Aston Villa 2-4 Tottenham Hotspur (Women’s Super League)
Storm Babet may have hit our shores, but I’ve been brewing up my own whirlwind attempt this weekend as I aim for two games in one afternoon starting with Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur in the Women’s Super League at Walsall before heading over to Rushall where I’ll watch Olympic play Chorley in the National League North.
Yesterday’s torrential rain has put pay to many a game in the domestic football calendar but not in the West Midlands, these two matches are pretty safe from water damage, the Bescot Stadium is the fifteenth highest league ground above sea level in England and drains well compared to others whilst Dales Lane in Rushall, even higher on the hills just fifteen minutes’ drive away is these days fitted with a 4g surface that even slopes down from wing to wing. They’ll be no flooding here.
I’m up early taking the dog for a walk as I need to be out the house for 11am ahead of Saturday’s lunchtime 12:30pm kick off in the WSL. The calm serene skies above give a pleasant autumnal feel, it’s wet on foot, squidgy, but warm as I leave the house and make way down the A42 towards the M6 passing the city of Birmingham and Villa Park to my left before reaching junction 7 and seeing signs for Walsall, turning north onto the Birmingham Road.
I’m racing a bit against time but pull up with a good half hour to spare on the Walstead Road where I park outside a school called Joseph Leckie Academy. A quick march towards Bescot Crescent turning right by the Park Inn Hotel which for some strange reason is playing Latin music from some external speakers, the M6 motorway on stilts to my left, Bescot Stadium painted in grey and red, elevated in front of my eyes as the grey skies lead to a little drizzle in the air whilst folk walk towards the doors to their matchday pew.
I’m at turnstile one of the Experienced Energy Solutions Stand and although I have my seat number, opt for a corner spot out of the way of happy families and crying kids that are seemingly usually guaranteed in the women’s game, the players already out on the pitch doing some ball retention drills as I look around this beautiful monstrosity. It’s not pretty this arena now over 30 years old, but it feels like a football home, a proper place propped up by posts with odd looking floodlights above the metal roofs, a two tiered stand to my right attached to the rest of the venue square edged but bowl like enclosed, single tier three sides around with red seats up to row N, which is where I’m sitting, level with the 18 yard box as I already plan my early exit which is to my bottom left near the corner flag.
The stadium is a fifth full as Hi Ho Silver Lining is quietly sung by less than half of those in attendance, there’s a few from Spurs behind my goal to the left, no more than 100 as a couple of them put flags up draped across the seats.
The teams come out and line up to shake hands, then there’s team photos as standard within the WSL, ahead of the ‘No Room For Racism’ stance as all 22 girls on the pitch take a knee before kick-off finally has us underway.
Villa start well. They look to me the more impressive team and are comfortable on the ball, dominating possession they look dangerous on the right where Leon & Blinkilde link up in the final third.
In fact, it’s Leon’s persistence that wins an early penalty, she’s felled by Summanen in the area and Rachel Daly steps up to smash home and give Carla Ward’s side an early lead.
It’s the least that they deserve as Villa continue to dominate, knocking the ball from side to side and out wide where the blonde ponytailed Canada international Leon looks to attack with positive demeanour, her opposite side winger Ebony Salmon cutting in and testing Rebecca Spencer from range who’s dive to her left stops it from becoming 2-0.
Despite dominance, Spurs when they do get the ball, look decent on the break, it looks an intriguing contest as I’m not totally convinced by Villa defensively and like the look of Tottenham in attack, a few minutes before half time I’m proven right on ‘why’ I shouldn’t have written the 'lilywhites' off, as Rachel Corsie blind passes the ball back short to her goalkeeper allowing Scottish international teammate Martha Thomas to latch onto and lob Van Domselaar to level the scores.
That goal, a stunning finish from thirty yards, gives Tottenham more confidence going into the half time break and it’s they who take an unexpected lead as Ashleigh Neville leaps like a salmon to nod home Jessica Naz’s cross. The left siders have linked well all half for Spurs and their combination as Naz briefly switches wings unlocks the Aston Villa door for a lead they probably don’t deserve.
The second half continues to see Villa dominate the early possession, but they look more and more devoid of confidence as Adriana Leon see’s her shot saved the best of few attempts. Spurs sitting back and breaking nicely through midfield duo Clinton and Summanen who like to progress by carrying the ball forward almost Gazza like of days gone by.
On 64 minutes Tottenham win a corner and after a bit of ping pong the ball falls to Martha Thomas, she blasts home from close range and puts the game to bed, Thomas then completes her hat trick racing onto a through ball by Ahtinen and shooting early a curling finish of high quality into the corner of the net.
Late on Villa do pull one back. By then I’ve already walked down to the corner near the turnstile in order to get away for my next game. The fifth minute of injury time ticks as they score a late consolation from nowhere, Lucy Parker nodding in from a corner to reduce loss deficit, by the time the whistle goes after eight added minutes and as the clock strikes 2:30pm I’m out the door running towards my car to ensure I make match number two of the afternoon, in time.
Scotland international striker Martha Thomas was sensational and took her goals brilliantly, she’s now scored in every game this month with seven goals in five successive matches during October.
Impressing me for Spurs was their Finnish midfield duo Olga Ahtinen and Evelina Summanen whilst Ashleigh Neville at left back got forward very well, short dark hair she’s almost a lookalike to men’s team legend Heung Min Son, in her seventh season at the club she's not far off legend status herself.
For Villa, a disappointing day for them when perhaps the early goal didn’t help as they never really got ‘at it’ after taking the lead. Adriana Leon was a constant threat and a livewire down the right, Rachel Daly a class apart, a player who can play in any position on the pitch, but one isolated too often, a lone figure up front. Not many good performances from the hosts who I expected much more from, they’ll have better days at the office to come.
I predicted better from Villa who went toe to toe with Manchester United earlier in the season but they are still to record a WSL point. I probably didn’t expect as much from Spurs as I got, they now sit a point off top with three wins from four. A better side than I previously gave them credit for.
The season has still time to settle into its usual pattern with those predicted, Man City, United, Arsenal and Chelsea, still all to fire at their best levels, they’ll no doubt share the top four spots and the domestic trophies to go with, but below those, these two teams will be in the hunt for that fifth position. Villa though need to get some points on the board before that task becomes too hard to obtain, Spurs at the minute, looking most likely to be best of the WSL rest.
Aston Villa: Daphne von Domselaar, Danielle Turner, Rachel Corsie, Anna Patten, Lucy Parker, Lucy Staniforth (Olivia McLoughlin 82), Laura Blinkilde Brown, Jordan Nobbs (Simone Magill 64), Adriana Leon (Sarah Mayling 64), Rachel Daly, Ebony Salmon (Mayumi Pacheco 65).
Tottenham Hotspur: Rebecca Spencer, Angharad James (Asmita Ale 85), Luana Buhler, Molly Bartrip, Ashleigh Neville, Olga Ahtinen, Grace Clinton (Kit Graham 90), Evelina Summanen, Celin Bizet Ildhusoy, Martha Thomas (Linyan Zhang 90), Jessica Naz (Drew Spence 55).
12:30pm Kick Off. Saturday 21st October 2023, Bescot Stadium, Walsall (att 2,810).