“It’s not just me; it’s every single manager and every single player and every fan wanting the [refereeing] standards to go up,” stated a frustrated Carla Ward after Aston Villa were held by Brighton on Saturday afternoon.

A combination of Brighton’s resilience, a drop off in the home side’s levels, and sub-standard officiating saw the points shared at the Poundland Bescot Stadium after Julia Zigiotti’s strike cancelled out a first half own goal from Kayleigh Green.

Whilst acknowledging her team’s role in the dropped points, a portion of Ward’s exasperation post-match was directed at the referee team who struggled to keep up to speed with play throughout. “As you’re seeing, there’s a lot of talk and not a lot of action,” she continued. “At what point do we realise that professional football careers and managers, their futures sometimes are in hands of those that aren’t professional and that’s not ok.”

“We’re frustrated. You see from their celebrations; they’ve celebrated like they’ve won the game. They were trying to slow the game down. We were sloppy though and we’ve got to be better because, ultimately, no disrespect to Brighton, but we should be getting the three points today.”

Proceedings had started brightly enough for Aston Villa who are riding a strong wave of form. After their 11-0 victory over AFC Fylde in the FA Cup last weekend, they returned to league action with strong ambitions of finishing fifth and the experience of Jordan Nobbs and Danielle Turner returning to the starting line-up. Their opponents had also won comfortably last weekend, but they were clearly the underdogs ahead of this one. Defensive solidity has, however, become more apparent in recent weeks under Jens Scheuer with the focus of their winter transfer activity coming in those areas.


Julia Zigiotti + Lucy Staniforth, Aston Villa v Brighton, Barclays WSL


Watching the first half, it would have been easy to think the hosts would run away with it. They dominated the ball, intricate passes flowing through midfield as they controlled the tempo. When they are on song, Ward’s side play some of the most attractive football in the league but at times can just lack in end product.

This was the story of the first 45 with clear-cut opportunities fleeting. Meanwhile, the visitors were given cause to hope, finding glimmers of possibility. The energetic Zigiotti buzzed around the midfield area, ready to pounce on any Villa mistake.

The opener did eventually fall the way of the hosts in slightly fortunate circumstances. When a corner was taken short, Sarah Mayling delivered one of her trademark crosses that eluded the leaping Walsh. It dipped dangerously and hit the unfortunate Green who could do nothing to avoid touching it into the back of her own net. Villa had their tails up and ended the first half strongly. The Brighton keeper made up for her previous mishap, brilliantly tipping Kenza Dali’s curler onto the bar to keep the deficit narrow.

Brighton’s manager was decisive at the break making a double change that altered the set-up of his side. Emma Kullberg and Veatriki Sarri replaced Green and Danielle Carter as they switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation that gave them more space to work in. That and Villa’s dip in concentration led to a scrappier second period, accompanied by a series of refereeing decisions that annoyed both managers. Challenges went unpenalised while a series of wrong offside calls against the home side incensed players and fans alike.


Rachel Daly, Aston Villa v Brighton, Barclays WSL


Brighton took advantage, pouncing on an error to cap off an improved display. A loose touch in front of goal from Laura Blindkilde Brown saw Sarri nip in. Hannah Hampton rushed out to make a brilliant stop, but the Villa keeper could do nothing to keep up the follow up from Zigiotti. The visitors stood up to Villa’s pressure in the closing stages to ensure they returned to the south coast with the spoils shared.

For his part, Scheuer was proud of his side’s performance. “I was really pleased with the second half,” he said. “I think we deserved the point. I think in the second half we were the better team. The first half was going to Aston Villa. We had a few problems… But we changed formation at half-time. We go to a 4-2-3-1 which I think was also a good decision. So, we’re really happy to catch a point. We haven’t stolen a point here; we earned it.”

With Leicester losing earlier in the day, it could be a prove even more valuable in the battle for safety. In an odd quirk of the calendar, these two teams will go head-to-head again next weekend when Villa make the trip to Crawley. Both with different ambitions remaining for the run-in to the end of the season.

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