Aston Villa 1-2 Manchester United (Women’s Super League)
It’s Bruce’s birthday today. Grandma’s coming around at 8:30am with cakes and I’m off to Co-Op for some pastries before Beagle Meet. The wife’s got party bags with all sorts inside, the things you do for your dogs.
There’s a good six or seven canines in total but after throwing a few balls around an enclosed field in Cropwell Butler I’m dropping the wife back and grandma, little gone 10am as I empty the car of my wellies and head down the M42 to the home of Aston Villa Football Club as it’s the first day of the WSL season and a 12:30pm Sunday lunchtime kick off for a match also shown on BBC.
I had threatened to retire my scouting of women’s football after being poked in the face by several flags during Villa’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Chelsea at Walsall last season but with only 13,000 expected at the vast Villa Park today I’m pretty sure I’ll be safe if I sit myself out of trouble.
I’ve topped up at Clifton Petrol Station on the A453 with Sat Nav saying there’s under 50 miles to go. TalkSport radio is describing the opening game of the Ryder Cup singles between John Rahm and Scottie Scheffler as I get goosebumps to what it means, Golf’s equivalent to ‘us’ and ‘them’ and it seems to be going Europe’s way.
I’m onto the M6 from the M42 and off at the A38 Spaghetti Junction where traffic builds as the city centre backdrop of Birmingham is filled with tower blocks beyond the floodlights to my right of Villa Park.
I turn left at the Park Circus junction off the Aston Expressway and park up on Victoria Road near a housing estate a good ten or fifteen minutes’ walk away. Out my car I’m trotting down Vicarage Road and cutting through a leafy parkway before reaching Witton Lane, the crowd of many women and girls in football shirts slowly walking past Aston Parish Church and the largely impressive looking Holte Pub to my right, down the green quaint Trinity Road as the huge steps to the Holte End on the right give many supporters the chance of perfect picture opp.
The stadium is beautiful from the outside, red bricked grey, claret and blue, Iron painted gates with gold lions standing tall on brick pillars. I’m walking under the huge Trinity Road Stand as I search for my turnstile, there’s a fan park with some band playing music on stage, I’m outside the gates as I’m patted down before scanning my phone ticket at the barriers, walking up to the top turnstile, it’s a good hundred or more steps as I pass an old couple who are having a breather on my way.
Out on the concourse I’m up the steps to my seat, I’m early so want to get a good view, the huge stunning amphitheatre beneath is a real spectacle, sky blue seats in the lower tiers, dark maroon seats with yellow steps in the upper echelons, the roof above me is huge and completely covering the skyline. The pitch green, immaculate, you wouldn’t have known Villa’s men only beat Brighton here 6-1 in the Premier League just yesterday afternoon.
I’ve had a chicken tandoori pie and a plastic pint cup of sprite with little change from a tenner ahead of taking a seat well out of the way high up in the far left corner of the upper tier.
The music is pumping as kids in Man Utd, and Villa tops sit next to each other, no trouble at all, just good spirits, young girls, dads, families, all here to see their football teams play, eating, drinking, chatting, it’s got gig vibes about it, certainly a different crowd to when a men’s game is on.
There’s even a family to my right changing their newborn baby’s nappy sat high up on row W. I’ve never seen a baby having a nappy changed during a football game at a stadium like this, women’s football is certainly setting new standards never previously matched by the men.
Still going strongly is the Black Lives Matter protest as the players kneel ahead of kick off. You feel the women’s game is starting to stand on it’s own two feet, they want to set a precedent and in sticking to what they believe in they get a bloody good round of applause.
On with the action it’s the away side who dominate the first half but for an early palm stinger which Mary Earps in United’s goal is equal too. I’m impressed with Lucia Garcia down the right who looks to have the beating of left back Danielle Turner, the two teams however are locked horns at the break with nothing doing but for a busy Referee who takes centre stage in issuing four yellow cards.
The second half however see’s Villa dominate the early stages and they look good value to take the lead with Lucy Staniforth and Kirtsy Hanson having more of a say from midfield, that is until Hanson leaves one in on Hayley Ladd and is shown a straight red card thus leaving Carla Ward’s side with ten for the last fifteen of the match.
You feel it’ll be a mountain to climb from there for Villa but as Leon breaks and crosses low down the right Rachel Daly takes a touch out of her feet to smash hard and into the back of the net. Villa Park roars in delight of a home goal scored by last season's PFA player of the year.
It doesn’t last long though. Three minutes later Garcia prods home from a messy corner, the two teams then look for a late winner and with the extra player advantage it’s United who in familiar Fergie time late on, grab a goal and three points from a well travelled veteran in Rachel Williams, the sub coming on to head home at the back post and into the corner of the net, agonisingly for Aston Villa who deserved much more than an injury time inflicted defeat.
United certainly had more of the ball and they certainly looked the better of the two teams for large parts of the match with Spaniard Garcia and Geyse their Brazilian striker always a threat in behind, in midfield Ella Toone was exceptional whilst Maya Le Tissier made one stunning tackle that saved a certain looking goal.
For Villa, they’ll be very proud of how they played and are a good well organised outfit, defensively goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar pulled off a number of good saves whilst Anna Patten and Rachel Corsie at centre half were solid.
Lucy Staniforth always looking to drive forward was the central cog that hoped to get the wheels of Lehmann and Hanson running out wide but service was limited for Rachel Daly, who led the line impressively, taking her goal very well indeed.
United missed out on the last day of last season as they were pipped by Chelsea for the title but this year they could go one better and win their first ever WSL crown.
For Villa, they could improve on a fifth place finish of last season and break into that top four, although realistically, the likes of Chelsea, United, City & Arsenal are just too good to catch. No shame in being the best of the rest though which I personally think this side are.
Aston Villa: Daphne van Domselaar, Sarah Mayling, Rachel Corsie, Anna Patten, Danielle Turner, Laura Blinkilde (Ebony Salmon 46) , Lucy Staniforth, Lucy Parker (Jordan Nobbs 90), Alisha Lehmann (Adriana Leon 66), Rachel Daly, Kirsty Hanson.
Manchester United: Mary Earps, Hannah Blundell, Millie Turner, Maya Le Tissier, Gabrielle George, Hayley Ladd (Hinata Miyazawa 80), Katie Zelem, Lucia Garcia Cordoba, Ella Toone, Leah Galton (Nikita Parris 71), Geyse (Rachel Williams 66).
12:30pm Kick Off. Sunday 1st October 2023, Villa Park, Birmingham (12,533).