Since we joined the Super League Spurs have not been a high scoring side. We surprised many in our first season by finishing safely in 7th. We scored only one goal in a win or draw 4 times and never more than 2 goals in any game in that 15 game truncated league season, keeping four clean sheets. Last season we scored 3 goals in two games in December after the arrival of Rehanne Skinner but after that we went back to the familiar pattern of low scoring, we kept three clean sheets and only scored one goal in a win or a draw 5 times. So far this season we have scored only 1 in a win or draw 6 times and only scored more than 2 goals on one occasion, we’ve kept 7 clean sheets. Our defensive improvement is clear but relying on that to get a point or maybe nick three with a goal is a dangerous strategy and we’ve seen on a number of occasions this season how dangerous that tactic is, most recently at home to Aston Villa where a late goal from the visitors was enough to take all three points in a game we had the better of the action.
Ahead of the season I had two hopes to show growth and hopefully lift us up the table. The first was to narrow the deficit when playing the top four, no more losing by 4 or 6 goals, keeping it to 2 or below would be a sign of growth. Secondly I wanted to see us consistently getting results against West Ham, Brighton, Everton and Reading-the other pretenders to the top four. We have so far exceeded expectation against the top four, taking 5 points from 12. Now we shouldn’t get too excited about the win over City, they were not themselves but the draw against an in form Arsenal and even losing 1-0 to City when they were back to their best show how far we have grown.
The second of these hopes however have been dashed as we fail to take advantage of our possession and really trouble the opposition, away at Brighton and West Ham, like our game at home to Villa we were punished for not making the most of our chances, losing by one goal. Our draws with West Ham and Reading were similar stories, we should have taken more from those games.
There has been a clear difference in our performances in the first and second half of the seasons and I would argue this has been a lot to do with Rachel Williams and the way she plays. I’ll admit when Rachel joined us from Birmingham 2 seasons ago I was dubious, with only 4 league goals the season before I wondered if she was a player who’s best days were behind her. Last season she was plagued by injury but began to show what she could offer. This season she is our highest scorer in the league and in the early part of the season we saw her determination to get the ball in the back of the net and knew if she was involved in a goal mouth scramble she would more than likely win it. In the second half of the season though we really don’t see her in these positions. More often than not she is in the middle of the park turning to play the ball into the striker, the problem being she is the striker and we don’t have another player with that same desire to be in the box.
It’s noticeable that the last time Rachel scored was in the game after Kit Graham got injured. Since then she has been dropping deep, her work rate undeniable, but Harry Kane can drop deep because Son makes the runs. There is no one else on the Spurs Women’s side regularly doing that. When Kit played in that pocket behind Rachel she could stay up top and pounce on those balls that came in. Without Kit Rachel has fallen into a deeper role and no one is coming into the box.
Injuries to Jess Naz have also been key to out form in front of goal, when she is fully fit Jess makes some fizzing runs and scores some ambitious goals but she struggles for fitness and either is not playing or is playing cautiously too often. We have seen flashes of what Kyah Simon can do, notably against Arsenal (interesting that Alanna Kennedy had, for me, her best game for us last season against Arsenal too) but hasn’t been able to show us what she can do consistently, though she is our second highest scorer in the League. Likewise Tang Jiali has shown moments of danger but nothing consistent.
More bad news for us has come during the international break as Ria Percival will be out for the rest of the season following injury, a true Lilywhite Ria has been immense for us this season, scoring two goals in the League and creating a number of others she has often been an important spark on the pitch. With some tough games coming up it’s hard to see where the goals are going to come from and we need to be working on scoring more. As for Chioma Ubogagu, it would be nice to know what has happened to her, another of the attacking options brought in this summer she seems to have disappeared since the game at West Ham with no mention of her from the Club.
Our small squad of course has been badly hit with injuries at various points and having more games than we probably expected after our best ever Conti Cup run. It’s clear to push on we need to expand that squad in the summer, fill all the spaces. Another in the box type of striker and some careful consideration of our midfield options, we need more forward thinking players- hopefully Kit will be back firing on all cylinders but we need back up for her.
We have improved defensively this season but even with that improvement we’ve shown we can’t rely on the defence to carry us through, we must make better of our possession and trouble opposition keepers more than we have this season. My hope for next season is that we see more desire from players to be in the box getting on the end of balls and that this will lead to fewer games where we throw all the points away because of one moment of inspiration from the opposition.