Spurs lost their 9th straight game on Sunday at Liverpool.
The next day the manager, Rehanne Skinner, was removed from her post. Skinner had led the team to its highest ever WSL finish (5th) last season and had done a lot behind the scenes to professionalise and resource the women’s team, but no-one’s going to survive that kind of form. Not with Spurs now sitting just two points off relegation.
This is the story of how we got here.
Before things went off the rails there was Brighton away. Spurs’ biggest ever win in the WSL: 8 goals, five scorers, players coming back from injury. Neville, Naz and Spence each getting a brace. Things had never looked brighter (to make a bad pun).
Before Brighton the season had started with Spurs narrowly beating lower ranked teams (Leicester, Reading, Liverpool), each time playing well in the first halves and fading but hanging on after the break. And there had been games when Spurs had lost decisively without scoring to top four teams (Arsenal and Manchester City). But none of that seemed cause for concern. Spurs were what people expected of them, a mid-table team, that found it difficult to score sometimes.
And then came Brighton. Goals and more goals. Optimism abounded. But instead of it heralding new beginning it turned out to be the end of the beginning.
Maybe the first bad sign came the very next week, with the postponment of the next game up, Everton at home, a game that was billed as the first good test of how Spurs might do against tougher mid-table opposition.
The pitch was waterlogged. Can’t be helped. But so much for momentum. Instead there was an international break and, a few weeks later, momentum gone, Chelsea away.
1: Chelsea Away.
Playing the reigning champions at Stamford Bridge surrounded by hostile fans was never going to be easy. And so it proved. We had no out-and-out striker. Instead Jessica Naz played up front (not her most effective position). There were moments when we were in the game. But Chelsea scored three times in 24 minutes in the first half and that was it. It wasn’t fun. There were signs that the team had regressed in comparison to the two games played against Chelsea at the end of the previous season. But this was Chelsea. There was no real cause for alarm.
2: Reading Away.
This was the first indication that it was not business as usual. Spurs had already played Reading away (in the Conti Cup) and were easily the better team that day, despite letting Reading back into the game in the second half and conceding a penalty in the final minutes.
In this WSL replay things were very different. For the whole first half Reading dominated: they were first to balls and looked more confident and fitter. The goal which sealed a 1-0 loss was, however, a defensive fiasco – the first but by no means the last we have witnessed this season. Becky Spencer made a save and Amy Turner then headed the ball back at her and into goal. Omnishambles.
In the second half, with the introduction of Kerys Harrop and Chioma Ubogagu on the wing Spurs created more chances, but there was no comeback.
3: West Ham at Home.
For the second game in a row, Rehanne Skinner started Rosella Ayane at centre-forward. Spurs played better than against Reading. But as in the previous three outings, could not find the back of the net. Then, just before half time West Ham got a penalty. When they missed it seemed like things might still go Spurs way. Only for the team to concede minutes after half time. As individual players tried to equalise there were a number of shots from distance, but nothing quite worked.
And then, as Spurs pushed up West Ham scored a second almost directly from one of our free kicks, with Cissoko breaking from the half-way line while our centre backs were stranded up the pitch tearing back, and Becky Spencer (in goal) was caught off her line. And that was that. Except that in the rush back to clear Molly Bartrip hurt her wrist.
4: Everton at Home.
Until the game against Liverpool (and for different reasons), this was the nadir.
It was the rearranged game that had initially been scheduled for the week after Spurs played Brighton – a time when everything seemed possible. In the event it was played on a frozen pitch on a snowy Wednesday in December. In case the weather and the timing were not discouragement enough the game coincided with rail strikes and the men’s world cup semi-Final. And so it was that only about 100 fans were there to see Spurs’ season self-destruct.
All the problems that had marked the previous two games surfaced here. Players lacked ideas on the ball, could not move it forward and consistently seemed to be two steps slower than the opposition. Everton scored early and then on 36 minutes keeper, Becky Spencer, attempted to dribble around Jess Park who stole the ball and shot into an empty net. By half time, 2-0 down, it felt over. Spurs had not scored in three games prior to this game and there was little sign that they would here. The manager made substitutions, but little changed.
To make matters worse Jessica Naz, who had come on as substitute for Nikola Karczewska (not up to a full 90 at that point in the season) went off in obvious pain, with an unidentified injury that has kept her out of the team ever since. Then, in injury time Ashleigh Neville dribbled across the front of Spurs’ goal, got pulled back by an Everton player, stayed up but slightly lost control of the ball and in trying to retrieve it slid in on an Everton player receiving a red card. Oh, and Everton scored a third in the 95th minute.
So that was it. In one miserable evening Spurs played horrible football, suffered a humiliating defeat and lost two players (through injury and suspension). Happy Christmas.
5: Aston Villa Away.
This was the start of the new year and the start of hope. Spurs had signed Bethany England. The team had struggled for goals for much of the 2021-22 season and for the first half of the current season (with Karczewska only sometimes available and Kyah Simon injured). So bringing in a prolific goal-scorer was potentially a game-changer.
Surely? After all, the reasoning went: In the previous four games Spurs had not scored, so this must be the solution.
As the game started it seemed like it might be a new Spurs. The team went ahead, against the run of play in the first half. England scored. A goal! It worked.
Then ten minutes later Aston Villa were two one up. Spurs were too easily undone. Kenza Dali, Kirsty Hanson and Villa’s new signing from Arsenal, Jordan Nobbs, were dominating midfield.
Things improved for Spurs in the second half after a couple of enforced changes (notably Kerys Harrop on for Amy Turner, which meant Asmita Ale moved to right back and Harrop went at left back and Eveliina Summanen and Celin Bizet on for Chioma Ubogagu and Cho So-hyun). But there was not another goal.
As the game ended it was hard to know what to think. Maybe there were green shoots (a goal) but clearly there was a way to go.
6: Chelsea at Home.
This game was the second time we played Chelsea in a week. The first, in the Conti Cup, we lost 3-1. This one Spurs lost again: 3-2. But we were in it. Some of the time at least. Especially in comparison to the game back in November when we had no response to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
With a squad that now contained both England and Mana Iwabuchi, on loan from Arsenal, and with Neville back from suspension, this was the game that fans had been waiting for. And, for moments at least, those watching could imagine what might be possible. Passes were effective in progressing the ball. Players found space and found one another in space.
And there were goals. The first showed the potential of a Drew Spence – Beth England combination (with Ash Neville starting the move). But it was not just about England. We got a lovely Eveliina Summanen-Nikola Karczewska combination for the second (reversing the assist-scorer roles they had played in the previous week’s Conti Cup game against London City Lionesses). And with the score at 3-2 watching fans could at least hope for a last minute equaliser.
Not that one came.
7: Manchester United Home
This game both surpassed and then fell short of expectations. Most Spurs fans went in expecting a loss, playing a high-flying United team at the top of the table. So when we went a goal down it was disappointing but not unforeseen. Then the equaliser: Beth England’s glorious solo goal from a cleverly taken quick free kick. We were back in it. Until, only seconds later United went ahead again, Lucia breaking down the right almost from kick-off, crossing the ball and Molly Bartrip, who thought she had Leah Galton on her shoulder, sliding it into the net. Not Molly’s fault. These things happen. But it was a sign of Spurs’ poor game management. Why had they not taken a minute before the restart? How could they switch off?
And then, Manchester United’s Ella Toone got sent off (won’t go into that here because it’s been discussed). With a player advantage and fifteen minutes to play Rehanne Skinner subbed on Angharad James, a defensive midfielder. Why? We had an extra striker on the bench.
So, when the game ended 2-1 it was the hope that made it worse. Of all the games since Christmas this was perhaps the one in which the opportunities were the most obvious. For a draw at least.
8: Manchester City Away
No Bethany England. She had been out with an undisclosed injury the previous week as well and missed a long goalless FA Cup game against Reading that Spurs had (yup) lost on penalties.
After that game there were questions about whether Spurs without England could even score. No one was optimistic. And if Chelsea and United had seemed like uphill battles Manchester City with a Bunny Shaw, Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp frontline seemed a lot. Yes, we had won away at City in last year’s WSL. But we had also been thumped at City in the Conti Cup Semi-Final last spring and had gone on to lose to them at home earlier this season 3-0.
So when Celin Bizet scored on the half hour, coming in late on a Rosella Ayane cross, giving Spurs took the lead, it seemed both miraculous and maybe like history could repeat itself. Until just before half time when Spurs conceded. And then, just after half-time, they conceded again. From 1-0 up on the 45th minute. We were 2-1 down on the 47th.
As the second half continued Spurs had chances but City dominated. And even though there had a been a few opportunities to equalise, Bunny Shaw’s third goal, in the 83rd minute, was not a surprise.
9: Liverpool Away.
This was the end. For Rehanne Skinner at least. Hopefully, it is also the end of the losing run (but that is yet to be seen).
It was clear to everyone that this game would be critical. It was the first since January’s additions of Iwabuchi and England in which Spurs did not face a Top-4 opponent. And while it is understandable to play well and still lose against Manchester City this game was only ever going to be about the result. Moreover, Spurs had beaten Liverpool 1-0 in the reverse fixture, in our only WSL home win so far this season.
As the game kicked off Liverpool dominated, winning challenges, seemingly faster, more technical. Then, as against Villa and Chelsea, Spurs went ahead against the run of play. This time with a Rosella Ayane banger (the kind of goal that – almost – justifies a manager’s otherwise unfathomable trust in a forward who heretofore had two outfield goals in four years at Spurs, and who misplaces passes with depressing regularity).
But that was a false dawn. In under 20 minutes the team were behind. Liverpool scored a ‘lucky’ goal and a potentially ‘offside’ goal. But the result did not feel lucky. Liverpool, like Reading, way back in November, seemed to have Spurs’ number. They were hungrier and better equipped to compete for the ball.
And at the back Spurs’ defence, missing Shelina Zadorsky, and for the first time in months, arranged in a back 4, exposed Amy Turner, who was lucky not to pick up a second yellow after repeatedly tussling with players who seemed able to beat her with ease. Meanwhile the endlessly adaptable Ashleigh Neville looked at times like she thought she was meant to be playing at wing-back, driving forward and then having to chase back, not always successfully. Undoubtedly she wanted to make things happen and felt constrained. Yet it was only when Asmita Ale (criminally under-used) was brought on as an 80-something minute substitute that Neville was pushed forward. Why this move was not made earlier is unclear, given that Neville is one of Spurs’ top scorers this season.
Meanwhile Celin, excellent against Manchester City, was another late substitute. And Eveliina, a key part of our midfield in the games in which Spurs played their best football (Chelsea, Manchester United), returned from suspension as a second half substitute.
And that was that.
After nearly 24 hours of silence, the club posted on its social media accounts that Rehanne Skinner had left the club.
Skinner’s departure is sad. Anyone who followed Spurs last season when she led a team that never gave up and over-performed expectations will have a long-lasting soft spot for her as a manager. Since going she has made a very heartfelt statement about her time at and relationship with the club. There have been messages from players about how much she supported them. And we have repeatedly heard about the changes and professionalisation she fought for and won at Spurs. There is a reason the club was so keen that she extend her contract last summer. Her legacy is going to be felt for a long while.
But the nine losses were bad. They were undoubtedly made worse by injuries and scheduling – and a run of games against big teams at a point at which Spurs were actually improving. But there were mistakes, initially an inability to score and then an inability to hold a lead and there were periods of bad football (the pre-Christmas run; this last game against Liverpool) that were not fun to watch and highlighted a raft of unaddressed issues.
And now Spurs are in a relegation fight.
This is being written on the day of our 6-pointer against Leicester which will either make things much, much worse or provide a small breather. Whichever happens Spurs will now have to face it without Skinner at the helm.
Rachel Lara Cohen @spurswomenblog
3 Replies to “The demise of a manager in 9 games.”
Another great report – well done. For me, yes, RS may well be a lovely person (the mother hen type) and seems great at building a harmonious camp. That may be her forte, but is this enough in today’s WSL? – I do not think so. She needs to develop that winning mentality first and foremost and not so as Camp leader in North London Butlins. Then, if it is true about being at the forefront of sourcing players, then she really is not that good at it. How can she not see the poor quality she inherited and not try to get them out for better. Then, giving extended contacts to some of them because they have been injured – why? This, for sure, is a lovely thing to do but for the team and building a winning squad for top 4 challenger – this is surely counter-productive and delays that build even further (for harmony sake) .. just does’nt make sense. Then her aquisitions … I can only count Clemaron, Celin, Molly, and of coarse Beth (maybe Korps) as good skilled signings. I think Shelina was already here as Captain along with stalwart players Nev and Graham. The rest … yes, the rest have been poor or at best mediocre as I am still on the fence with Spence and Summanen (are they really what we need) so is this good enough?
Getting 5th place was great, but let’s be honest here it came with a lot of luck as we were way off the top in the end, especially with goals scored. Bar, an ageing Williams all the front players before Beth were very poor and are still are (Simon Ayanne Ubogagu Brazil and Tang (left)) as for Nikola who just doesnt look fit enough for the WSL and why I question again what does she look for in a player? Hopefully now we may have done enought to stave off relegation but all depends on the upcoming Reading and Brighton games as many more losses will be coming until the end of the season .. ironically if we win those that would be a respectable 18 points tally. We need a manager with a winning mentality and who knows the players to source in Europe and the US (that is how the others do it) and not keep taking cheap castoffs from other clubs. Hope Powell is not who we should be looking at as I think the game has changed since her glory days – shame but true.