Sports writer Caitlin McGraw reports on Aston Villa Women’s defeat at the hands of Everton in a Women’s Super League Clash

Written by Caitlin McGraw
2nd year politics and sociology student. lover of all things popular culture <3

Aston Villa Women (AVWFC) slumped to their second home defeat in consecutive matches, with visitors Everton clinging onto a 1-0 victory at the Poundland Bescot Stadium on Saturday 22nd October.

The lunchtime kick-off saw the fifth-placed Toffees visit the West Midlands, with the Villains one place above them in the Women’s Super League (WSL). Both sides were defeated in matchday four and looked to bounce back, with the game posed to be an evenly matched affair. Everton have developed an impressive defensive record under new manager Brian Sorensen, whilst Carla Ward’s women have shown attacking strength and goal threat especially through September’s WSL Player of the Month, Rachel Daly.

It was the Toffees who started the match brighter, with Jess Park and Gabrielle George threatening down both wings early in the first half. Villa initially struggled to prevent George’s impressive tricks and control in possession, as well as Park’s pace, but they slowly grew into the game and began to contain Everton’s threat. The first chance of the game came in the seventh minute for the home side when Kenza Dali’s impressive turn found Kirsty Hanson, who perfectly placed a cross into the box which was poked just shy of the goalpost by Laura Blindkilde Brown. 

This moment signaled Hanson’s importance to the Villa side; her pace, skill and accurate crossing from the left wing produced many of AVWFC’s best chances in the game. Yet the Scot’s efforts were ill-rewarded, as Villa’s biggest hindrance throughout the match was a lack of players in the box, and this cycle of accurate crossing and weak shots on target kept the match goalless.

…her [Hanson] pace, skill and accurate crossing from the left wing produced many of AVWFC’s best chances in the game

The first half trudged by as both sides struggled to sustain possession or any rhythm, with neither team producing a dangerous shot on goal to challenge Anna Leat or Courtney Brosnan between the posts.

Villa captain Rachel Corsie was booked for a late foul on Lucy Graham, with sloppy play and a lack of discipline granting Everton free kicks on several occasions. Everton frustrated the home side from set pieces, with one of Hanna Bennison’s strikes resulting in a goalmouth scramble which was eventually collected by Leat.

Villa’s inability to sustain a consistent period of possession was overcome in the final ten minutes of the half, with promising shots on goal from Kenza Dali and Alisha Lehmann indicating that Villa’s confidence was growing. Daly registered several speculative attempts in the first half but was a shadow of her goal-scoring self, due to brave goalkeeping from Brosnan. 

The first half ended goalless following a closely matched, cagey 45 minutes of football, in which loanees from both Manchester clubs, Park for Everton and Hanson for Villa, stood out as key players for either side.

Carla Ward’s half time team talk inspired an early burst of energy from the home side, with Hanson once again driving down the wing and crossing to Lehmann whose shot was spilled by the Everton goalkeeper. Daly then connected with the rebound from long range, her effort just dipping over the crossbar, indicating an invigorated desire to record shots on target following the first half’s conservative approach. 

…it was Everton who tapped home the game’s single goal at around the hour mark

Despite playing on the back foot in the second half, it was Everton who tapped home the game’s single goal at around the hour mark. The opportunity was created by Park on a counterattack who shrugged off Villa defenders before passing wide to George. Everton’s two most dangerous players linked up before the ball was swung into the box where Lucy Graham slotted it home at the back post, leaving Anna Leat in goal with no chance of denying the Everton captain, much to the delight of the vocal Toffees inside the stadium.

Everton manager Brian Sorensen looked to solidify his side’s lead, immediately making tactical defensive substitutions which proved to frustrate AVWFC even further for the last half hour. Lehmann gave away two free kicks in quick succession following Villa going behind. Her physical running battle with Everton’s Katrine Veje highlighted the home side’s lack of discipline and visible frustration at losing control of the match. 

A moment of controversy occurred in the 70th minute, when Everton’s Katja Snoeijs stayed down following a fair challenge. Much to Everton’s discontent, Villa kept the ball in play for several minutes as the Toffee remained down injured. Encompassing Villa’s desperation to make the most of their player advantage, tension built and created a frantic end to the match. This was amplified by a triple substitution for Villa, including ex-Toffee Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah who initially brought energy to the Villa attacking line with an optimistic shot wide, but signalled Villa’s lack of end product. In the closing minutes of the match following a desperate attempt to convert on goal, Rachel Daly clashed mid-air with Brosnan, with the striker requiring prolonged treatment and hobbling off, adding to Hannah Hampton’s absence.

What had looked to be a certainly winnable match for Villa, turned into what I saw as a pitiful performance with much to work on for Ward who will be disappointed not to scrape a point. Despite the sides being evenly matched, Villa lacked quality and were visibly frustrated throughout the 90 minutes by Everton’s togetherness and threat on the counterattack and from set pieces. The Villans looked more like a side of individual stars rather than a cohesive team, contributing to the most pressing issue, a lack of quality in finishing touches which saw Villa record two shots on target from thirteen attempts. 

What had looked to be a certainly winnable match for Villa, turned into what I saw as a pitiful performance

Key performances were few and far between for Villa, with Hanson the stand-out player especially in the first half with her driving pace and serving direct shots into the box. Villa defender Sarah Mayling also impressed with her strength and fighting spirit in defence, including a notable double tackle, as well as swinging accurate crosses into the box. Daly, Dali and Lehmann, the stars of this Villa side, all had moments of promise yet struggled to combine effectively to produce a goal.

The recent back-to-back home defeats for the Villains indicate the energy from their promising start to the campaign has been lost, with the October international break halting momentum and dismantling the goal threat of such a promising attacking line. Whilst new signings require more time to gel together, the loss in consistency of goals signals a larger problem which Carla Ward will seek to fix before her side travels to Chelsea, a tricky task against the reigning WSL champions.

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