Sport Writer Caitlin McGraw assesses Aston Villa’s fast start to the WSL season
Victories against Manchester City and Leicester City in September marked club history for Aston Villa Women’s Football Club (AVWFC) in the Women’s Super League (WSL), as the side opened their season with back-to-back victories for the first time. Following the England Lionesses’ European Championship success in the summer, a sense of excitement for the new WSL season has been growing, with the Villains’ impressive start providing optimism that Carla Ward’s side can bring entertaining, competitive women’s football to the West Midlands.
Villa fans had extra reason to anticipate the new campaign, following an exciting summer transfer window which saw seasoned internationals Rachel Daly (England) and Kenza Dali (France) brought to the club, alongside exciting talents Kirsty Hanson and Anna Patten on loan from Manchester United and Arsenal respectively. Natasha Harding and Danielle Turner will add maturity in the centre of the pitch, the new signings will be hoping to help Villa solidify their position in the WSL and improve upon last season’s 9th place finish.
After the 2022/23 season’s opening weekend was postponed following Queen Elizabeth’s death, the Villains’ season started on 18th September when they hosted Manchester City at Villa Park. Villa opened the scoring with last season’s Supporters’ Player of the Season, Alisha Lehmann, capitalising from a turnover of play in the City half. This lead was then doubled by an impressive first-time strike marking Daly’s opening goal in claret and blue worthy of its Goal of the Month’ nomination.
Manchester City’s Coombs halved the away side’s deficit before half-time; this momentum was maintained with two goals in two minutes shortly after the restart completing the away side’s turnaround, to lead 3-2. However, Carla Ward’s players showed resolve and it was new signing Dali’s deflected shot from outside the box which levelled the score three minutes later. Determined to secure the three points, Daly’s finish from close range secured a brace on her debut, and the 4-3 win for AVWFC, a remarkable feat against one of the most successful sides in WSL history.
Villa’s statement of intent was reaffirmed with a second win in as many games, beating Midlands rivals Leicester City 2-0 at the King Power Stadium on 25th September. Daly’s converted penalty in the match’s opening minutes was doubled by substitute Emily Gielnik’s precise shot late on in the game. Leicester posed less attacking threat than the Citizens, securing Hannah Hampton’s first WSL clean sheet of the season. Following victory against the Foxes, ‘Manager of the Month’ nominee Carla Ward commented that her Villa side are ‘going in the right direction’ and pose a ‘threat in front of goal… [we’ve] scored 50% of the goals we scored last season in the first two games.’
The Villains remain unbeaten in all competitions this season, following a draw and penalty shootout win against Manchester United in the Continental Cup. They head into the October international break 3rd in the league table, with a handful of players selected to represent their national teams, including ‘WSL Player of the Month’ nominee Daly. Villa’s next WSL games are consecutive home ties at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium against West Ham United and Everton; these games will be crucial for AVWFC to maintain consistency as the season progresses and to cement their position as contenders in the WSL. After retaining key players and a talented manager, as well as a successful summer of business, the Villains look capable of scoring goals and competing for wins against top sides in their third WSL campaign.
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