham Forest, Wolves and Burnley who ran away with the division but beneath them and the ‘best of the rest’ was Derby County. However this season they currently sit tenth and only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference. 

During the summer the club bolstered their ranks with the signings of Eleanor Ashton (dual registration from Manchester United), Yasmin Mosby and Charlotte Steggles (both from Nottingham Forest). These are signings which should have seen Derby raise their level to join the title-chasing pack, however, they have suffered narrow defeats against Newcastle United and Wolves.

Photo: @WolvesWomen

The ray of light for the club is that they do have games in hand over most rivals within the division. What should give the Ewes hope is they have goals throughout their team, especially within the newly appointed captain Amy Sims, she scored an impressive nineteen goals in twenty-six games last season. 

The Forest match this Sunday is a bit of a free hit for them but there will be pressure to come out with at least seven points from the following three matches against Stoke City (h), Huddersfield Town (a) and AFC Fylde (a), something which I believe is not beyond them.

The Southern Premier Division has been a disaster for Oxford United so far this season. After losing the title on the final day of the season after a 1-0 defeat to Ipswich Town the club looked to be in a strong position to compete for one of the automatic promotion places but the club has failed to adequately manage the transition to life after Liam Gilbert after he left to join Championship side Reading. 

On the playing side, there were also the departures of highly influential players Rose Kite, Naomi Cole (retired), Carly Johns, Riva Casley, Sophie Baker, Cat Beaver and Tash Stephens for Interim Manager George Anthony to contend with.  

Photo: Jason Brown

If rumours are to be believed, Gemma Donnelly and Marcus Webber were in discussion to take over but they opted for positions at Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest respectively.  The club’s inability to find a permanent replacement will no doubt be unsettling for the players. Former Saints player Phoebe Williams spent a few months at the club before moving to Hashtag United.

Clearly, this is something that the club are aware of and they are trying to address it, earlier this week they announced that this role will be full-time. General Manager, Gemma Sims, spoke told the club’s website, “Not only does it mean that we can attract a higher calibre of applicant, it will also allow the successful candidate to fully focus on the team and developing their style of play.”

Adding, “This is a huge step forward for us and one that will allow us to continue to battle at the top of the division, help our young side flourish and, hopefully, move us closer to our goal of Championship football.”

Oxford are eleven points behind league leaders Hashtag United so their hopes of Championship football appear to be over for this season.

There are reasons to be optimistic as there is a solid foundation with Jaime Gotch, Leah Burridge and Shelley Provan, along with some exciting young Lionesses in Cecily Wellesley-Smith and Zoe Barrett. Not to forget Izzy Cook also knows where the goal is. 

This group will have to upset the form guide to pick up three points against Ipswich Town and after last season’s final day heartbreak then Oxford United should not need any further motivation to earn three points and change the course of their season. They will be facing Ipswich with Shaun Green at the helm after Anthony will be ‘stepping away for a short time as the season continues.’

With a bit of luck and hard work, Oxford will have enough about them to move up the table but I believe that this will be a year of transition for the team. If they can get the right permanent manager in soon then they’ll have a great chance to put the pieces in place to prepare for a title challenge next season. 

Another team struggling to adjust to life under new leadership is Southampton Women. They are one of the most decorated clubs in English football, with only Arsenal having more FA Cup wins than the Sirens. In early July Aaron Smith surprised many by announcing that he was leaving his role as manager and former Swindon Town coach Jamie Lloyd Davies replacing him.

Photo: Dave Bodymore

The season got off to a controversial start with the team refusing to fulfil their fixture against Moneyfields due to a clash with the Women’s World Cup Final involving England and Spain. They were not the only club to do so and as yet there has been no news on whether the league will take any action against those clubs.

Four defeats followed against Cambridge City, Keynsham Town, AFC Bournemouth and Swindon Town. The team picked up their first point against newly promoted side Abingdon United and their first win against Bridgwater United in the cup last weekend, so this could be a springboard to turn the season around.

The next two fixtures will be huge for Lloyd Davies and the Sirens as they face Portishead Town and Selsey. Lloyd Davies has said that both will be “tough games” but they should not be tough games. Anything less than six points from those two fixtures will mean that alarm bells will be ringing behind the scenes because it will be a big ask to take anything from title favourites Exeter City in the following match.

Photo: Dave Bodymore

Sirens are missing some important players in Shannon Seivwright and Kirsty Whitton and it’s not clear if either will be returning in the near future. With having such a young squad, a lot will rest on the shoulders of Brit Jeal and Erin Bloomfield. Jeal is one of the most creative players in the division and is the team’s top scorer with two goals from four appearances. The re-signing of Bloomfield is huge, she is a proven goalscorer and if she can hit the form that she is capable of then she should be in the fight for the division’s golden boot.

It is a long season and it would not be a shock to see the trio turn around their early season form and for them to have a big say on where their respective champions come from but in all three cases their early season form will be a concern and internally they’ll know that results need to improve quickly.

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