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The FA WSL 2 season kicks off this week and it promises to be a great one. Recent developments concerning the women’s football pyramid in England mean an FA WPL club will enter the second tier of the WSL in the 2016 season, but with the FA looking to expand the WSL 1 to a ten team league, the big news is that there will be two promotion spots available for those in the second tier this season. Having missed out narrowly last season, Doncaster Belles will be favourites to land one of these, whilst Everton look to bounce back from relegation and Reading hope the form of England international Fran Kirby can inspire them to a place in the top tier as well. With the popularity of women’s football in England set to reach new heights this year with the FA Women’s Cup being played at Wembley and the national team showing great promise ahead of the summer’s World Cup, the teams in the WSL will be looking to capitalise on the growing numbers of fans and put on some great performances to lure them back. Here is my season preview.
Finished 4th in WSL 2 last season.
Aston Villa had a solid season last time out. They won nine of their eighteen games, drawing three and losing six. It is the latter statistic that prevented them from putting any real pressure on the top three – they finished eleven points behind third placed Reading – and it was their away form that caused this. At home, Villa were formidable, winning six games, drawing one against Yeovil and only losing to the top two; Sunderland and Doncaster. However, they only won three games on the road, and these came against the bottom three sides. This needs to improve this season if they are to really push for a place in the top two, as they certainly have the quality to compete in the top tier, it’s just about adding some consistency to that. I believe they will push the likes of Doncaster and Reading further for a top spot this season, but they will just fall short of the mark and finish third or fourth.
Finished 2nd in WSL 2 last season.
Obviously, Doncaster are favourites to win WSL 2 this year having finished second last season, just two points behind Sunderland. The Belles conceded just fourteen goals all season and were terrifying up front too, scoring a whopping fifty-six goals, which is title-winning form usually but they just fell short. However, this season they should replicate this form in order to secure promotion. Glenn Harris has taken over the helm and a few significant players have departed to play in the top tier, but they have retained the core of their squad and even added to it, bringing in the likes of Jody Handley, Danielle Hill and Emily Roberts. They will take some stopping this year and with two promotion spots available, they should certainly claim one. To do so, they need to stop dropping points again the struggling teams though. They did not lose a game at home all season, winning seven and drawing one against Sunderland, but on the road they were held to goalless draws with Durham and Millwall and these will have been the games fans looked back on when they failed to clinch promotion. Regardless, they look strong enough to finish in the top two in my opinion this season.
Finished 6th in WSL 2 last season.
Durham struggled last season and only managed to register eighteen points from their eighteen games. Their home form was what really let them down with them winning just two games on their own patch all season against Aston Villa and bottom side London Bees. They did manage a respectable goalless draw with Donny Belles, but poor defeats to Millwall and Oxford overshadowed this great result in truth. Fortunately, they have managed to keep the core of their squad though, with ten players signing new deals whilst a further four were added to the team. Julie Nelson has joined from Glasgow City and Helen Alderson from Sunderland, two players who have learned to play with a winning mentality over the last few seasons. They will be excited to get an opportunity to play too given their limited playing time at successful clubs, and it is their fresh, new faces that can help spice things up in Durham’s squad to move them further away from the struggling clubs. I predict another mid-table season, but one with a much better points haul.
Finished 8th in WSL 1 last season, meaning they were relegated to WSL 2.
Everton’s season is tough to predict this year. Following relegation from the top tier, they have witnessed a whole host of departures with players wanting to compete at the highest level in the UK in order to maximise their chances of being picked for Mark Sampson’s World Cup squad this summer. Rachel Brown-Finnis has retired, Alex Greenwood has moved to Notts County and Nikita Parris, undoubtedly their star performer going forward, has joined Manchester City on loan. These were three of their best players last season and will be extremely tough to replace. Danielle Young has the difficult job of filling Parris’ shoes, but she will be determined to do so having been granted more playing time with the Toffees than that which was on offer with Man City. An immediate return looks unlikely given the mass changes in the squad and instead a transition period seems as if it will commence, which should see Everton finish the season strongly to give them the momentum to push for promotion next year. They should not struggle though and I expect them to finish at least fifth.
Finished 10th in WSL 2 last season.
The only positive London Bees could take from last season is that relegation to the Women’s Premier League has not yet been organised by the FA. With just sixteen goals scored all season, fifty-seven conceded – including nine at home to both Doncaster and Reading – and only eight points registered from eighteen games, plenty of changes have been made during the off-season. The recruitment of Reading duo Ashleigh Goddard and Leigh Nicol will add quality to the squad to lift them up the table, but the departures of Cherie Rowlands and Anneka Nuttall to Watford will be felt. Dean Selvey has arrived as assistant manager though and he will bring with him fresh ideas and tactical innovations to turn things around at the club. Surely, the only way is up for the Bees and they need to get their act together soon as it surely will not be long until the FA do enforce relegation to the WPL. However, I cannot see them improving enough to lift them away from the bottom two or three places.
Finished 8th in WSL 2 last season.
Millwall did not fair much better than London Bees last year. They scored twenty goals in a season during which they recorded just fifteen points, though their defence held its own for the most part with just thirty-six goals conceded in comparison to the Bees’ fifty-seven. On the road was where they really struggled, with just one win all season as opposed to the three they managed at home. The most disappointing results were against those in the bottom five with them too. Games against the Bees, Oxford, Watford and Durham are ones they should have been winning, but their record against these four all season read three wins, two draws and three defeats. If they are to distance themselves from the bottom clubs, they need to beat the teams around them this season. A new manager in the form of Dan Mlinar is likely to change things and see them improve slightly at least, meaning they should finish higher than eighth this season, but only by one or two places.
Finished 9th in WSL 2 last season.
Oxford were another disappointing team last season. Twelve points from eighteen games did not convince but they have not learned from their mistakes, failing to recruit a single player over the off-season. Sixteen players have signed new contracts – sixteen players who were part of the team that did not impress last season. Two have left for London Bees but, in my opinion, the amount of ins and outs since October should have been much higher. There is little to suggest that Oxford will improve this time round. The Bees have done more to change things and could leapfrog Oxford, leaving them at the foot of the table this season. Millwall, Watford and Durham, the three teams also quite close in terms of points to Oxford and London, have made plenty of changes too, and so it looks like Oxford will fall behind due to their reluctance to mix things up. I can see them finishing dead last this year.
Finished 3rd in WSL 2 last season.
Reading are my pick to win the league this season. Doncaster will be extremely determined after coming so close last year, but I believe that Reading can beat them to top spot. Fran Kirby’s decision to remain with the club is a great one, with her loyalty to them wonderful to see despite Mark Sampson wanting his England players in the top tier, and they have kept hold of Lauren Bruton too after the pair managed thirty-five league goals between them last year. They will be so important in the coming season, and Bruton will really need to raise her game when Kirby goes to Canada for the World Cup midway through the season. Many will be weary of Reading possibly relying too heavily on a striker due to leave them for a month and this will be a big reason why people do not view them as possible title-winners, but some new players and the fresh ideas of new manager Kelly Chambers can help them deal with this. A solid season is expected from Reading and I do not think they will disappoint.
Finished 7th in WSL 2 last season.
Watford look like they may struggle again this year. Their big problem last year was goals, and this was the main reason why they only managed eighteen points from eighteen games. Losing Sarah Wiltshire midway through the season hindered them going forward, and the loss of Jo Wilson to QPR during the off-season will limit their attack even more this year. Lauren Davey’s arrival as assistant manager will help them find a new direction to head in, hopefully one that lifts them up the table, but, in truth, they have added very little to their squad in the winter transfer window. There have been a few changes, not too many but not too little, but the loss of Wilson is a big one and with no real established players recruited, it’s difficult to predict how the new players will fair at Watford. However, I think they’ll have a similar season to the last with a low points haul due to the positives over the off-season failing to out-weigh the negatives.
Finished 5th in WSL 2 last season.
Yeovil’s season last year was bang average. Twenty-two points from eighteen games saw them finish right in the middle of WSL 2 having won six games, drawn four and lost eight. The final statistic is one they will be looking to improve this year, turning defeats into draws or more to slowly shift themselves up the standings. One big blow though during the off-season has been the loss of Sarah Wiltshire to Manchester City. The Welsh international managed eleven goals for Yeovil and Watford last season, and Town will need someone to fill her shoes in front of goal this year to help them progress.
However, whilst they have lost a key player on the attack, they have managed to recruit a key player at the back in Corinne Yorston. Her departure from Bristol Academy is certainly a strange one considering she was a key player for them last year, helping them reach the Champions League quarter-finals, but the 31-year-old has decided to drop down a division to join Yeovil and it is certainly a great outcome for her new club. They are solid at the back already, but Yorston will improve them even more to help keep the clean sheets that will make up for the loss of Wiltshire’s goals. They should keep their spot in the top five, but the likes of Reading, Doncaster and Villa look too strong for Yeovil to put in a better promotion push than them.
My final standings prediction: Reading, Donny Belles, Villa, Everton, Yeovil, Durham, Millwall, Watford, London Bees, Oxford.
You can also see a full list of fixtures for the season ahead here.
Hi, I’m Ameé, I write reguarly about the English Football League on my blog, A Pitchside View, and also women’s football at A Women’s Pitchside View. If you liked this post, please feel free to rate it and also check out other pieces I’ve written on these sites, as well as on Fanthem. Thank you.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Ameé Ruszkai