FAWSL 2: Too close to call on eve of new season

The FAWSL 2 – a league that continues progress both in levels of competitiveness and entertainment as the seasons go by.

You only have to look back to when it started in 2014 to see how far it has come. Back then there was a very clear hierarchy of clubs – the ones that you knew would definitely push for promotion (ie. Sunderland, Doncaster and Reading) and the others who were just getting themselves adjusted to life as a Super League side.

Three years on and the landscape has changed. As teams have strengthened across the division, both on and off the field, we now have a league that is too close to call. Going into 2017/18, there are quite feasibly six or seven teams who could challenge for that trophy in what could prove to be the FAWSL 2’s most exciting year to date. Here we take a look at how each team is shaping up on the eve of the new season.

The FA Women’s Super League season kicks-off on the weekend of the 22-24 September. For more information on both leagues and to purchase tickets, visit: www.FAWSL.com

Aston Villa 

If we get that right and get the wins, then I don’t think we’ll go far wrong this year

Aston Villa go into the campaign with a new manager on board. Dave Stevens took over from Joe Hunt towards the end of the Spring Series and one can expect that it will take a little time for his ideas to come through.

Katy Moran, Aston Villa, FAWSL 2They have also lost a few key players over the summer break. Most notably Mollie Rouse left to go to university in America while Maddy Cussack, a stalwart in the middle for a number of years, made the move over to Birmingham. However, they have retained a good number of their long-term squad and with Katie Wilkinson coming back from injury and Natasha Baptiste in form, they have the goal-scoring attributes to content.

Aston Villa’s main problem over the years has been consistency. They have always looked solid on paper with the talent they’ve had at their disposal but have not been able to bring out the performances on a regular basis. This was highlighted recently by captain Katy Moran as one of the main goals for the season ahead – “Our aim is probably to play more consistently. Over the past few seasons we have lacked consistency and we want to put that right. If we get that right and get the wins, then I don’t think we’ll go far wrong this year”.

 

Brighton & Hove Albion

We will learn from each game as we go along. If things go well or don’t go well on a Sunday, it’s about putting that right in training in the week and we will just progress from there.

Brighton endured a mixed Spring Series as they launched into life in the FAWSL. The beauty of the mini-season though was that it will have given them ample preparation for what to expect in the year ahead.

Vicky Ashton-Jones, Brighton & Hove Albion, FAWSL 2There has been much change both in management and playing personnel over the summer. Hope Powell was named their new permanent manager bringing with her a wealth of experience both in her time in charge of England and as part of UEFA. Captain Vicky Ashton-Jones shared her excitement that she felt on hearing the news –  My mind was blown when we saw the news that we were getting her. It’s a great opportunity to learn from somebody with that level of experience.

On the field, Emma Byrne retired and Faye Baker left the club. With a need to bring in strength to the goalkeeping position, Lucy Gillett arrived from Watford and youngster Chloe Sansom signed from Reading. Up front, they have signed Ini Umotong, the FAWSL 2’s top goalscorer in 2016, and Fliss Gibbons returned to the club. They also acquired the experienced Dani Buet who has had time at Chelsea and Notts County.

Ashton-Jones is in no doubt of where her and the club’s ambitions lie ahead of the new season – to push for the trophy! However, the Brighton captain is very pragmatic in her view of how to achieve this – “Our Spring Series probably didn’t reflect this ambition but I know that wasn’t everything from us. Our aim is to push on and push ourselves to get that title. Looking at where we were last year, I don’t think there is any reason why we can’t pick up more points this time round. We will learn from each game as we go along. If things go well or don’t go well on a Sunday, it’s about putting that right in training in the week and we will just progress from there.

 

Doncaster Belles

Everyone is back now stronger and ready to go in the league.

It was a bit of a tumultuous year back in the top flight for Doncaster Belles in 2016. However, after a strong showing back in FAWSL 2 (not without its logistical difficulties), the Spring Series will have provided a good tonic to get back on the right track.

Rhiannon Roberts, Doncaster Belles, FAWSL 2With players now returning from injuries and some new acquisitions, life is starting to look a little better for Doncaster. They were, however, dealt a blow on the final day of the transfer window when Courtney Sweetman-Kirk left for Everton and Kasia Lipka moved to Sunderland. Sweetman-Kirk’s replacement is as yet unknown although Jess Sigsworth will be making a welcome return from injury but the Belles did bring in England youngster Chloe Peplow on a short-term loan. They also signed Jules Draycott to replace the outgoing Nicola Hobbs while Sophie Bradley-Auckland has also put pen to paper after a long spell side-lined through injury.

Rhiannon Roberts herself has just returned from injury and is determined to help Doncaster to promotion over the next nine months – “Pre-season has been good and we also had the Spring Series to be able to go through the different things we have wanted to go through and bond as a team. Thankfully we have kept most our squad and players are still full-time, so that can only benefit us in WSL2 this time. Everyone is back now stronger and ready to go in the league.”

  

Durham

We want to win the league; we’ve been working at it for a couple of years now and have been building up a great set of players.

Durham have been flying high over the last couple of years. On the pitch, they have made the push into the top four while off the pitch they have made a name for themselves as the club that are doing things right. Their recent win as FAWSL 2 Club of the Year is a testament to this hard work.

With Helen Alderson returning from her time abroad, Rachael Laws has returned to Sunderland alongside Tyler Dodds. Durham have, however, managed to keep much of their squad intact with new contracts for Zoe Ness, Emily Roberts and Caroline Dixon. The Wildcats have also brought in three new faces with Abi Cottam arriving from West Bromwich Albion, Nicola Worthington from the University of Bridgeport and Scotland youngster Ellis Dalgliesh from Celtic.

Sarah Wilson is very positive as the new campaign approaches as they look to use a disappointing end to the Spring Series as motiviation – “Pre-season has been good – it’s been tough but we’re getting to the point where we have been playing loads of games and loads of minutes on the pitch so we can see how the team is coming together. We want to win the league; we’ve been working at it for a couple of years now and have been building up a great set of players. As an independent club so much hard work goes on behind the scenes as well and we just go out to try and do what we can to try and re-pay that.”

    

London Bees

As a team, I think we have a lot of potential to finish high up in the table.

The Spring Series proved tough for London Bees as results struggled to come on the pitch. However, with a change in management and the addition of new personnel, the Bees will be entering the new season with a bit of a buzz.

Rosie Lane, London Bees, FAWSL 2After the departure of Dave Edmondson, Luke Swindlehurst was appointed manager at the start of pre-season. Swindlehurst made Emma Beckett the new captain and brought in six new faces to boost the squad. The experienced Nicola Hobbs and Chelsea Weston arrived while Destiny Toussaint and Rosie Kmita came in to boost their attack. They have also bolstered defensively with Rosie Lane signing from Oxford United and youngster Lisa Miliken coming in on the final day of the transfer window. There were also new contracts for Evie Clarke, Lucy Loomes and Ocean Rolandsen, all young players who have showed plenty of promise already for the Bees.

How quickly all these new faces take to gel remains to be scene but Rosie Lane feels she has settled into her new surroundings really quickly – “The girls have been really welcoming from Day 1 which has been really good. We have a great mix of young players well as a lot of experience which all helps. I am excited and have a good feeling around the club. As a team, I think we have a lot of potential to finish high up in the table. We have a tough game to start of the season against Doncaster – it probably is going to be one of our toughest games – but we have to compete and we have to be on our game 100%.

 

Millwall Lionesses

We’ve signed some great players and promotion this year would be what we are aiming for.

Ahead of the Spring Series, not many people were talking about Millwall as title contenders. Lee Burch’s side flew under the radar Ashlee Hincks, Millwall Lionesses, FAWSL 2and surprised a few people on their way to a third placed finish.

Now there is a real energy around the club as they enter their new campaign. While retaining most of the current squad that contains a broad mix of youth and experience and signing of the best young talents in the game, they look like they could be a real force going forward. Retaining the services of Ella Rutherford was absolutely crucial. The England U17 star had a Spring Series to remember and became the focal point of much of Millwall’s attacking play. Rianna Dean has arrived from Arsenal while Charlie Devlin made her loan spell permanent and Megan Alexander has come in from Bristol City. They have also strengthened defensively with the signing of Viki Wotton.

Captain Ashlee Hincks cannot wait for the season ahead – “I think we made everyone take not a little bit during the Spring Series. Had that season been a normal season, I really think we would have been pushing for the title and we will be looking to do exactly the same this year. We’ve signed some great players and promotion this year would be what we are aiming for.”

 

Oxford United

It shows with the players he has brought in and the type of style that he wants to play and we are looking good for the season ahead.

There is a strong argument to be made that Oxford won Deadline Day. A flurry of activity throughout pre-season has seen new manager Andy Cook strengthen his squad across the park.

Lauren Haynes, Oxford United, FAWSL 2Kayleigh Hines returned to her former club from Reading while Dan Carlton, Steph Williams and Hannah Short have arrived from Yeovil Town to bring strength in depth to the midfield and defensive areas. Meanwhile Emily Allen, Ellis Hillman, and Chloe Chivers all arrived from Cardiff City and youngster Flo Fyfe signed from Arsenal’s development squad. Finally, right on the deadline of the transfer window, they brought in the highly experienced Corinne Yorston on a season-long loan from Bristol City, a leader both on and off the pitch. The main chink in their armour appears to be the hole left by top scorer Ini Umotong but across the rest of the pitch, Oxford have plenty of options.

Lauren Haynes has been a crucial part of the Oxford line-up for the past couple of years and highlighted the need to revamp the squad ahead of the 2017/18 campaign – “Going off the back of the Spring Series, we needed to do a lot in terms of looking at our squad and looking at our foundations and build on them. Andy Cook joined halfway through the Spring Series but that never really gave him a chance to put his ideas into place. In the off-season, he’s developed a whole new plan and he has implemented it really well. It shows with the players he has brought in and the type of style that he wants to play and we are looking good for the season ahead.

  

Sheffield FC

After struggling in the Spring Series, Sheffield have had a pretty quiet off-season so far. With Danielle Lea, Olivia Fuller, Lagan Makin and Natasha Flint leaving for Fylde, Jules Draycott heading for Doncaster and Emma Lipman signing for Verona, it Sheffield FC, FAWSL 2will be interesting to see how Zoe Johnson has strengthened the squad when the new campaign starts.

The one public signing Sheffield have made is that of Melissa Johnson from Derby County. They also have a strong core of players that are the lynchpin of the side. Captain Carla Ward leads by example while the endless running of Ellie Gilliatt up the flank provides constant impetus. In Hannah Cain up in attack they have one of England’s promising young talents accompanied by Rhema Lord-Mears and Jenna Dear in the middle.

One would imagine a few new signings will be made public as the start of the season begins. One thing is for sure, it is going to be interesting to see how they bounce back.

  

 

Tottenham Hotspur

Our main aim is to establish Tottenham ladies as a WSL 2 team and really compete with the other teams in the league.

Tottenham enter the Super League on the back of a superb FAWPL campaign that saw them go on a 29-game unbeaten run.

Jenna Schillaci, Tottenham Hotspur, FAWSL 2Karen Hills had strengthened her squad further this year. The biggest acquisition came as Sarah Wiltshire joined from Yeovil Town. Her experience and goal-scoring prowess would be an asset to any team across the top two divisions. Ashleigh Neville also arrived from Coventry United, Lauren Pickett from Chelsea and Hannah McKenzie from Reading while Coral-Jade Haines has joined from Birmingham City on loan.

These signings have all bolstered a squad that was already strong across the park. Perhaps the player to watch the most is Bianca Baptiste. The Tottenham forward scores goals for fun and will be crucial as the club begins its new era.

Jenna Schillaci is excited for what lies ahead – “We’ve had a good pre-season campaign. We had our play-off match at the end of May and then we had about a month off before we got back together again. Our main aim is to establish Tottenham ladies as a WSL 2 team and really compete with the other teams in the league. We been preparing for the step up in the physicality and speed of the game.”

  

Watford

Watford have turned their fortunes around after some of the negative rumours that emerged from the club on the eve of the Spring
Watford, FAWSL 2Series. The most important move of their off-season was to keep manager Keith Boanas who has brought new life to the club.

The transfer window also saw Boanas further strengthen his resources. In came the experienced Welsh internationals Helen Ward and Kylie McCarthy as well as Laura May Walkley. Sarah Jones has added to their defensive capabilities after strong performance at Crystal Palace while Bianca Bragg and Ellie Sargent have been the latest additions. Goalkeeper Fran Kitching, highly rated at her parent club Chelsea, has also joined for the season as Lucy Gillett departed for Brighton.

The biggest challenge now will be to get Watford off the bottom of the table and in contention. With a strong mix of youth and experience, the signs look promising but it will depend on how quickly the side can click.

  

The FA Women’s Super League season kicks-off on the weekend of the 22-24 September. For more information on both leagues and to purchase tickets, visit: www.FAWSL.com