The Other Eight: Martha Thomas Is Unstoppable, Nüsken Goes Nuclear and More

Photo: @SpursWomen

Here at Since 71, the main goal is to share the stories that interest us within women’s football.

The Other Eight starts with a mission every week to make a regular space where all WSL clubs and players, not just the “big” ones or the ones who get the most clicks, receive the attention they deserve. As the title says, this column is all about the “other eight” teams and their players, giving all equal billing so their stories are also told.

Paul Wheeler is your guide again this week! And with it being the last WSL weekend before Halloween, have fun spotting the Halloween film and book references, too!

Boys and girls of every age, wouldn’t you like to see something strange?  Come with us on this week’s Halloween sprinkled dance through the WSL! 

We start, appropriately, with not just the first team alphabetically but also the first game of the weekend, as Aston Villa took on Spurs at a rainy Bescot Stadium. Villa’s home is sponsored by Poundland, but it was Spurs whose defence started by giving away cheap gifts – Villa were checking out the spaces down the right side with Adriana Leon and Ebony Salmon absolutely making hay while the sun didn’t shine. It was only five minutes in when Leon bullied her way through two Spurs defenders to a loose ball.

Eveliina Summanen might as well have been wearing a hockey mask and a chainsaw because Leon was chopped down by the Finn like she was a luckless college student at Crystal Lake. Rachel Daly duly did the honours from the spot and for the next half hour or so Aston Villa looked like they were finally on for their first win of the season.

Enter Martha Thomas. The Scot has been on fire since leaving the fog Marc Skinner had apparently lost her in at Man United, and on half an hour she gave Rachel Corsie her own nightmare on Bescot Street (well, Crescent) by seizing on a loose backpass and lobbing a Stranded Daphne van Domselaar from all of 40 yards. Ash Neville was the Final Girl of the first half, heading home an absolute pinpoint Jess Naz cross with the final action of the first half to give Spurs the lead.

The second half was all Spurs. Thomas got her second by keeping her head while all about her were losing theirs in a penalty box mélée and slamming the ball home like she was driving a dagger into Villa’s heart, and her third and Spurs’ fourth was another piledriver, running onto a through ball and absolutely BANGING a curling strike past van Domselaar. Lucy Parker did score a consolation for Villa in injury time, but it was Spurs’ day.

The white half of North London continue to prove that they’ve Let The Right One In and are “raven” with the appointment of Robert Vilahamn, and the Finnish midfield of Summanen and Ahtinen continue to be superb. But it was Thomas’ perfectly aimed swipe at her former manager Skinner in her postmatch interview when asked what was feeding her great form since leaving Man United that was also notable:

 Probably just playing under someone that I know believes in me. That’s important, that’s when I play my best football. Playing in my actual position, things like that.

Martha Thomas post-match

Ouch. Marc Skinner, look away now. And probably for every goal Martha Thomas scores this season.

For Villa, meanwhile, Carla Ward might be hearing some ominous knocking from under the Villa Park floorboards – the tell-tale heart of the matter is that Villa were expected to be much better than they are this season and we all know who’s the first victim when things aren’t going well. Big things are needed for the claret and blue side of the Midlands after the international break or it could be a Nightmare before Christmas for the Villa manager.

What’s this? It’s our next game – Brighton taking on Chelsea at Kingsmeadow in an attempt to be the first team to beat the Blues at home since it was done on 7th February 2021 by…well, Brighton. Mel Phillips set up in a 4-5-1 formation, as most teams tend to do against Chelsea, and in the first ten minutes Pauline Bremer provided the mother of all jump-scares for a Kingsmeadow crowd by racing through in a moment Millie Bright won’t want to rewatch and prodding past Ann-Katrin Berger.

Chelsea were battering at Brighton’s doors like hordes of zombies at a survivor’s gates. Like the Evil Dead hordes, they seemed everywhere, limitless in number and untiring, with Sophie Baggaley and Maria Thorisdottir having to hold the door shut desperately as shot after shot NEARLY broke through their defences.

Eventually Sjoeke Nüsken, who by the way had casually rocked up to Kingsmeadow on a pushbike, thereby probably being the first Chelsea international footballer in a LONG time to use such a prosaic form of transport to a game, powered home a header in first-half stoppage time for her first goal for Chelsea to make the score level at half time. And from then on, the score was only going one way. From then on Nüsken nuked Brighton almost singlehandedly, clearly revelling in the more advanced role Emma Hayes has her playing as a joyous, driving, energetic dream of a number eight.

The second half saw her first finish off a sweeping break that showcased Chelsea at their most free-flowingly beautiful, then she forced home a cross (although that goal came off a Brighton player last, according to the WSL statisticians). Brighton then were their own worst enemies as Thorisdottir lost the ball under pressure from Mia Fishel and Aggie Beever-Jones finished in the last few minutes, but in truth they often had no answer to Chelsea – if anything by scoring in the first ten minutes they poked the blue bear too early, and suffered for it.

There will be easier games for both sides than this, but Brighton will have to take the positives from the chances they missed (in the second half they created several good ones that weren’t taken) and go again after the break.

Another side that will have to take solace in the positives after a defeat are, once again, Bristol City, beaten by Arsenal. The wait for Alessia Russo to find her scoring form in the WSL goes on, as it does for Arsenal’s misfiring  strikers (who have fired over half of Arsenal’s 80+ shots so far this season and only got five of them on target, never mind into the net.

However, the Robins, in front of a record crowd at Ashton Gate, fell victim to one of the most universal truths in the WSL – that Katie McCabe only scores bangers. Her latest one, a 30 yard drive off her left foot in the 7th minute, was a Hellraiser of a strike, straight out of Bristol City’s own Lament Configuration. Liv Clark got a hand to it but the sheer power beat her.

Speaking of torment, watching Arsenal defend so far this season is often claimed as one by their own fans on socials, and Freddy himself couldn’t have created a better nightmare than the one that allowed Rachel Furness to beat three Arsenal defenders to a cross and equalise. It could have got worse as Laia Codina was lucky to stay on the field, receiving a yellow after a cynical drag back of Amalie Gronbaek Thestrup when the latter was through on goal that but for the presence of one of her teammates nearby, could easily have been a red. McCabe showed her strikers how to finish though with a powerful volley in the 59th minute.

We also saw Viv Miedema return to action and in Miedema fashion, her first action was an absolute slasher movie of a pass that sliced Bristol City open like Candyman’s hook…Beth Mead couldn’t apply the fatal blow, though.

Elsewhere, Everton were cut to pieces by a Manchester United with a point to prove at Walton Hall Park. Melvine Malard, Rachel Williams and Nikita Parris all increased their lead in the goalscoring stakes on the departed Russo, Parris and Williams with two each. Everton didn’t really look at the races for this one, and will be hoping that this game gets buried in the dustbin of history, because they looked as out of ideas as the makers of the Saw franchise – although at least Everton can have faith people will still turn up to watch them, unlike the movie folk.

The most horrifying thing about this game, though, was the sheer entitlement of fans complaining that Mary Earps had the temerity to only spend 40 minutes after the game signing autographs and not a moment more. Said fan was rightly eviscerated by Mary herself on socials as well as many fans, but in a debate that’s been raging almost as long as Michael Myers and gets resurrected almost as often, surely this should mark some sort of turning point because the entitlement of fans in the women’s game is now more out of control than Leatherface swinging his chainsaw, and might be just as destructive to player-fan relationships.

Leicester City had a chaotic first half vs Manchester City which the Cityzens somewhat surprisingly only managed to take advantage of once thanks to an ice-cold Chloe Kelly finish, but once again it was Jill Roord who caught the eye, orchestrating the City team like a manic conductor playing a terrible symphony of attacking speed and force. To their credit, though, Leicester found their own rhythm and very nearly rose from the dead to exorcise their first half problems – Shannon O’Brien at one point making Laia Aleixandri go almost on a descent into madness with a spindryer of a turn.

Leicester can take solace in the fact they have half the points after the first month that they had in all in last season, and have so far faced both Manchester clubs and pushed both all the way. It is perhaps early to say, but on the other side this is the kind of result that Man City will look back upon as crucial if they are in amongst the title decision-makers come late April.

Finally, West Ham took on Liverpool, in a game where the away side thought they’d taken three points from a tight and tense affair at the Chigwell Construction Stadium thanks to a Marie Hobinger strike.

Then came Riko Ueki, staging her own command performance of Invasion of the Point Snatchers, as she forced home a strike in the 95th minute to ensure that the Hammers would be saving their biggest wallop until last. The Japanese striker has quietly had a very good start to life in East London, scoring consistently and displaying a lethal cutting edge that perhaps the Hammers have lacked in the past and Liverpool did at times on Sunday. They go into the international break full of Eastern (London) promise and the Rising Sun trio at West Ham of Riza Shimizu, Honoka Hayashi and Ueki are, like the Finns at Spurs, a trio who probably deserve far more notice being taken of them this season than has been so far.

And now, on to the awards – who gets the treat for their tricks this week?

The Other Eight Moment of The Weekend: Martha Thomas sealing her hat-trick is the obvious one, but we’re going to go with something a little less obvious.

Riko Ueki is clearly not the most confident person in English to the point she delivered the now traditional “on pitch video” beloved of WSL clubs in her native Japanese…apart from a wonderfully unselfconscious “Come on You Irons” which was only made more charming by her Japanese accent and huge, unapologetic smile while delivering it.

The Other Eight Player Of The Weekend: It has to be Martha Thomas for her incredible hat-trick and even more incredible shade skills – but an honourable mention must go to Sophie Baggaley of Brighton, who at times seemed to stand almost singlehandedly against the Chelsea onslaught.

The Other Eight takes a week off for Hallowe’en thanks to the dreaded International Break (and in all seriousness, at this point international breaks are like the liquorice in trick-or-treat candy in that nobody likes them and you often can’t see the point) but the Lionesses take on Belgium twice while Scotland, Wales and both Irelands are back in Nations League action, so there’s that if you need a fix.

You May Also Like