As we near the end of the league season there is still much to be decided within the top tiers of women’s football. In this series of articles, I have been looking at those hopeful of winning their respective divisions and those fighting for promotion.
In part three, I focus on the third level of the women’s football pyramid, the FA Women’s National League Premier North and South.
The three-horse race was reduced to a two-horse race last weekend as Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Burnley 2-1. Amber Hughes put Wolves ahead, while their hosts levelled through Georgia Marshall’s head. Anna Morphet sealled the win with a seventy-second-minute penalty, her ninth goal of the season.
To be fair to Burnely, they are not mathematically out of it but there is no way that Wolves and Forest are both losing to Brighouse Town and Stoke City respectively. No doubt that they’ll rebuild and under Jay Bradford’s guidance they will be up there again next season.
It should be noted that neither the Northern nor Southern Premier League winners are guaranteed promotion to the Championship. They go into a play off against each other, with the winner replacing Coventry United who are dropping down.
The message for Andy Cook’s Forest team is simple, three points against Stoke City (h) and they are champions, albeit potentially on goal difference. Charlotte Greengrass’ twenty-one goals in twenty-nine performances have gone a long way to give them the advantage.
Interestingly, if the division followed the example of the Spanish leagues then it would be Wolves who lift the trophy after doing the double over Forest, recording a 3-1 win (h) in February and 4-2 win (a) in September. These are the only defeats Forest have suffered in the league this season.
It doesn’t take a genius to guess where I am placing my money for this one, after being on a high after yesterday’s National League Cup final win over Watford, Forest are likely to ride that wave of confidence into their last game which should see them overcome Stoke City, a team who occupy eighth place in the division and whom Forest previously beat 5-0 in the league and 4-2 in the cup.
It is very harsh on Wolves given their heartbreak in last season’s play-off to Southampton but they will again need to regroup and make sure that it is third time lucky.
Looking south of the border, we have a few more head scratching permutations to contend with.
While Portsmouth are out of the running mathematically after their 2-1 injury-time defeat to Oxford United, they deserve special mention. For so long they have had plenty of promise but failed to deliver in the big games but Jay Sadler has assembled a young and talented side. They will be looking to build on this and go one better next season.
That Carly Johns last minute winner against Pompey has put Oxford in the driving seat, they are a point better off and with a game in hand. However, those three games include two massive six pointers, Watford (a), Gillingham (h) and then Ipswich Town (a).
The outlook will be hugely impacted by Thursday evening’s result between Watford and Oxford United at Vicarage Road. Watford go into the match on the back of a 3-2 defeat to Nottingham Forest in the aforementioned National League Cup final. The Golden Girls have a strong mentality so I expect them to have refocused on promotion by the time kick off rolls around.
Trying to call this match and this division is absolute guesswork as the three teams are so closely matched. This division will be resolved by the finest of margins, a slip, a questionable refereeing decision or a piece of individual brilliance.
Oxford 1-1 IpswichHead to Head – FAWNL Southern Premier 2022/23
Oxford 1-1 Watford
Ipswich 1-0 Watford
Watford 1-1 Ipswich
As I have touched on, predicting the outcome of this division is going to be very difficult as I believe that a case can be argued for all three teams. Oxford United have been the most consistent over the course of the season. Ipswich Town possesses a talented young squad who will be motivated to avoid the heartbreak of last year when they lost out to Southampton at the final furlong. Watford knows what it takes to compete at the highest level and the legendary Helen Ward will be keen to retire leaving her supporters the ultimate gift, promotion.
At 5pm on Sunday May 7th I think we are going to see a team in yellow celebrating, that team being Oxford United. Although before players, fans and staff from Watford and Ipswich flood the comments I also wouldn’t be surprised if we see the likes of Helen Ward or Natasha Thomas firing their side to the summit of the division.
Looking forward, the likes of Forest, Wolves, Ipswich, Oxford, Watford etc should all be competing within an increased Championship but that is a debate for another day.