Parris’s departure puts City in the spotlight
Arsenal completed their title-winning season with another victory, inflicting a first defeat of the season on Manchester City. It took a stunning goal from Emma Mitchell in the 88th minute to earn the win, though only the brilliance of Ellie Roebuck in the City goal had kept Arsenal at bay for so long. It has been a brilliant season for Joe Montemurro’s team, but they will have to add to the squad if they are to defend their title while competing in the Champions League next campaign. For City there are more question marks, particularly after Nikita Parris announced her departure a couple of hours after the final whistle. She has been one of their stand-out players this season, and is the all-time leading goalscorer in the WSL. The departures of Lucy Bronze, Toni Duggan and Izzy Christiansen to high-flying (and high-paying) European clubs seriously weakened them this season, and now they have to cope with another blow. City now need to work out why players are wanting to leave and find ways of convincing them not to, and it is now imperative that they hold on to other key members of their squad such as Keira Walsh. A lot of their players will go to the World Cup and be hot property in the summer, so there could be more departures.
Manchester United ready to make an impact
The arrival of Manchester United in next season’s WSL will give City another fright. City seriously need to watch their tails and recruit big if they are to remain the top club in the city. United have come a long way in a short time, already have an established fan base, and I know that they have big plans for the summer. They are already in negotiations with several successful players from European teams, the type of players who will be exciting not just for their supporters, but for the league. One thing is for sure: United mean business. Their realistic target for their first WSL season will be a place in the top four. Tottenham will be the other new club for 2019-20, though for now Spurs are a way short of worrying Arsenal. The north London rivalry is not really a thing in women’s football: Arsenal have been one of the country’s great clubs while Spurs have been the poor neighbours, having never played in the top flight. That might change over the next few years, but Spurs are nowhere near as good as United as things stand and the first task for them will be to acclimatise to their new surroundings, stabilise and then look to push on.
Williams on the mark but not in the squad
Fara Williams was on the scoresheet again as Reading lost 3-2 at home to Chelsea, with three goals coming in four manic second-half minutes as Reading equalised, fell behind again and equalised once more, only for Bethany England to score the winner in the 64th minute. Williams has been in great form this season, is the top goalscorer outside Arsenal and Manchester City and England’s most-capped player, but none of that was enough to convince Phil Neville to include her in the World Cup squad he announced this week. Neville says the door is still open for the 35-year-old, but I hope that if she decides to concentrate on her club England and the FA will give her a proper send-off. Too many players – the likes of Rachel Yankey and Sue Smith –represented their country for years with no real financial reward, and then one day they don’t get picked and that’s it. It doesn’t need a big ceremony, but Williams’ contribution deserves respect and what she’s done for her country should be marked.
Cup comedown leads to Hammers’ hangover
The most eyebrow-raising scoreline was at West Ham, where the beaten FA Cup finalists lost 4-0 to Brighton. The visitors have been inconsistent this season, but with safety guaranteed a long time ago the shackles were well and truly off. I think West Ham’s poor performance was probably a hangover from the Cup final. I know from experience how much that experience drains you, not just on the day but for weeks afterwards, and I can imagine how hard it is to focus when there’s one game to go and nothing really to play for. The Hammers gave a fabulous account of themselves in the final, went toe to toe with Manchester City and arguably had the best chances in the first half. But they were never going to have many goalscoring opportunities and they had to make them count. As the game wore on City kept possession, ground them down and when they saw signs of fatigue they sniffed blood and went for the kill. Overall West Ham can be really proud of their season, particularly given that they had only just been formed when it started.
Yeovil in search of sustainability
Birmingham finished fourth, just two points behind Chelsea and 13 ahead of Reading in fifth, after ending their campaign with a 2-0 win at Yeovil. It’s quite an achievement given that they don’t have anything like the resources of the three teams above them, and had to cope with a change of manager in the middle of the season. They have been very consistent, always hard to break down, and have consistently ground out positive results. They also give chances to young British talent such as Charlie Wellings, the 20-year-old who scored both their goals. They have a good mix of experience and youth, and clearly intend to sustain their standard of football by developing players. Yeovil meanwhile will drop back to semi-professional level at the end of a disappointing season both on and off the pitch. They should have gone into the campaign with a business plan robust enough to last the full season, but somehow it hasn’t worked out. I’m not sure who carries the blame for that – the club or the people at the FA who passed them fit to compete. It could be that going down will help them: they have struggled to meet the financial demands of a full-time team, and can use this time to reassess their ambitions and set a course for a realistic and sustainable future.