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.
On Bonfire Night weekend there were plenty of fireworks across the WSL, explosive performances aplenty, news to send a cataclysm through the WSL and, in our first game, one team being burned to the ground while the other caught fire. Paul Wheeler guides you through another sparkling weekend…
Aston Villa lit the fuse on the WSL weekend with the first game, taking on Chelsea at Villa Park in a game that would have provided a big test of their preseason hype anyway, but was probably the last game anyone wanted to see with them currently winless.
Chelsea are a team who have started, by their standards, a little slowly. Only getting a draw against nine-player Man City might have caused other teams to have a few mild questions of their performance early on. Emma Hayes, however, does not “do” question self-belief. Their 4-1 win vs Brighton might have lit the fuse on their season but this performance vs Villa was an artillery barrage that even the torrential rain of Storm Ciaran couldn’t extinguish, and that should be VERY ominous for the rest of the WSL.
Millie Bright, on her 200th Chelsea appearance, set things off with a left-foot volley some for some reason described as a “tap-in” but from then on Chelsea were unstoppable and Villa were torn apart like a pile of dry tinder on a Bonfire Night rager. Six goals, with six different Chelsea scorers (none of them Chelsea’s recognised strikers), left Aston Villa’s ashes and Carla Ward afterwards looking like a child who’d dropped her sparkler. The question now for the Villa manager is whether there is gunpowder, treason and plot in the West Midlands and whether or not she can survive her own insurrection.
Brighton are next in our Other Eight roundup, taking on Manchester United on Sunday night Sky football, which didn’t particularly go down well with the Red Army forced to travel a round trip of nearly 500 miles on a Sunday evening.
Elisabeth Terland made them question the wisdom of doing so after 13 minutes, finishing with the calmness and lethal accuracy that is her trademark – there has been some surprise in some quarters about her leading the scoring charts this season but those people clearly haven’t seen enough of her because she can light up any game.
It was Sophie Baggaley and Mary Earps who traded saves, though. Interestingly Earps has conceded 10 goals in 7 games this season, but she was on form down south and she had to be because Brighton were testing United. Ella Toone equalised, breaking her own duck before Guro Bergsvand thought she’d won it for Brighton with a goal in the 89th minute before Marc Skinner used his human Get Out Of Jail Free card Rachel Williams to snatch a draw – if Skinner is still in a job at United come May he owes the veteran striker a massive debt.
Brighton, though, will be very sad that they didn’t take three points because they deserved it, but Marc Skinner will need a different mixture to really let this Man United side display their talents – some will question already whether he is the right man to do so.
Next, we consider Bristol City – who made the trip across the country to West Ham with the chance to jump off the bottom after yet another Aston Villa loss while getting their own first win. The Robins were once again on the defensive after 27 minutes as Vivianne Asseyi put the hosts ahead, but Amalie Gronbaek Thestrup and Bristol’s youth product Ella Powell (listed on the game sheet with her full name, the imposing Ella May Florence Powell) put the Robins ahead before Riko Ueki, which I’m becoming more and more convinced is Japanese for “scores crucial goals” equalised in first half injury time.
Another one of Bristol’s own, Brooke Aspin put her team back ahead though with a trademark centre-back’s goal from a Megan Connolly cross, and then the Robins simply put backs to the wall and showed the resilience that had got them into the WSL in the first place. Kaylan Marckese made several vital saves as the Hammers dominated possession, but Lauren Smith has her first win in the WSL as Bristol City boss and crucially, the Robins are off the bottom.
Everton were looking to bounce back from a 5-0 loss to Man United last weekend and a trip to Spurs away, with the form the Lilywhites are in, was probably not something Brian Sorensen’s Scandi Blues fancied this weekend. They probably fancied it even less after Grace Clinton rose and scored what for her is a fairly prosaic goal, directing a header into the Everton net just before half time.
This time round though, Robert Vilahamn’s side didn’t do what they’ve done in previous games and turn the screw. Everton hung around, refused to let Spurs settle and were eventually rewarded for their persistence as first Courtney Brosnan parried at close range from Martha Thomas and then a scramble in the box that saw a Martina Piemonte strike cleared off the line also saw a foul in the eyes of the referee – Aurora Galli gratefully dispatched the penalty to give Everton a point.
Liverpool met Leicester in the battle of the early pacesetters fallen on slightly harder times, and it was the Reds who came out on top against the Foxes this time round in a hard fought battle in the North West.
Melissa Lawley lit up the occasion with a gorgeous opener, driving for the byline into space before hammering a strike into the top corner – she’s given Liverpool a new lease of life since returning from injury. Missy Goodwin then raced through to equalise for Leicester just before the hour mark, before Marie Hobinger did what she has quickly made a habit of in a Liverpool shirt and gave her side a late winner that will lift them a little further up the table and leave Leicester with a storm-tossed trip back to the East Midlands.
Finally, Arsenal took on Man City at Meadow Park in a game that saw missed penalties, Steph Catley’s second-ever goal for Arsenal, another anonymous performance from Alessia Russo and a character-building moment for Khiara Keating, whose mistake allowed Stina Blackstenius to score a late winner and lift Arsenal away from Chloe Kelly’s equaliser as well as stake a claim for Russo’s starting spot.
Steph Catley was nearly the villain, though, lucky to get away with a two-handed push in the back of Bunny Shaw in the area moments before Blackstenius’ winner.
The real fireworks came afterwards though as Gareth Taylor accused Jonas Eidevall of “bullying” the fourth official. Expect this to run a little while long after the sparklers have fizzled out.
PLAYER OF THE WEEKEND
Sophie Baggaley making one of the most extraordinary double saves of the WSL season gives her a very big shout indeed, but this week, Bristol City’s squad as a whole get it for lifting themselves off the bottom.
MOMENT OF THE WEEKEND
We’ve not mentioned it yet, but we can’t go a roundup without discussing the news that Emma Hayes will leave Chelsea at the end of the season – a seismic announcement that will leave its mark on the WSL far beyond today. When someone as synonymous with one club as Hayes is leaves, that means that change is ahead for Chelsea to weather, and uncertainties ahead. There will be thousands of words written In the weeks and months to come about this for sure.