A look back on a memorable return to WSL 1 for Everton.
Almost but not quite
Looking more to build on what they already had and grow the younger players in the squad, Andy Spence was mindful with his signings over the season, bringing in players like Jodie Brett and Angharad James to fill out midfield. Courtney Sweetman-Kirk added firepower as Chloe Kelly’s loan deal became permanent and Lizzie Durrack came in to challenge Kirsty Levell for the number one spot.
It was a season of learning for the team who would have been right to feel hard done by one more than one occasion, the team adapting well to the rigors of the league but not quite at the level required to consistently get results. Four league losses in their opening four matches left the Blue Girls feeling just that, wins over the Belles and Birmingham in the Conti Cup along the way enough to keep success within reach. Their first points of the season coming away to Yeovil Town, it was swift followed by two more, one in the cup against Oxford and again in the league at home to Sunderland.
The results came in rashes, three successive losses were followed by three wins, once in the league at home to Reading and twice to progress through the FA Cup. A narrow loss to Arsenal was responded with by a trouncing of Durham in the FA Cup as well as a draw against Sunderland, rounding off a confidence-building three days in the North East. Though the results seemed to dry up, another loss to Arsenal followed – again decided by a lone goal – to see the Toffees knocked out of the FA Cup in the semi-finals. The hosts losing again at home three days later to Chelsea, again just one goal enough to decide the tie. Shipping three to the Royals a few days later soon forgotten when Brett’s second half strike cancelled out Laura Coombs’ opener, leaving the Blue Girls to take a point from their Liverpool-derby.
With a chance to significantly increase their standing at the end of the season, Everton missed a chance as Bristol completed the league double over them, the Vixens leaving the North West with all three points. Up against other West Country opposition three days later, the Toffees made no mistake against Yeovil, their fourth win of the season the last time they’d add to their points tally.
Up, up, up
Back-to-back 3-0 losses to Birmingham and Manchester City over the last eight days of the season enough to leave the Blue Girls one from bottom, significantly clear of the Lady Glovers but at the bottom of a cluster of three with Sunderland and Bristol.
A team not just in WSL to make up the numbers, Spence has been clear that he wants Everton to rise through the ranks and become league champions – not just win the mini leagues. Although four wins from 18 isn’t a fantastic return, Everton can be proud of how they handled themselves this season, the only side not to have had time to adjust with the Spring Series. Though the team has already had a spell in the top flight, it’s safe to say this is an entirely different team that takes to the pitch, the player turn-over in the last handful of seasons incredible.
Whilst the Toffees didn’t go mad in the window, there was significant business done with a raft of first team players given professional contracts for their first time in their (and Everton’s) history. The willingness to start at the bottom and work their way up in admirable and should Spence’s team continue on as they have they can only get better, improving and rising through the table.