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Women´s Super League: Title race and relegation drama as attendances boom

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 30 Apr 2024

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With relegation and the title race all still to play for, the weekend’s Women’s Super League did not disappoint fans in what turned out to be a drama-filled Sunday of football.

This has been a record-breaking season for the women’s game in England.

For the first time ever between the Barclays WSL and the Barclays Championship, both leagues have achieved a cumulative attendance of over one million at fixtures this season.

Based on the twists and turns we have experienced over recent weeks, it is easy to see why fans are attending in increasing numbers.

Relegation Battle

Bristol City knew they would have a mammoth task in their race for survival when they welcomed Manchester City who, at the other end of the table, are pushing to win their first title since 2016.

West Ham, meanwhile, were travelling to Villa Park and knew even a point, assuming Bristol City were to lose, would mean safety for the Hammers.

It was a nervy start from both teams at Ashton Gate in front of the 8,749-strong crowd. City piled on the pressure in the first half with Lauren Hemp and Chole Kelly both having multiple chances to take the lead. The Citizens really looked as if they missed their star striker Khadija Bunny Shaw, who had been ruled out for the season earlier in the week.

The second half, however, saw Matildas star Mary Fowler manage to break the deadlock for the Citizens, with a moment of individual brilliance that City were so desperately needing.

Fowler then added a second shortly after and the floodgates were opened at Aston Gate, Bristol shipping a further two – with an own goal from Amy Rodgers and Alex Greenwood’s header rounding off the win.

Bristol City, in their first season in the WSL, have found it a challenge to keep up. They have failed to score in nine of their 20 games – no team has failed to do so more often in the league.

They faced a Man City side that have scored in their last 14 games, their longest run of games with a goal in the competition since going 25 straight games with a strike from 16th October 2022 to 5th November 2023.

Bristol City Manager Lauren Smith reflected on the season with Sky Sports, saying: “Some of the performances we’ve been really proud of, but we still haven’t got results off.

“Even in this game, up to 60-something minutes, I was very, very proud of how we defended, created some really good counter-attacks in the first half.

“I think we’ve shown up, but we haven’t shown up for 90 minutes week-in, week-out, and I think that’s been the difference.

“We have to start looking at what next year looks like. I’ll be working with the chairman to make sure that we do what we need to do to make sure that we are stronger next year.

“We have to continue to build and that’s on the pitch, off the pitch and to make sure our fanbase is as incredible as it is right now next year.

“All of us as a club are part of that, and we will be looking to make sure we continue this trend and excitement about women’s football in Bristol.”

West Ham were pleased to secure their WSL status in a clash that saw them grab a late goal to make it 1-1 at Villa Park. The Hammers have not had a good season under Rehanne Skinner, who joined in late July, and maybe with her experience more would have been expected of West Ham.

Skinner has struggled to get her team to find any consistency, and they have failed to win in their last seven games – their last longer winless streak was from 14th October 2023 to 21st January 2024, a run of nine games.

The Hammers arguably have a young squad and there was very little time to recruit before the season started. However, she did put the January window to good use, bringing in US and Australian Internationals, respectively in Kristie Mewis and Katrina Gorry to bolster the midfield, along with two other key signings, Shelina Zadorsky and Marika Bergman-Lundin.

This seems to have been the boost West Ham needed to stay in the top flight ahead of Bristol City.

The Title Race

Manchester City continued their march at the top to go six points clear of their rivals Chelsea with their 4-0 win at Bristol City. Arsenal knew they had a big opportunity to go level on points with Chelsea and further put pressure on their London rivals.

Jonas Eidevall’s side, however, could not manufacture the win in a match that saw them dominate all the stats, except the one that mattered. It was 1-1 at the final whistle, leaving the Gunners all but out of the title race.

Arsenal had needed to ensure they won all their remaining games to even be in with a shout, but their away form has let them down this season.

The unlikely Everton star to score the 95th-minute equaliser was 16-year-old Issy Hobson, who headed home for her first senior goal to ruin Arsenal’s chase for the top.

The Gunners have scored in each of their last 10 games in the English Women’s Super League, scoring 22 goals in that run. The goals alone, though, have not been enough to challenge for the title this season.

With Beth Mead back in the side and looking more and more like the player before her ACL injury, Alessia Russo scoring regularly, getting her 10th of the season against Everton, having Leah Williamson back in the side and the signing of Emily Fox, things are on the up for Arsenal as the season draws to a close.

They have also won some silverware this term with the League Cup title, beating Chelsea to spoil Emma Hayes’ final campaign.

Eidevall shared his thoughts on the remainder of the season, where Arsenal can still have a big impact on the title race, in his post-match press conference.

Arsenal may now be out of contention to lift the WSL title, but this coming weekend will see them face Manchester City at the Joie Stadium. It is a match-up that could undoubtedly decide the title race, so they still have a tremendous role to play as the drama unfolds.

Eidevall said: “I need to consult the Opta supercomputer to see what the probability is for not staying in third position.

“For next weekend, it doesn’t change anything. It is to say it is really important for us to finish the season strongly. We haven’t won at Manchester City for a long time and I would very much like to change that.

“We have an obligation to the league and all the teams competing. We know we will have a strong vote in that sense. Every team needs to do their very best and, in the end, the best team is going to win the league and that is fair.

“Me personally, I couldn’t care less whether Chelsea or Manchester City win it. I don’t have any preferences there. From our perspective, we need to do our very best in all games to make sure that the league is as fair as possible.”

Before Arsenal’s huge clash with City, which takes place on Sunday, there is a key game for Chelsea as they travel to face Liverpool on Wednesday.

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SoccerNews

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