I love watching Ashleigh Neville play for Spurs.
When she’s on the ball I am excited about what might happen. When she closes down a player I am confident she will come away with a neat sidestep and the ball – or at least put in a decent tackle or a clearance. And then there are those moments (at least a couple per game) when she takes the ball and jinks past two or three players into space – always looking to progress play. And it makes you laugh because it’s a pleasure to watch. It’s what makes supporting a team worth it. Then there’s the gritty stuff – the crucial headed clearances from the box. And in the last few games, with a depleted squad, we’ve seen her sub in at right wing and whip a couple of beautiful crosses into danger areas from positions that seemed already beyond the baseline.
This speaks to her ability to read the game, see space, judge her own skill – in ball control, delivery, positioning. These mean she can do things (find time on the ball and create chances) when other players can’t. And sometimes this is crucial, in giving us a breather when we’re under the cosh.
In the last couple of months I have dragged multiple (non-Spurs; not inititally women’s football) people to watch us play (my curse of having too few Spurs supporting friends). And time and again they note that her skills stand out. ‘Surely, she is playing for England?’ they ask. A good question.
In case anyone’s in any doubt, the stats back this up. Ash leads the league for tackles (56) and tackles won (34) and has made the fifth most interceptions (39). Her work-rate is evident in having the 2nd most touches of any player in the WSL (944). That she’s effective in the air as well is seen by the fact that she’s fifth in the league for aerials won, and 2nd for percentage of aerials won. But the exciting part – and what makes her special – is that she is also second in the league for number of players dribbled past (28), and has the 3rd best record for progressive carrying distance (a whopping 1845 meters) and has made 61 progressive passes (7th best in the league). See FBref for this and more.
Clearly Rehanne Skinner appreciates Ashleigh Neville, as she’s one of only three Spurs Women to have played every minute of every WSL game so far this season, only sitting out parts of cup games. Watching fans will see that during breaks in games Ash often takes on a leadership role, as the one to get advice from the coaching team and communicate this to other players.
What makes her achievements this season all the more special is that she is one of only a few remaining players who came up with the team when Spurs were promoted in 2019, initially playing as a semi-pro (commuting down a few evenings a week alongside a full-on job as a primary school teacher). Over her time at Spurs her commitment – to the club and to fans – has been visible, whether post-game chatting to supporters, across multiple social media interactions or her involvement with supporters’ groups, including Proud Lilywhites.
Amid all this appreciation, for the sake of balance (is that needed?) I admit there are some (minor) flaws to Ash’s game (because she’s human). Obviously there’s the occasional defensive error (ManU away perhaps the most obvious this season), but that comes with the territory of being an attack-minded fullback (and, to reiterate, human). There is also a surprising lack of goals, despite her skill in getting into goalscoring positions at least every other game (that chance against Arsenal springs to mind). I can only guess that being part of this team, so focused on defensive organisation, means that chances are sufficiently rare that it’s hard to build up a goalscoring rhythm (an issue shared by most of the team), so I’m not worried – this will come if she keeps getting chances. Finally, there are times, typically as the game passes the 70 minute mark, and people are tiring, when she will pass forward into a channel, but no-one’s there. My sense is that if the attacking midfielders in front of her were more consistent this issue would vanish. But with Kit Graham’s injury and a small squad, some of whom have not-fully-realised-potential, this is the position where there’s been the most churn in Spurs personnel (with Ash herself filling in at right wing a couple of times). I just hope we have a chance to watch this work itself out at a replenished (and transfer-window-boosted!) Spurs.
Which gets me to my plea: We’ve seen other teams renew and lengthen the contracts of key players (Leah Williamson; Sam Kerr). So, please, please Spurs: Give Ash the multi-year contract she deserves and keep her at Spurs so that we can watch the team build around her and keep on revelling in her goodness for many seasons to come.
- Anyone wanting to give Ash some social media love can follow her at @ashnev10
- There’s an At home with Ashleigh Neville on the Spurs website.
- She is quoted a lot in this Times article Fitness, facilities and family – secrets of Skinner’s Spurs revolution from the Times (behind a paywall annoyingly).
- You can also find a great interview with Ash in the programme from the West Ham game (16/1/2022). I’ll see if I can get a version of it uploaded.