The FA Women’s Championship started barely a week after the end of the World Cup, and although all the attention might be on the glitz and glamour of the WSL the second tier has already hit its stride running and proved that the race for promotion to the WSL could be one of the most compelling leagues to watch in women’s football this season, with unexpected hot starts, struggling favourites and many more. Here are the key storylines to be aware of:
Title Favourites Suffer Early-Season Woes
Birmingham City were many WC watchers’ tips for the title this year, but despite extensive summer recruitment of WSL calibre players like Ivana Fuso from Man United, Remi Allen from Aston Villa and many others to add to an already-strong squad, the Blues have yet to win a game and currently sit in the relegation places, losing to unfancied Blackburn on the opening day and only struggling further since. Darren Carter will need to turn things around quickly because if this trend continues into November, he could be the women’s league season’s first managerial casualty for a club who wants the title.
Northern Stars Buck The Trend
Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers were both clubs expected to be looking more over their shoulders than towards the top of the table this season given some of the resources spent elsewhere, but both clubs have had very impressive starts indeed…Blackburn, as mentioned above, have already beaten title-favourites Birmingham and Sunderland’s defence has been immense, only conceding one goal so far this season as they sit second and fourth respectively. Sunderland and Crystal Palace are the only two teams unbeaten in the league so far, with Sunderland pulling off their own impressive win against pundits’ favourites by beating Southampton at St Mary’s. There will be questions over whether both teams can maintain their form but if they can it will really put cat amongst pigeons in the established order of the Championship.
Southampton Sit Top
The Saints Women have had a meteoric rise through the divisions the past few seasons and they too have ambitions of going up this season, with one of the biggest budgets in the Championship. Their only loss was the aforementioned one vs Sunderland, and with Birmingham’s struggles they will be determined to open up a gap on the chasing pack.
Crystal Palace came into this season under a new manager in Laura Kaminski, and the Eagles have taken to her coaching style seemingly like a duck to water, thumping nine past their bitter rivals Durham a few weeks ago, As mentioned they are one of only two unbeaten teams in the league and another club possibly slightly unheralded but proving they can mix it in a title challenge early on.
It’s not been a good start to the season for clubs not affiliated with men’s teams. Lewes currently sits rooted to the bottom of the Championship, London City have promised a lot but with figures showing the club £2 million and more in debt to start this season questions remain about their financial viability, and Durham suffered a record loss in the Championship with that 9-1 defeat to Crystal Palace. As money begins to dominate the women’s game just like the men’s it will be interesting to see how the season goes for the three independents.
Bunching Up At The Bottom
Reading’s fall has continued after relegation from the WSL, with three draws but no wins meaning they sit just outside the relegation zone. Newly-promoted Watford have had a slightly better start to the season, sitting just above them. Sheffield United’s start to the season has not been great on the pitch but tragic off it with the recent news of the passing of Maddy Cusack – they will need to put the heartbreak aside and start getting results on the pitch to avoid a season of relegation worries developing once again – it was only due to the abject form of Coventry United last season that they were considered safe before the end of the season.
Points Mean Prizes
Finally, though, the main theme of the Women’s Championship has been just how competitive it is. Although a two-tier league is already developing, there are only 4 points between 6th and bottom and three points between sixth and second, so expect a LOT of movement in the table over the next few weeks – every game has been tightly contested with only five games this season being decided by more than one goal so far.
It’ll Only Get More Competitive
With squads now set until January, there will be favourites desperate to hit form, underdogs trying to continue to surprise and storylines aplenty each week to follow in the Championship. The second tier may sometimes be lost in the noise around the WSL and that will only become more likely from now on. Still, the Championship is worth your time as a women’s football fan, because below the glitz and glamour of the WSL the turbulent waters of the Championship will continue to churn. If you take the time to navigate them, you’ll find much to enjoy as the nights get darker and the season really gathers pace before the Christmas break. Get in early and enjoy it!