Brighton’s impressive season continued on Wednesday night as they battled past a resilient Aston Villa. They may fly under the radar at times but the Hope Powell project, built on the steady foundations of a club that is committed to the women’s’ game and some astute recruitment, has been gathering steam.
Consistency has certainly been one of the keys to Powell’s success in recent games. There was just one change from the win over Tottenham – Nora Heroum in for Emily Simpkins – providing a stability that is showing rewards.
They faced an Aston Villa side whose trajectory has been heading the other direction recently, more due to the opposition (Arsenal and Manchester United) they’ve had to face than anything else. Marcus Bignot has been playing a 3-4-1-2 formation regularly since his arrival and he started with it again, albeit with a surprising change of personnel. Asmita Ale and Jodie Hutton joined Marisa Ewers at the back while Anita Asante moved into centre midfield.
It was the hosts who started brightly with the quick press of Emma Follis and Shania Hayles proving effective. However, as has been their way at times this season, the end product in the final third was hard to come by as they struggled to produce a clear-cut chance.
In fact, it was at the other end that the first real opportunity was created. Maya Le Tissier, the young English full back enjoying a stand-out season so far, hit a looping effort under pressure, denied only by a brilliant fingertip save from Lisa Weiß.
Both sides began to trade chances in a pulsating end-to-end first half. Chloe Arthur was denied by Brighton’s Megan Walsh, sticking out a boot to block a certain goal, while Heroum’s first touch let her down as she was played in one-on-one with Weiß.
The breakthrough came for the visitors after 20 minutes. Unfortunately for Weiß, it was her mistake that was pounced on when she spilled a long-range Megan Connolly strike. Aileen Whelan reacted quickest to pounce on the loose ball and turn it home.
Villa’s confidence is not easily knocked, with a team that is willing to leave it all out on the park. They managed to raise their levels again in the lead up to the break. Hayles forced Walsh into another good save while Follis was unable to adjust her body to convert a half-volley.
Villa started the second period as they had finished the first, on the front foot and searching for an equaliser. Jodie Hutton showed the full range of her passing ability with her long balls from the back while Mana Iwabuchi, like a puppet master pulling the strings in the middle, set up Hayles again who sent her shot narrowly wide.
Brighton were always in the game, however, and looked dangerous going forward with Le Tissier and Kayleigh Green linking up well down the right. It was the latter who created the opportunity for their second goal with her pressing play drawing a foul from Weiß in the box. Bignot’s shout of “Save it!” from the side-line did little to avert the inevitable as Inessa Kaagman stepped up to dispatch the subsequent penalty kick.
It was the deadly blow that knocked the wind out of Villa’s sails as the final ten played out with little drama. This was Brighton’s fourth win on the bounce that lifted them to sixth, with the 3-0 defeat to Bristol back in January a distant memory. It is a run of form that has seen them take the scalps of Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham and now Aston Villa and secure their immediate Barclays FAWSL future.