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 FAWSL.com:
“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.