Sunday, 29 May 2016

Relegation certs to Story of the Season?

Karen Carney and Becky Spencer to Chelsea. Chelsea Weston released, subsequently joining Notts County. Speculation rife surrounding other key members of the squad. Only signing (Corina Schroeder) injured and missing the first period of the season. Quite simply, the perfect ammunition for pundits and experts of women's football to dismiss Blues Ladies as the red hot favourites to fill the one relegation spot in this years WSL1. However, upon reaching the mid season interval in the top tier of women's football, having played seven of their sixteen league games, David Parker's young troops find themselves sitting very pretty indeed in third place, three points clear of big spending Liverpool, and a comfortable eleven points clear of Doncaster who, despite only playing three games, remain pointless on their return to the top flight. So how have Blues defied all the odds yet again to find themselves challenging at the top end of the table?

Despite the changes over the course of Blues' WSL era, the main strength of whoever has been part of the team remains the incredible determination and fight shown in every minute of every game. Though the funds may not be there to splash out on superstar names in attempts to succeed, Blues seem to thrive on the fact that there is a footballing purity behind their pushes for trophies, and once again this season they have shown they are among the toughest group of players in the game. Defensively, behind Manchester City, Blues have the best record in the league, only conceding four goals from their seven games played, two of those coming in the early season defeat to the title favourites. Sophie Baggaley has replaced Spencer in goal, and the young England stopper has produced a number of eye-catching performances to keep an impressive four clean sheets in a row, including the double wins over Notts and away to Arsenal. In front of her, the coaching staff must take a lot of credit for the switch to the 5-3-2 system that has been adopted for this season. 

With Aoife Mannion, Jess Carter and captain Emily Westwood being the mainstays in a predominant back three, and Kerys Harrop and Abbey Stringer adopting wide wing back roles, teams have found it difficult to create too many clear cut chances and break through that solid back line, especially given the shield that the likes of Jo Potter, Jade Moore and Remi Allen have provided them with, not to mention the breakthrough spell of Chloe Peplow, who has looked every bit the starlet that has won her recognition from international selectors at under age level, and for me has been one of the brightest points from the season so far. The alteration in system has not just made Blues stronger at the back, but it has also allowed the team to be more of a threat going forward, especially on the counter attack.

Although they have only scored four league goals, this certainly hasn't been through want of trying. In the 2-1 home win over Doncaster Belles, they racked up double figures' worth of attempts in the first half alone, and in soaking up opponents' pressure, they have become a very dangerous side on the counter attack, with Mel Lawley, Freda Ayisi and Charlie Wellings working hard and running defenders ragged to allow the team to break directly and quickly. When you consider the club have had their bad luck with injuries this season, with Moore and Allen only having just returned to full fitness, and the likes of Kirsty Linnett, Coral Haines and Schroeder having missed the vast majority of the first half of the season, the performances of the team are even more impressive than the numbers suggest. 

German international striker Isabella Linden has joined from Frauen-Bundesliga giants Frankfurt to attempt to boost the goals tally, and her international compatriot Marisa Evers has also moved to Solihull from Bayer Leverkusen to bolster the back line, in what the club will hope brings an added steel and international experience to a talented group of young players. These signings have highlighted the intent within the club to push Blues on further, and from a fans perspective, not only is it exciting that quality European players want to come and play for Blues, there is the hope that these sorts of signings can persuade star players that the future is bright at Solihull. There is plenty to be positive about as we enter the mid season interval, compared to last year where the fans' only aspiration was to avoid relegation. Blues face an away trip to WSL2 side Oxford in the Continental Cup, which has been reinvented into a straight knockout tournament this year, a change from the group stages in previous seasons, and it is traditionally a competition Blues have done well in over the years. Realistically, the squads and facilities Manchester City and Chelsea have available to them, along with the starts both sides have made in the league this season, means it would be incredible tough going for any other club to break into the top two and achieve a Champions League place, but if Blues were to finish in the top half of the WSL, it would leave egg on an awful lot of faces in the world of women's football, and establish them once again as a side to be reckoned with. It will no doubt be a long month of June for Blues fans, as the summer transfer window opens, but for now the optimism around the Midlands is at a scale not felt since the final day of the 2014 season. 

Friday, 17 April 2015

BCLFC vs NCLFC preview

This Sunday sees a repeat of the heart-breaking final game of the 2014 season, when Notts County travel to Blues in third WSL game of the season. With both teams on one point from six from their first two games, and the knowledge that no WSL Champions have lost more than two games in the season they won the title, three points is crucial in an attempt to climb the table.

The early season optimism around The Autotech Stadium has been dampened slightly following away defeats to Liverpool in the league and Man City in the FA Cup Quarter Final, but with three WSL home fixtures in the next week and a half, Blues will be hoping to revive their campaign with some positive results. Following the Notts County game, they host pace setters Chelsea and strugglers Bristol, and this signifies a big chance for the Midlanders to regain confidence and push away from the bottom of the division.

Similarly to Blues, County haven’t secured the points they would feel they deserved from their first two league games. Defeat at home to Chelsea in the season opener was somewhat cruel, and they were the better team in their draw at home to Arsenal, but they find themselves above Blues only on goals scored. They have good memories of visits to Solihull from last season, winning in the Continental Cup group stage and securing the draw in the dramatic last day fixture, and unlike their opponents they have an FA Cup Semi Final to look forward to, with a fine 5-1 victory over Aston Villa leading to another kind draw against WSL2 side Everton. County may well reach the final without playing a fellow WSL1 opponent, which is quite astonishing.

If there wasn’t enough spice in this fixture, the return of former Blues favourites Laura Bassett, Rachel Williams and Rachel Unitt will no doubt up the ante, and midfielder Jade Moore has been speaking about the game to

“It’s going to be a very tough contest and they’ve got a few ex-players of ours like Laura Bassett and Rachel Unitt, which always makes the game interesting,” she said.

“Then there’s obviously the history of last season when they got the draw at our place that prevented us from winning the league so there’s a few things that will put an edge on the game.

“But we’re looking forward to the battle and they’ve got off to a really good start, while for ourselves we’ve got to get some points on the board.

“It’ll definitely be good to be back at home after two away games and the crowds are slowly growing. It also becomes a bit of a derby as they are the closest team relative to us in the league.

“We need a few more noisy fans to come down to make sure we don’t get out-voiced by the away fans but the crowds have been good to us and it will be nice to have a few games in a row at home.”

Meanwhile, Blues’ development side have been embroiled in a controversial week following their Cup Semi Final defeat to Liverpool last Sunday. Blues lost on penalties, but it transpired that Liverpool made 4 substitutions in the match, without the referee knowing, so the Semi Final will be replayed a week on Sunday (26th April) to see who will face Sunderland in the Final on May 31st. In league matters, a 4-1 derby win over Villa sees the Northern Division tighten up at the top. Man City find themselves leading the way, a 2-0 win over Liverpool saw them leapfrog the Merseysiders onto 27 points from 11 games, with the Reds and Blues sitting three points behind, but with a game in hand. Whilst the first team are battling Notts County on Sunday, the development side travel to Doncaster Belles, who sit bottom of the nine-team group, and will be aiming to keep the pressure on their northern rivals.

This week also saw the announcement of the PFA Player of the Year awards, and Blues were involved in both senior and young player awards. Captain Karen Carney was nominated in the senior list, alongside Eni Aluko and Ji So Yun from Chelsea, Kelly Smith from Arsenal, Lucy Bronze from Man City and Jess Clarke from Notts County. There were two Blues players in the young player nominations, Aoife Mannion and Freda Ayisi vying for the award with Leah Williamson (Arsenal), Hannah Blundell (Chelsea), Amy Turner (Notts County) and Nikita Parris (Man City). As ever with player awards nominations, there has been some debate about players included in both lists, and in particular players not recognised for their performances last season, but good luck to the Blues contingent in their respective categories.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

WSL 1 2015 Predictions

As the eight WSL 1 teams prepare to start the fifth WSL season, we look at the chances of each team in what promises to be the hardest season to predict yet:

Arsenal Ladies – Last Season 4th

After the upheaval and turmoil surrounding the clubs last pre-season transfer activity, fans will be much happier this time around, with the big news surrounding incoming players as opposed to players leaving the club. Manager Pedro Martinez Losa has bolstered his teams attacking threat, bringing England striker Lianne Sanderson back to the club following her stint in America, along with Bristol Academy’s top scorer from last season Natalia. Vicky Losada will add flair to the midfield after joining from Barcelona, while Arsenal’s second capture from Bristol, Jemma Rose, will add a bit of pace and strength in their back line. Japanese duo Kinga and Ohno have left, but first team players have opted to stay at the club this season, as the biggest name in women’s football aim to regain their place at the head of the table.

One to watch – Leah Williamson – looking to follow up on her successful breakthrough season last year, could form a solid midfield partnership with Nobbs. May be a little too early in regards an England World Cup place this year, but a good start to the season may sway opinion.

Prediction – May well be the entertainers of the league, will score plenty but may concede a few too many to be challengers. Expect to challenge again in cup competitions. 6th

Birmingham City Ladies – Last Season 3rd

Another quiet transfer window for David Parker’s side, which will be music to the ears of many supporters who feared last season’s heart-breaking finale would see many big name players depart for pastures new. Alex Windell (Bristol) and Freda Ayisi (Arsenal) will add versatility, pace and technical ability to a squad that has developed together over a number of years, and many within the group feel more confident than ever. The policy of allowing youth players to flourish in the first team has worked, and this remains the key ethos of the club. The loss of Chelsea Weston for the season will be a body blow, but may well act as an added incentive for a team that never know when they’re beaten, and after the events of that final day of last season will surely fan the flames of desire within a talented squad.

One to watch – Jade Moore – could have picked any of the brilliant midfield trio at Blues’ disposal, but in a World Cup year, Moore will be keen to catch the eye of Mark Sampson to secure her place on the plane to Canada.

Prediction – Will be hard to beat, will cause plenty of shocks to pundits who expect them to falter, but will need a fully fit to squad to stay in contention. 2nd 

Bristol Academy Women – Last Season 7th

In stark contrast to the first two teams mentioned, the transfer window has not been kind to fans of Bristol Academy. From the joy of securing a Champions League Quarter Final place only a few months ago, they have seen the departures of many of the key figures who got them into that position. Spanish strikers Natalia and Laura Del Rio have left, along with winger Natasha Harding, while Jemma Rose and Corrine Yorston have also jumped ship to leave holes in a defence that was the second worst last season. A Welsh influence has arrived in the shape of Hayley Ladd, Nadia Lawrence and Lauren Townsend, along with Christie Murray from Arsenal, but defeat in the FA Cup to WSL 2 Everton may be a sign of the troubles ahead.

One to watch – Angharad James – Bristol will look to the likes of James to steady the ship, and the Welsh international has the ability to become the key to saving Bristol’s season from petering into a disaster.

Prediction – Can’t see where the goals will come from, and Mary Earps may well be kept very busy this season. 8th

Chelsea Ladies – Last Season 2nd

It transpired that a point away to Man City would have seen Emma Hayes’ team head into this season as Champions, but defeat in Manchester saw the title slip from their grasp. Though the season ended with disappointment, there were plenty of positives to take from the campaign, and even though some first team players have left, namely Laura Bassett, Rachel Williams and Dani Buet all to Notts County, and Yuki Ogimi to Wolfsburg, the acquisitions of the likes of Gemma Davison, Millie Bright and Marija Banusic will mean the Londoners will retain their goal threat. Niamh Fahey and Hedvig Lindhal will also provide competition on the defensive front. Will be desperate to go one better than last term and win their first WSL title.

One to watch – Ji So Yun – the Japanese playmaker made an immediate impact with Ogimi last season for the Blues, and although Ogimi has left, So Yun will be the player that Chelsea look to for the attacking flair this year.

Prediction – Second highest scorers last year will be full of goals again, but I wonder what that Man City game will do to their confidence. 5th

Liverpool Ladies – Last Season 1st

Last season’s Champions have once again placed their faith in bringing in foreign players in the transfer window, with four new signings coming in to replace some important members of the 2014 squad moving on. Asisat Oshoala is the most eye catching signing, the young Nigerian with big potential will hope to settle in quickly. Surprisingly, names like Lucy Bronze and Gemma Davison have joined opposing WSL teams, and Amanda da Costa has moved back to the USA. Despite these departures, the strong English spine of the team remains, captain Gemma Bonner marshalling defence, Fara Williams the playmaker in midfield, and Natasha Dowie will be hoping to score more than the three league goals last year. Nicole Rolser and Lucy Staniforth returning from long term injuries will also boost the squad. Already out of the Champions League and FA Cup, the WSL season is the main focus.

One to watch – Natasha Dowie – as mentioned above, will be disappointed with last year’s goal tally, and with a World Cup only months away, will be desperate to start the season on fire to try and grab a late call up to the squad.

Prediction – Big squad full of talent, will start the season in the eyes of many as favourites, but will have to start the season strongly. 3rd

Manchester City Women – Last Season 5th

It has been another busy pre-season for the Continental Cup holders, with plenty of players in and out of the door. Unsurprisingly, the additions have caught the eye, especially the signing of Lucy Bronze from Liverpool, a deal struck at the very start of the window, which signalled City’s intent early on. Jennifer Beattie and Demi Stokes will bolster the back line, but the attacking signings have been impressive, with the club opting for young, British talent as opposed to foreign incomings. Sarah Wiltshire and Natasha Harding will bring pace and ability in the wide areas, and Nikita Parris will challenge Toni Duggan for the striker role, possibly even partnering her at some stage. Playing this season at their new home of the Academy stadium, there is no doubt where this club intends to be, and the sooner the better.

One to watch – Sarah Wiltshire – among the many big name signings over the last two years, the Welsh attacker may well prove to be the most exciting. Impressed regularly at WSL 2 level, this is her chance to shine at the top

Prediction – It is clear that City’s aim is title winners not just once, but to dominate the game. They now have a very strong squad, and could start that this year. 1st

Notts County Ladies – Last Season 6th

The surprise package during the off season, and arguably the big winners in terms of transfer activity. Bringing in Bassett, Buet and Williams from Chelsea was shrewd business, as was exploiting Everton’s relegation by bringing in Alex Greenwood and Fern Whelan. They will miss their best player last year in Rachel Corsie, but now look to have a seriously strong squad, with cover for all areas of the pitch. Jess Clarke will no doubt be a key attacking player, and Ellen White will practically be a new signing to them, having missed the previous campaign with a long term injury. County boasted the best defence in the league last year, and are very well organised under Rick Passmoor. If they can avoid a repeat of last season’s injury curse, they will cause a lot of teams a lot of problems, and within the squad have confidence to go well this year.

One to watch – Ellen White – will be desperate to get playing again after last season’s disappointment, and another with realistic England ambitions to go to the World Cup. A flurry of goals early on may well see her achieve that.

Prediction – On the face of it, the strongest defence last year now has a serious goal threat, which means they have a really good chance of upsetting teams, especially in cups. 4th

Sunderland Ladies – WSL2 Champions

The newcomers to WSL 1 having won WSL 2 last year, winning 15 of their 18 league games. Their biggest strength, similarly to Birmingham, is that the main core of their squad is still in place, with not much movement in the transfer window, however they have had to endure a chance of management. Mick Mulhern had to resign his post due to his role as a full time police officer, and this would have prevented him spending enough time as manager. His replacement, Carlton Fairweather, has managed to bring in experienced WSL 1 players in Victoria Williams and Brooke Chaplen, leaving Doncaster and Everton respectively. Last season’s Continental Cup showed a gulf in class, where they lost 6-0 at Liverpool, but they will back themselves to be stronger this time around, and in Beth Mead they have a goal threat up front.

One to watch – Beth Mead – has to be the one Sunderland will look to to keep them in the top division. 10 goals in 15 games last season shows she has an eye for goal, and she will hope for more in the biggest league.

Prediction – Will see themselves in a two horse race for survival along with Bristol, Mead’s goals could prove to be pivotal in this battle. 7th

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Blues progress to Quarter Finals after Liverpool win

Blues Ladies marched into the Quarter Finals of the Womens FA Cup following an excellent 3-1 victory against WSL Champions Liverpool on Sunday. Goals from the midfield trio of Jade Moore, Jo Potter and Remi Allen ensured progression for the 2012 winners, despite a Natasha Dowie header in the first half.

Blues were without their suspended captain Karen Carney, so Emily Westwood was brought in, with new signings Freda Ayisi and Alex Windell starting on the bench, and Jade Moore taking the captain’s armband. The home side began brightly, forcing a succession of early corners which Allen twice found herself on the end of, once heading just wide and the other creating a chance of Westwood, but her swivelled shot also missed the target. Another Blues set piece was partially cleared by the away side straight to Chelsea Weston, who fired a drilled shot just over the bar from outside the area, but that led to the opening goal.

With Westwood in the team, she was deployed to prevent Liverpool keeper Libby Stout giving the ball to playmaker Fara Williams, and in doing so, Stout was forced to play the ball out to the left, where Blues pressed high and won the ball back well, the ball eventually falling to striker Kirsty Linnett, who produced a sublime flick to free the onrushing Moore. The stand in skipper took her time to steady herself before calmly slotting a left footed effort beyond Stout to give the hosts the lead they had thoroughly deserved, however ten minutes later the Reds were level, Dowie finding space in the box and heading home Corina Schroder’s left wing cross.

This goal settled the visitors down, and they began to play with more control. On the half hour mark, disaster struck for Blues full back Weston, following what looked an innocuous challenge, she went down clutching her knee in obvious agony. Not one to stay down when not hurt, this was a clear sign that serious damage had been done, and after 6-7 minutes treatment, she was stretchered from the pitch to warm applause from all parts of the ground. She was replaced by new signing Windell for her debut, in an unfamiliar full back berth, but the gloom was to be lifted by a stroke of genius two minutes later.

Westwood did well to win a free kick 25 yards from goal, and with no Carney in the side, free kick duties were left to the left foot of Potter, who didn’t disappoint, curling a spectacular strike into the top corner, beyond the despairing dive of Stout to regain the lead for David Parker’s side. New Liverpool signing Asisat Oshoala could have made it 2-2 before the break, but fired wide after dispossessing Kerys Harrop on the edge of the box, and Blues made it to half time ahead.

The second half was a quieter affair, Oshoala, Lawley and Westwood all failing to hit the target in the first twenty minutes of the second period. Liverpool made three substitutions in the space of ten minutes to try and wrestle back control of the game, Katie Zelem, Nicole Rolser and new signing Ingrid Ryland coming on, but still the home side resisted any clear cut chances for the two time WSL winners, allowing them plenty of possession but staying strong when the ball came into the final third, and allowing no time and space for Williams to dictate play. With ten minutes, the hard working Linnett was replaced by fellow debutant Ayisi, and following chances for Bonner and Rolser for the away side, it was Ayisi who won the match winning chance, after being fouled in the area by Murray. It was left to Allen to take the penalty with Carney missing, and she made no mistake by getting the third and sealing Blues’ passage into the Quarter Finals.

A sweet day for Blues Ladies was soured slightly with the news Weston suffered the dreaded ACL injury, which has plagued the women’s game over the last couple of years, and it is expected that the talented full back will miss the remainder of the season. A speedy recovery and full rehabilitation is hoped for so she can come back stronger and better than before. This result not only takes Blues one step closer to an FA Cup Final at Wembley, but also lays down a marker for the upcoming WSL season, a win over the reigning Champions is not to be played down, especially considering the performance in the win.

The draw for the Quarter Finals was made on Monday morning, and is as follows:


A tough draw for Blues, but we managed to secure a 2-1 victory in last season’s trip to Manchester, a similar outcome would be much welcomed, and would leave Blues one game from Wembley.

BLUES: Spencer, Weston (Windell 37), Mannion, Harrop, Carter, Moore (c), Allen, Potter, Westwood, Lawley, Linnett (Ayisi 82). SUBS NOT USED: Baggaley, Simpkins, Wellings.

LIVERPOOL: Stout, Easton (Ryland 67), Bonner (c), Murray, Schroder, Williams, Dale (Zelem 63), Oshoala, Longhurst, Smorsgard (Rolser 73), Dowie. SUBS NOT USED: Gibbons, Harris.

Attendance: 401

Referee: Richard Watson

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

WSL Team of the Season

So the WSL season has come to an incredibly dramatic end, with Liverpool Ladies retaining their title on the final day of the campaign. In light of the season’s finish, here is our Team of the Season:

Goalkeeper – Carly Telford (Notts County)

It would be easy to pick the goalkeeper from the team with the best defensive record, but in this case it is fully deserved. The England stopper, who played every WSL game, conceding only 8 goals, has been in tremendous form this year, not least in the final game of the season, putting in a match saving performance to deny Blues, in particular the outrageous double save from Karen Carney’s penalty and follow up. In the year before a World Cup, Telford has performed admirably behind a solid Notts County defence, and I would fully expect her to be on the plane to Canada next year.

Defender – Chelsea Weston (Birmingham)

Equally comfortable defending or attacking, Weston has had another very good season in the Blues defence. Missing only one game throughout the season, the right back has also chipped in with two goals, including a now trademark screamer away to Bristol Academy, as well as contributing to goals through her forays forward. Another young, exciting player who the England camp must be looking at for the future.

Defender – Gemma Bonner (Liverpool)

One of three Liverpool players to play every minute this season, Matt Beard’s Captain once again ended the year lifting the WSL trophy. Bonner is an integral part of a Reds backline that claimed the second best defensive record in the league, conceding only 10 goals all season, as well as getting a goal to her name in the win at Bristol. Her never say die attitude epitomises the way she dragged her side along towards the end of the season. As with Telford, I would be hugely surprised if her name was not on the England World Cup squad next year.

Defender – Rachel Corsie (Notts County)

Voted Notts County’s player of the season recently, Corsie has become the star of the most resilient side in the WSL. Vice-captain at the start of the season, but promoted to Captain due to Sophie Bradley’s long term injury, the Scotland international has won the hearts of fans and staff alike with her hard work and professionalism at the heart of the East Midlanders defence. Another who played every minute of their campaign, Corsie has a World Cup qualifying play off against The Netherlands to look forward to with Scotland. Qualification to Canada would top a magnificent year for the 25 year old.

Defender – Lucy Bronze (Liverpool)

Last season’s PFA Player of the Season has had another terrific year, cementing her place in not only Liverpool’s team, but also stamping her mark on Mark Sampson’s England squad. Bronze has scored two goals this term, including one in the crucial final day victory over Bristol, and has been a rock in the Champion’s defence. A certainty to play a huge part in Canada next year, she, like Bonner, played every minute of the Merseysiders successful campaign, and she will be looking forward to progressing in the Champions League to top another superb season.

Midfielder – Fara Williams (Liverpool)

Despite the controversy surrounding the goal, one of Williams’ four goals this year well and truly revitalised the Reds chances of retaining their title this year. After conceding a late equaliser at Birmingham, it was Williams’ quick thinking and world class ability to take the kick off and score from the halfway line gave Liverpool the win, and ultimately led to them finishing top. Starting every game this season, and scoring in the final day win, Williams has become the catalyst for all Liverpool attacks, making a deeper midfield role her own for both club and country. Only injury can prevent Williams extending her record international caps haul over the next year or two.

Midfielder – Jo Potter (Birmingham)

Much of what was said about Fara can be mirrored into the analysis of Blues’ very own midfield engine. The pivot in the Blues side, Potter is usually the one dropping deep to start attacks off, spraying 30-40 yards passes to the wings or over the opposition defence. She has three WSL goals to her name this year, including one straight from a corner kick away to Notts County. An unsung hero in the side for a number of years, Potter’s efforts have recently been awarded with a return to international action, and she, along with all Blues fans, would be delighted to see her on the plane to next year’s World Cup.

Attacker – Yuki Ogimi (Chelsea)

A tough call between Chelsea’s two eastern acquisitions, who have both made a big impact to Chelsea’s side this year, the Japanese international sneaks in thanks to her goal scoring efforts, netting five times this season. Bringing flair and control to a strong team, Ogimi took no time settling in, scoring a brace in their opening game of the season. Starting all but one WSL game this year, the former Potsdam star will be looking to put the final day disappointment behind her as she and her international teammates look to retain the Womens World Cup next year.

Attacker – Jess Clarke (Notts County)

Clarke has had a magnificent season for Notts County, stepping up in the absence of Ellen White and thriving in the role as main attacking threat. Scoring half of their league goals all season, six in total, she has become arguably the most threatening player in the league, mixing pace and skill with some very good finishes. There is no doubt that, without her efforts this year, County’s great defensive record may not have counted for much, and they have been heavily reliant on her goals all year. While she may not be a regular starter for England, I would hope she gets a place in the World Cup squad, as she would be a seriously positive impact player to bring on.

Attacker – Karen Carney (Birmingham)

Blues’ skipper this year could not have done much more to help her side lift their first WSL trophy. Finishing top scorer in the WSL with eight goals, playing every game for the Midlands outfit, she has played her part in what was a superb effort from Birmingham in taking it to the very last minute in the fight for the title. Carney’s brace in the penultimate game at Man City is an example of her never say die attitude, and her willingness never to give in and help pull the team along eventually led to the last day battle. Another who will be guaranteed a place in the England World Cup squad, injuries permitting.

Striker – Nikita Parris (Everton)

This could very easily have gone to Eni Aluko, who deserves a mention, but Parris shone in an Everton side that were eventually relegated. The young England striker scored six of Everton’s ten goals in total, missing only one game through suspension. Parris’ goals, although futile in the fight for survival, gave the Blues the best chance possible, and in two of the games they drew, Parris scored in those games. A shining light in the side, she performed wonders, being asked to carry the team with her goals, and at a tender age she has displayed a great eye for goal, one which many WSL1 teams will be looking at over the winter.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Final day heartbreak for Blues

Blues Ladies' season ended in agony on Sunday, as a 2-2 draw with Notts County saw them end the year in third place, not only missing out on the title, but also a place in next season's Champions League, as Liverpool retained their title in the most tense and dramatic of finale's.

Blues began the day knowing victory at home would ensure themselves a place in Europe, and still leave them with a chance of toppling Chelsea to WSL glory, should the Londoners lose at Manchester City, but also knowing failure to win would leave the door open for Liverpool to sneak in. The hosts were unchanged from last week's win in Manchester, Abbey-Leigh Stringer retaining her place ahead of Jade Moore, who was fit enough for a place on the bench.

Blues started poorly, and found themselves a goal down after only three minutes, Aileen Whelan left free to head home a corner to give the away side the perfect start. The title chasers could not get a foot in the game, as a confident Notts County side were looking to continue on a recent four league game unbeaten run, and they strengthened their grip over Blues on 20 minutes when, following a goalmouth scramble, striker Fiona O'Sullivan poked the ball into the net from close range. Alarm bells were ringing at this point, and with nothing improving up to the half hour mark, David Parker made a tactical change, bringing Hannah Keryakoplis on for Stringer, and setting up with a more attacking formation, and the Welsh forward made an immediate impact, intercepting a loose back pass before rounding Carly Telford and unselfishly pulling the ball back to Kirsty Linnett who, on the second attempt, pulled a goal back.

This livened up the crowd and the players responded, dragging themselves back into the contest, in the knowledge that Man City were beating Chelsea by two goals to nil in the other game, and with three minutes of the half remaining, Blues were given a glorious chance to get back on level terms. Keryakoplis' pass was adjudged to have been handled by a Notts defender, and Carney stepped up to take the penalty, but was denied by Telford with a good save from the penalty, and then a spectacular stop from the follow up.

Jade Moore replaced Remi Allen at the break, and Blues carried on where they left the first half, on the front foot, and were level within five minutes of the restart. Linnett chased down a loose ball, and the clearance bounced off her kindly into the path of Keryakoplis, who only needed two touches to control the ball and calmly slot it past Telford to send the home crowd into raptures, knowing only one more goal would mean title glory, with Chelsea still losing in the North. Moore and Carney went close minutes after the goal as Blues pushed for that pivotal third, but Liverpool were winning 3-0 at home to Bristol, so Blues knew it was all or nothing in terms of league positions.

County sub Dunia Susi clipped the bar with a twenty yard shot, highlighting the danger of pushing so hard for the winner, but at this stage a draw was as irrelevant as defeat, so Emily Westwood was brought on with ten minutes left as the hosts went hell for leather, and the bumper crowd reacted with great noise and enthusiasm, willing their side to grab the winner.

Liverpool had kicked off a couple of minutes earlier than Blues, so their game had finished as Blues and Chelsea went into injury time, Chelsea having pulled a goal back and were now battering away at a Man City side with a player sent off, and it was in the additional four minutes added time that Blues' best chance came and went. Carney turned smartly in the middle of the park to create space to run into, and she found Linnett on the edge of the box. Her first touch was inch perfect, but once again Telford denied her with a superb save, tipping her powerful effort round the post. She was at hand for the resulting corner as well, tipping Potter's cross over the bar for another corner, from which Mannion's header was deflected wide by Linnett, and that was that.

The final whistle was met with tears from players, fans and staff alike, the devastation of missing out on both prizes available on the day hitting home, Liverpool winning the league and Chelsea grabbing the second Champions League place. In time, the achievements of this squad this year will be looked back upon with great pride, and rightly so, in light of everything they have gone through as a squad, with a limited budget, to finish third in the WSL is an incredible feat, but it will take time for the team to come to terms with the feeling of what could have been on a day of so many contrasting emotions. Keep Right On may never have been a more appropriate anthem than it is for those players right now, but I believe that, should they stay together and not lose important players, this experience will only serve to make this group even more determined to finally lift the trophy they desire the most.

Blues: Spencer, Weston (Westwood 80), Mannion, Harrop, Carter, Allen (Moore 46), Potter, Stringer (Keryakoplis 28), Lawley, Carney (c), Linnett. Subs not used: Baggaley, Sergeant, Torkildsen, Simpkins

Notts County: Telford, Walton, Turner, Corsie, Brogan, Scott (Susi 64), Hoyle, Whelan, O'Neill, Clarke, O'Sullivan (Friend 88)

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Title now in Chelsea's hands

Blues failed to break down a resolute Everton side at the Select Security Stadium last night, leaving the FAWSL title very much in the hands of Chelsea, who are now two points clear of the Midlands side with three games remaining.

The away side were unchanged from their recent 3-1 victory at Bristol Academy, with Everton making one forced change, young striker Lucy Whipp replacing the suspended Nikita Parris.

In light of their lowly league position, it was a surprise to see Everton begin the game defending very deep, allowing Blues to control the game in midfield, where they enjoyed the majority of possession in their opponents half, which lasted for the whole of the first 45 minutes. Winger Mel Lawley was the liveliest of the attacking Blues stars, causing the hosts plenty of problems on the left wing, and bringing a good low save from Brown-Finnis in the Everton goal early on. Lawley's cross three minutes later found Karen Carney, who headed just over, before Lawley again cut inside from the left to shoot just wide. The England U20 trickster then fed full back Jess Carter who forced Brown-Finnis into a smart stop, driving a testing shot from 25 yards, and from the resulting corner Danielle Turner hacked the ball off the line following a goalmouth scramble. Blues continued to control the possession stats, especially inside Everton's half, but the final killer pass was lacking. Carney and Kirsty Linnett had half chances as the half wore on, but Everton, understandably, were determined not to concede and made life hard for Blues' playmakers. The visitors suffered a blow minute before half time when Jade Moore suffered a reoccurrence of the ankle injury which affected her recent international duty, and she was replaced by Emily Westwood, a straight swap in the centre of midfield.

Ten minutes after the break, the only moment of controversy in the game flared up when Remi Allen collided with Toffees midfielder Brooke Chaplen who, unhappy with Allen's challenge, aimed a kick out at Allen. The incident could not have been seen by the referee clearly, as she was only given a talking to, a matter which was made worse when minutes later she was booked for a foul on Westwood, and may well feel she was lucky to stay on. The hosts were defending bravely, but never really looked threatening going forward until their best chance of the game fell to Whipp on the hour mark. Indecision in the Blues defence led to a loose ball being picked up by the U19 England international, but her shot flew over Becky Spencer's crossbar, much to the relief of the away side. This was the closest Everton came to scoring, as David Parker desperately tried everything to see his side grab a crucial goal that would have taken them above Chelsea to the top of the table. Turner was in the right place at the right time for Everton again from a Blues corner, Aoife Mannion's header cleared off the line, before Vicky Jones did the same from another Mannion header with ten minutes remaining. Brown-Finnis was looking confident in the hosts' goal, saving from Lawley, while Linnett headed inches wide from a delightful Carney cross, as Blues threw everything at their opponents, but their best chance was yet to come. As the clock ticked into injury time, Carney fed. Linnett on the right hand side of the Everton box, and her inch perfect cross bounced horrendously on the artificial surface, leaving Westwood ending up neither heading nor tapping the ball home, as it bounced harmlessly wide. Everton held out the remainder of added on time, leaving neither side pleased with the outcome.

The draw leaves Everton bottom of the table, four points behind Notts County with four games remaining, including a six pointer when they travel to Meadow Lane to face County. Blues are now on 21 points, two behind leaders Liverpool, and two ahead of next opponents Liverpool.

Chelsea have the advantage of playing the day before Blues, knowing victory away at Notts County would open up a five point gap before their two rivals for the title play each other a day later. If County were to stop the London side picking up all three points however, it would be a huge boost to both Blues and Liverpool, with both teams knowing a win would put them right back in the race. You have to make Chelsea favourites to lift the trophy on October 12, but this season has proved on many occasions any team can beat anyone on their day, so Blues have to believe three wins from their remaining games (Liverpool at home, Man City away and Notts County at home) could very well lead them to their first ever WSL title, and cap an incredible season for this group of players.

The Liverpool game is to be shown live on BT Sport on Sunday September 21st, a midday kick off, but it would be a huge boost to the players if there was a bumper crowd at Solihull Moors' Autotech Stadium, especially with the season drawing to a close, and so much still to play for.

Blues: Spencer, Weston, Mannion, Harrop, Carter, Potter, Moore (Westwood 44), Allen, Lawley, Carney (c), Linnett. Subs not used: Baggaley, Sargeant, Wellings, Torkildsen, Stringer, Keryakoplis

Everton: Brown-Finnis, Jones, Johnson, George, Greenwood, Turner, Chaplen, Hinnigan (c), Jones, Turner, Whipp. Subs not used: Walsh, Whelan, Handley, Magill, Williams, Kane, Davies

Select Security Stadium

Attendance: 310

Referee: T Neild