Four games to define Spurs’ season

Spurs are on a seven-game losing streak in the WSL. This is relegation form. Yet, ironically, with the addition of Mana Iwabuchi and Bethany England and with Ashleigh Neville’s return from suspension, Spurs’ are looking better and, in contrast to their pre-Christmas games, scoring goals.

The problem has been that Spurs’ strengthening has coincided with a run of games against Top-4 teams (Chelsea twice; Manchester United once). Losing to these teams is not a disgrace (most teams lose to them) and should not be season-defining. But when these losses follow on and extend a poor run, the losses can contribute to general feeling of malaise. Playing better but not getting anything out of games is disheartening. It also makes it hard to evaluate the team or the manager.

Bethany England scores against Manchester United. Image: @Spurswomen

That is why the next four games are crucial, both for how Spurs finish the season, but also perhaps, the future of manager, Rehanne Skinner. Indeed, the four games – Reading (home) in the FA Cup, Manchester City (away), Liverpool (away) and Leicester (home) in the WSL – may now be season-defining.

The following looks at the games one-by-one. It concludes by reflecting on where we may be once all four are played.

1)    Reading (home) FA Cup 26th February

Reading are two points and two places below Spurs in the WSL. They are also on a losing run (having lost their last four WSL games).  In other words, they are exactly the kind of WSL opponents Spurs should be savouring the opportunity to play.

Additionally, Spurs have already played Reading twice. Both games were away. The first, in the Conti Cup, Spurs won 2-1 (with goals from Ashleigh Neville and Nikola Karczewska and a late Reading penalty from Natasha Dowie). But Reading won the second in the WSL 1-0, benefitting from an own goal from Amy Turner. The positive takeaway from these is, however, that Reading did not score against Spurs from open play in either game this season.

Nikola Karczewska scores against Reading earlier this season. Image: @Spurswomen

Winning the game against Reading will not affect Spurs’ WSL form. But it would be the first win against a WSL side since beating Brighton in that increasingly anomolous and now long-ago 8-0.

A convincing win (by at least a two goal margin) would signal the team’s progress, not only in the context of the current losing run, but also in comparison to the stuttering wins that marked Spurs early-season (Brighton excepted). It would also provide a much-needed, confidence boost before the team returns to the WSL.

More practically, a win would mean Spurs progressing in the FA Cup, giving the team something (other than a highly unwanted relegation battle) to play for as the season draws towards a close. Indeed, a cup run is not unthinkable with the fifth-round draw meaning that at least one of Chelsea or Arsenal go out this round (as they play each other) and that at least two lower league teams are guaranteed a berth in the quarter-finals.

Conversely a loss to Reading would be a bad sign, suggesting that the team has not found a way to translate the improved play we have seen in 2023 into results.

2)    Manchester City (away) 5th March

Manchester City are in blistering form. Their front three (Lauren Hemp, Bunny Shaw and Chloe Kelly) made a starry Arsenal defence look utterly chaotic in their last WSL game. Meanwhile their midfield, which struggled a little at the start of the season is coming together, with Hasegawa and Angeldal (both new arrivals last summer) now settled.

When we last played them in mid-October, in what was our second ever game at Brisbane Road, Spurs were beaten 3-0. It was not our worst performance, but the score was fair: Spurs were clearly second best. This was also the game in which Ellie Brazil was injured in the 8th minute while playing in the #9 position. Her substitution meant we saw a not-fully-fit Jessica Naz, required to play out of position for 80+ minutes. Unsurprisingly chances were few and far between.

Since then, both Spurs and Manchester City have improved. Manchester City’s already impressive front-three seem to have reached another level. But Spurs are also finding ways to score and if both Bethany England and Niki Karczewska are available should be able to find the back of the net.

Which is to say that the odds are in favour of Spurs racking up an eighth successive WSL loss. But other things are possible. And a close(r) game than last time out would be a reasonable expectation. If Spurs were to get a point, any points, it would feel like a win. And be a massive sign of progress. In short:

  • A draw or a win would signal a significant turnaround in the season.
  • A loss to Manchester City in which Spurs played well, if it came after a win against Reading, would be disappointing but not reason to lose optimism.
  • A very bad loss to Manchester City (by 3 goals or more), or a loss that came without a win in the game against Reading, could damage confidence.

3)    Liverpool (away) 12th March

When fans looked at Spurs’ fixture list in new year, especially after the cancellation of the home game against Leicester, the away fixture at Liverpool stood out as the next obviously ‘winnable’ game. That is not to diminish the opposition in this game. But Liverpool lie just two points ahead of Spurs in the WSL and are one of only three teams Spurs have beaten this season in the league. That victory, a one-nil win in October was Spurs’ first home game of the season and first ever game at Brisbane Road. That day Spurs were entirely dominant for the first half but could not find a way to increase an 11th minute lead that had come from an own goal (Niamh Fahey tapping in a Celin Bizet cross from the back-line). Spurs then faded badly after the break and Liverpool were perhaps unlucky not to equalise, but were also poor in the final third.

Celin crosses the ball for a goal in Spurs last game against Liverpool. Image: @Spurswomen

Since then Liverpool have had a busy January transfer window, bringing in five players (three from the US) and strengthening across the pitch. That includes the return of former-captain, Gemma Bonner in defence and the introduction of highly-rated Japanese international, Fuka Nagano in midfield. In the first game back after the break, they lost 6-0 to Manchester United, but as new signings have bedded in they have steadied with a couple of close losses and a win against Reading.

For all that, this is the best opportunity Spurs have for drawing a line under their WSL losing run (assuming the Manchester City game goes to form and they do not do it then). Given the length of the run (potentially 8 games by the time of this fixture) it will be critical that it ends decisively. That makes this a must-win game. Anything less than a decisive win here will feel like failure. Practically, it would also mean that a relegation battle is more likely.

4)    Leicester (home) 15th March

This is the game that should have been played on the 22nd January.

If it had been played then, and, if Spurs had won it their losing run would have ended after 5 losses (before outings against Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City). But a frozen pitch meant that wasn’t to be.

Eveliina Sumanen in Spurs 2-1 win over Leicester to start the season. Image: @Spurswomen

Spurs began this season winning away at Leicester with sumptious goals from Ashleigh Neville (a shot from 40 yards out that won Goal of the Month) and from Drew Spence. For Leicester that game kicked off a nine-game losing run, after which they looked nailed on for relegation.

And then came new manager, Willie Kirk, and five new January signings, perhaps most critically, goalkeeper Jamina Leitzig. Leitzig is on loan from Bayern Munich and is a top keeper with experience in the Champions League and a save percentage in the 99th percentile. She has, arguably, been as transformational for Leicester as Rachel Daly was at the other end of the field for Aston Villa. For instance, she made 15 saves against Manchester City (despite Leicester eventually losing 2-0) and kept clean sheets against Brighton and Liverpool to ensure Leicester won these games.

In short, even with a Beth England-powered attacking line-up, Leicester will be a difficult team to score against.

But before they face Spurs, Leicester have two tough WSL games: against Manchester United and Everton. That means that they may also be targeting this fixture as a possible place to pick up the points they will need to avoid the drop. In other words, this could be a classic 6-pointer.  

On the upside, if Spurs do win at Liverpool and then again here it would put the team on clear upwards trajectory and, on 15+ points, likely clear of relegation trouble. For comparison, at season end the bottom two teams in 2021-22 were on 11 and 13 points; in 2020-21 they were on 12 and 14.

Conversely, irrespective of what happens against Liverpool, a loss here could pull Spurs back down into or close to the relegation zone.

Where might we be after these games?

Having taken each game one at a time, what should we be looking out for when we think of them as a block? Based on the logic laid out above I suggest the following ‘mood-ometer‘ – for Spurs fans based on the combined results of these games.

Spurs’ outcome from the four gamesMood
More than 6 points gained AND still in FA Cup Optimism-a-go-go
6 points AND still in FA CupRealistically upbeat
6 or more points BUT out of FA CupCalm if unexcited
4-5 points AND still in FA CupIntermittent nail biting and hope
4-5 points BUT out of the FA CupMild gloom
2-3 points, whether in FA Cup or notProper fretting
1 or fewer points, whether in FA Cup or notPanic stations

As noted at the start of this blog, there are good signs and cause to hope that these games will leave Spurs fans in a much better place than we now find ourselves (relatively secure in the league and still in the FA Cup). But until all four games are done I, along with most Spurs fans, will be anxiously watching on.

Not least because the game that follows on from the last of these four, is our home North London Derby. And we know that Spurs need to come into that game in winning form.

Rachel Lara Cohen @spurswomenblog.

12 Replies to “Four games to define Spurs’ season”

  1. Thank you so much Rachel for writing this and actually stating what I have been saying for weeks now …. it needed to be written and put out there where other journalists have not and feared to tread. Well done – all that you say is totally correct. Our season is not balanced on the FAC as we will not get past the final stages (we never do) it is balanced on the key 4 WSL games (Liverpool Leicester Reading and Brighton) and hoping the latter 3 do not pick up more points than we do. We are 4 points from going down (that is the clear reality)
    I have said all season that our wings are weak especially the left where all teams know we are at our weakest no matter who plays there (Harrop Ayanne Ubogagu are now simply not good enough) – our right is better with Celin getting more WSL experience but we do not create that much from these key areas and RS should have done more in Jan to sort this out even with loans as this is where the goals are leaking from especially as Harrop is so easily beaten by younger fitter players. I think we will do enough to stave off relegation but I now think RS has taken us as far as she can and we need a more experience manger who can source the players we need and not keep signing like for likes all the time. Sorry but if we want top 4 then that had to be said.


  2. I would also like to say losing to Man Utd is somewhat of a disgrace lets be honest here. They created their club in 2018/19 season and they lost only 1 game before being promoted to the WSL with us in 2nd (losing 4) … we were well beaten by them even then twice with a 5-1 and 4-1 drumming. We have had the same amount of time in the WSL to build a winning top 4 side and we have not (we have stagnated big time) – we have signed so many poor performing players on too long contracts whilst they consistentanly sign good footballing talent and getting even stronger whilst we play a slow tortoise like catch up. So who is to blame here? has to be the ones running the team and holding the purse strings. If there brand any better than ours ?? maybe it is and we need things to change.


  3. Oh well .. lost to Reading so where do we start
    I would be worried now as this is a team that everyone can beat, yet we cannot even at home. No Beth ???? and we are back to not being able to score once again to a lower team in open play.
    Firstly I have to say I am so annoyed with THFC for not putting this (even live match report) on Spurs TV, so what are we fans paying £45 for – total rip off and I for one will not be renewing next season. Rant over
    As I said – We cannot score yet agan in open play and the full time comes along and RS takes off Nikola ? when it looks like we had no real chance of scoring so do you not think about penalties looming after extra time – I guess she does not. Poor decision but then we do not stand any chance when Ayanne and Ubogagu play anyhow. Only positive was Kit coming back – brill.
    Losing 5-4 with Harrop who has been poor for so many games being asked to take a penalty when what’s the point of having a fit striker and taking her off at half time?
    I now worry for the WSL survival as without Beth, who must be injured, we have’nt a chance in winning the must win games. Will wait for the highlights when they come along to see if I am wrong in my assessment.
    They say all the hype but never turn up when it matters.


  4. Sorry Rachel, but seems no one else wants to comment but hey I am happy to keep trying to get someone to join the conversation
    Anyhow, just watched the full game and its aftermath and my conclusion is that we had our chances yes – but our final ball whether a pass or a shot was (before Beth’s arrival) quite poor through so much panic play when the white posts come into view. Was impressed with Nev Celin and Korps but the rest were mediocre at best and yet again a bench of 5 did not help as we still carry so many injuries and why we should have done more in Jan to help see off the rest of the season (that may well be our downfall by not finding a decent left wing attacker)
    At least now we can concentrate totally on finding another win or 2 in the WSL to stave off relegation. But on this performance I just cannot see how we will do this as we really do not have a winning team mentality anymore. It will be all down to the upcoming Leicester game .. If we lose that then we are in big trouble.


  5. Now City away … we score a great goal through Celin against the run of play and yet we cannot hold on til half time with so much lethargic panic play against their big press in the plus minutes and we let them in with seconds to go. That could of been avoided for sure when Ayanne just stands there and watches and could have done more to stop the attack in the first place. Flood gates will open now for sure as they should be at least 3 up if it were not for Korps. The ref seems very one sided and somewhat biased like the recent Man Utd game so as expected there is no way we will get points from this and it will go down as a 9th straight loss excluding the FAC.


  6. Very poor 2nd half and an expected loss (3-1) but in the other game Reading win against West Ham so we fall down another rung to 10th with Leicester already losing as expected against Man Utd.
    This constant short backpass game within the defencive line is such poor game management … surely it is better to punt upfield then risk losing it through heavy press in one’s goal area. We just do not have the confidence nor player skill to do this each and every time we go backwards.
    Now the reality .. we are 10th out of 12 with Brighton 1 point behind with 2 games in hand and they have a 50-50 chance of moving above us soon. The only positive is that both Brighton and Leicester have a minus 25 goal difference against out minus 11.
    So where is Shelina ????? another one on the ever growing injury list…. that is 2 games missing along with Beth.
    We had one clear chance of a 2nd when both Ayanne and Nikola where clear on goal in the same attack and both failed with their efforts and then in the dying minutes Celin had a nice curling shot just miss the outside post. That was the only positives from a very one sided half thrown away by a stupid penalty foul by Nev in the first start minute. Game over after that. Onwards and downwards for sure as this team is imploding big time.


  7. The thing that surprises me is that the last management team were sacked after 3 draws and 4 losses on the bike so why has RS not been asked to leave after 8 losses on the bike? – her contract concludes in 2024 anyhow but maybe it’s time for her to go and we stop this 3-4-3 Conte style of play.


  8. The rest of the season very much falls on the games at home against Leicester Reading and Brighton not all the 4 games mentioned here (as we have lost the first 2 already) … if they gain more points than us then we need to start taing the curtains down and repainting the club house for new tenants.


  9. So the last 2 of the 4 games Rachel mentions are almost upon us.
    Liverpool away (I expect a narrow loss – maybe 1-0 or 2-1), then midweek we have Leicester at home … I hope for a win. (narrow or wide, it does not matter) because the harder games come around again after that. We cannot afford a 10 game loss run and still expect the manager to be still in charge. Not sure evn a draw against Leicester will save her.
    If we lose both, then things will get really difficult, and the mental strength of the side will drop even further as they turn their thoughts (if not already) to what will happen at the end of the season .. will I stay or go.


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