WSL 2 End of Season Review: London Bees

With the winter appointment of experienced manager, Dave Edmondson things at the Hive seemed their most positive, the club with plans for expansion and more youth teams, uncontended to just make up the numbers in WSL 2, the Bees had found their sting.

All change

Edmondson’s arrival signalled wholesale changes in personnel, many of the players from the last two seasons let go, demoted to the development squad or having left before the change of management, just a core few familiar faces remained.

The rest of the team was swiftly made up with numbers from WPL sides – as well as Emma Beckett, fresh from a spell in Scandinavia and Merrick Will who joined from Millwall. But with some many comings and goings close to the start of the season, the Bees didn’t get off to the start they would have hoped, the squad still adjusting to one another and learning to implement Edmondson’s possession game.

Two goals to the good with just two minutes left on the clock in their first league game of the year against local rivals, Watford the hosts were left shocked when the Golden Girls hit them for two late goals, the draw a disappointing start to the 2016 season.

A middling performance with two all too familiar mistakes at New Ferens Park had the Bees leaving Durham without a point, a strong first-half showing at the Hive against Bristol was for naught as the Vixens hit them for three in nine second-half minutes. New look Bees, same old results.

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The upset of the season

A 2-1 home win over Millwall brought about their first win of the year before a lacklustre 1-5 away to Everton, a 2-0 over Watford was enough to take them through to the first round (proper) of the Conti Cup. In action against the same opponents eight days later the Bees recorded their biggest win and their best performance to date as they thoroughly dominated the Golden Girls at Vicarage Road, 5-0 a modest scoreline for a team that looked like they could beat anyone.

A 2-2 against promotion chasing Durham at Northwood a strong enough note to go into the mid-season interval with, plenty for the fans to be excited about but with more work for Edmondson to do on the training pitch.

In action three times in seven days when the season restarted the Bees refused to lay down, gritty 1-1 draws with Aston Villa and Millwall just the appetiser for a league cup game against Chelsea. In one of the performances of the season the humble team from Canons Park stood toe-to-toe with the [then] current WSL Champions, unmoved by the competition, blistering heat or the long 180 minutes they’d already played in the days leading up to the fixture.

Having shopped 21 goals to the same opposition in the last two years of the competition the Bees were resolute, Beth England’s early goal not the key to unlock the floodgates but rather a rare instance of Chelsea getting the better of the hosts. Gilly Flaherty’s own goal just before the hour brought about parity before the Bees took the lead ten minutes from time through attacking sensation, Jo Wilson.

With the hosts all ready to celebrate the win their WSL 1 opposition controversially found their own equaliser on the stroke of full time. The Bees sagged at the start of extra time and unsurprisingly found themselves a goal down, England the perpetrator once again but once more Edmondson’s Bees rallied and when Chelsea sat back, respectful of their hosts the Bees attacked with all their had to force penalties. 763 spectators on hand to watch former Lionesses Merrick Will blast the Bees through to the next round from the spot.

An unthinkable win, even for one of the WSL 2 big dogs, the progression of the Bees not to be overlooked.

Ups and downs

A 3-1 win over Oxford kept them on track in the league before three successive defeats had them looking like the old Bees, an insipid 0-5 at home to Sheffield had them in a tail-spin, a 3-0 loss away to Bristol added to their misery before they were humbled in Abingdon, the U’s 4-2 winners.

A 2-0 over Sheffield in the cup steadied the ship and ensured passage to the Conti Cup semi-finals, the Bees the first WSL 2 team to have ever reached the last four of the competition. A dominant showing at home saw the Bees claim another league victory, the Villainess forces to leave the Hive empty-handed before the hosts were humbled by Birmingham City in the cup.

Not dwelling on previous results the Bees pulled off yet another fine coop with a 3-2 win over Yeovil, despite being 2-0 down to the Glovers at half-time before nicking a tight 1-0 in Dronfield. Against a nervous Yeovil side in their penultimate game, the Bees lacked the required bite to get the best of Charlotte Haynes and fell to a 2-0 loss, the Glovers sealing their promotion at the Hive just as the Belles had done the year before. Their last game of the year was a messy 3-4 at home to Everton, the Blue Girls playing for pride, wounds still smarting from their previous loss to a promoted team.

Whilst results haven’t always gone the way of the Bees, the performances have (more often than not) been encouraging, this isn’t the same London Bees from 2014 (who finished the season rock bottom with eight points) or 2015 (up to eight on the last day with twelve points for the year) but rather the teams the Bees have previously been known as.

A team with Kelly Smith (Wembley Ladies) propelling them up the table with her goals or Danielle Murphy (Barnet Ladies) keeping things tight at the back. This is a team that have now reached the lofty heights of seventh (no sarcasm intended), six wins and four draws their lot for the year, but it could have been more if not for a lapse of concentration here or a run of injuries there.

The best is yet to come

At times over the year the Bees have been their own worst enemy, and whilst some of those oh so familiar mistakes have been there this season – letting their heads drop after conceding and being hit for a quick-fire second (re: Bristol) or not starting the second-half quick enough and looking half stuck in the dressing room (re: Durham) – they’ve been far less frequent than last season, the team still a work in progress.

The team has always been as balanced as possible, injuries the only thing to tip the scales, and the plaudits belong to the team as a whole, a number of individuals deserving of high praise too. With conditioning at an all-time high, the team is as fit as it’s ever been and it’s evident on the pitch, the team – especially when injury hit – and played to the whistle, playing through the pain for their teammates.

Whilst Ashleigh Goddard has been one of the undisputed stars this season – and her injury against Birmingham was well felt by the team – she’s been one of many, the team wouldn’t be as rigid without Deanna Cooper or Emma Beckett in defence and/or midfield, Jo Wilson’s goals absolutely massive for the Bees, the striker one of the most potent in the league, simply too good for WPL.

Although these are the four that first spring to mind, it’s hard to overlook Sophie Fogarty’s development this season, the former Super Hoop has only gone from strength to strength this year, Evie Clarke’s natural aptitude for the game has been on display for all to see, her partnership evolving wonderfully well with Wilson.

But so too, Merrick Will who as well as providing important goals has done well when moved across the pitch, still a developing player but one who’s found her place in the squad, Nikki Watts as proved more than comfortable slotting into the Bees team, her pedigree speaking for itself.

Although not as explosive in the second-half of the season as the first, Paula Howells is another who’s come along leaps and bounds under Edmondson, but still the list goes on, Rebecca Anderson will another solid season under her belt, Manuela Naprta another who’s been a key component.

Even going down the line of players who haven’t featured as much, Aoife Hurley, Dan Scanlon and Holly Greenwood et all, their progress throughout the year is palpable, the work done off the pitch clear to see on the pitch. The future for the Bees is a bright one and not just because they play in day-glow orange.