In an action-packed weekend in WSL 1 Man City clinched the title at home to current holders, Chelsea. Elsewhere in the leauge Birmingham edged Liverpool in a dour 2-1 as Notts came from behind to snatch all three points at Meadow Lane. Things were heating up at the bottom of the table on Saturday night too as Reading registered their first win of the season over a Belles team that looks all but set for another spell in WSL 2.
Royals claim first win as misery mounts for Belles – Doncaster Belles 1-4 Reading
n another of the Belles’ crunch games they welcomed a Reading team still searching for their first win this season. The Royals took an early lead through Emma Follis, the winger in the right place at the right time to prod home after a pin-point cross into the box. The Belles responded well but were stuck in perpetual déjà vu, getting the ball into good areas but lacking a clinical finish, still struggling in attack without Courtney Sweetman-Kirk or Jess Sigsworth.
When Nia Jones doubled the advantage in the 37 minute the game looked all but over, the Welsh international on hand with the tap in following a well worked set piece routine. Emily Simpkins gave the hosts hope very early in the second-half as her speculative effort evaded Mary Earps and rippled into the goal but again the Belles struggled to build and find that elusive final ball.
Follis restored the two goal cushion just after the hour with a fine strike of her own from distance, but there’d be no hat trick for the tricky midfielder who was withdrawn following a bad knock fifteen minutes later. With both managers shuffling their options on the pitch both teams continued to push, the visitors sealing the win six minutes from time as Rachel Rowe bested Nicola Hobbs from the centre of the box.
It’s no secret that the Belles have laboured this year, bad luck only sinking them further and further down but if there was any game at any time of the season that they’d fancy the look of it was the team they got promoted with. The last time the two met they shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw last September, both have lost and gained players but the two have looked far apart this season.
Although safety is still mathematically possible for the Belles it would take at least three big wins, with Arsenal (twice), Liverpool, Notts County and Reading in their future it’s beyond a tall order. Worryingly for the Belles it’s the simple things they’ve struggled with all season long, and losing so heavily at home to Reading in a six-pointer seems like the nails in the coffin for the Doncaster team. Hobbs faced five shots on target and only saved Helen Ward’s weak effort late on, allowing the other four to find the back of the net; worrying stat for the hosts.
For Reading the win has been a long time coming, their first of the year fourteen games into the [16 game] season and seems them temporarily leapfrog both Sunderland and Notts County, who faced each other the next day.
Needing just a point from their penultimate game of the season City faced a Chelsea side who had been enjoying a mixed season, last season’s champions would have to be no less than perfect to keep the Citizens from the title.
Despite the gravity of the game and necessity for Chelsea to win the Blues laboured to grow into the game, failing to trouble Karen Bardsley. The hosts however looked to be well up for the game but struggled with wayward finishing, deservedly taking the lead late in the first-half when Toni Duggan’s floated corner was met by Jill Scott, the former Evertonian flicking the ball past Rebecca Spencer.
When Chelsea should have come out for the second-half firing on all cylinders they still looked half-stuck in the dressing room, never finding the potency that saw them crowed champions last season. The mountain only grew for the visitors when Gilly Flaherty caught Lucy Bronze in the area and the hosts were awarded a penalty which was put away with easy by Duggan.
Needing at least three goals with 40 minutes left the Blues never looked like getting off the mark, even with Emma Hayes making three attacking substitutions, Chelsea’s title defence ended with more of a whimper than a bang. All three points went City’s way, another three in a faultless season, whatever your feelings about the new champions, you can’t say they didn’t work for it.
Blues topple Reds – Birmingham City 2-1 Liverpool
After a muted first-half in Solihull the two sides went deadlocked in at the break but the game sparked into life early in the second-half. Former Red Corina Schroder, making her debut for the club she signed for at the start of the year was left to wheel away in celebration, opening her account for her new team against her old with a fine arrowed ball across the box to beat Siobhan Chamberlain and stop dead in the far corner.
The game instantly opened up and it wasn’t long before the visitors had restored parity when Katie Zelem coolly converted from the spot into the bottom corner after Rosie White was fouled by Chloe Peplow in the box. But the lead lasted just seven minutes before Birmingham notched the winner through Kerys Harrop.
With the Blues utilising Jess Carter’s long-throw as a free kick, the defender was lurking in the box waiting for Carter’s delivery, with just the right direction on the flick on, Harrop met the ball in the air to leave Chamberlain to once more pick the ball out of the back of her net.
The result means that Birmingham have once again slipped past Liverpool and are currently fourth with the Reds just behind in fifth.
After a scrappy first-half the Lady Black Cats went in at the break the happier of the two after Victoria Williams’ stoppage time opener; Lucy Staniforth’s dangerous free kick falling to the prolific defender, for her to convert at close range. Facing a fourth successive loss in all competition, the Lady Pies rallied at the break and stormed out for the second-half, Rachel Williams with a deserved equaliser seven minutes after the break.
Set pieces seemed to be yielding the best results for both as Williams’ nodded the ball past Rachael Laws at a Jo Potter corner. With both sides having forgettable seasons both were on the hunt for their third win of the campaign and willing to throw everything at the opposition to find the back of the net once more.
Just after the hour it was the hosts who took the lead for the first time in the game as Jess Clarke rose well to meet Willliams’ cross, her close-range header just too clinical for Laws to deal with. But the familiar story of struggling with a final ball began to repeat for both teams and each failed to really trouble the oppositions’ goal from then on.
The result sees Notts pull away from both Reading and Sunderland, comfortable on 12 points and sets the scene for a tasty away fixture to the Lady Black Cats at the end of next month.