On Saturday Albion travelled to the midlands to face Aston Villa, their first WSL game since losing to Leicester three weeks ago. And with Saturday afternoon also seeing bottom placed Leicester in action, this would be a big day in this season’s relegation battle.
Despite that crushing defeat to Leicester last time out and getting only two WSL wins so far this season, the new Brighton manager Jen Scheuer appears to have gained a renewed sense of optimism. With the manager saying pre-match: “Every day I can work with my girls are exciting days, every day I am really happy to be here, because I see a team that is willing to be better and that makes me happy.”
There was a first start for Rebekah Stott in the WSL since 2020, after scoring the opening goal in last weekend’s 7-0 FA Cup win over West Brom. A match which was Stott’s first start in any competition for the club since her diagnosis of stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and subsequent remission.
Stott re-joined the club last year after leaving in 2021 to return to Australia for treatment. And its little surprise that her return to the side has seen a stiffening up of Albion’s backline.
Whilst Albion have struggled at the wrong end of the table this season, opponents Villa have started the season strongly, including notable wins over both Man City and Man United, and were sitting in 6th place, which represents a serious improvement on their 11th and 9th placed finishes in the previous two seasons respectively.
And looking at the line up pre-match you could see why. It was intimidatingly strong, including Lionesses Jordan Nobbs and Rachel Daly.
So, it should have come as no surprise that Villa controlled early proceedings. However, they were limited mostly to long range efforts early on. And just when it looked like Albion were getting a foothold on the game, Villa took a somewhat fortuitous lead.
A short corner routine from Villa saw the ball floated all the way to the far post after Albion ‘keeper Megan Walsh failed to get anything on the cross, ultimately ricocheting in off an unsuspecting Kayleigh Green to give the home side the lead. It’s been that kind of season for Albion…
In the end, that Albion managed to get to half time just 1-0 down was a huge positive. And in part thanks to some fortune that Kirsty Hanson failed to turn in a menacing Rachel Daly cross, along with a number of important saves from Megan Walsh, including turning a Kenza Dali shot onto the bar.
As the second half began, the unfortunate Green along with Danielle Carter (who’d largely been a spectator given the dominance of Villa in the first half), were replaced by Emma Kullberg and Veatriki Sarri to switch Albion from a 343 to a 4231, with manager Jen Scheuer saying after the game he asked his team to be “more brave”.
Sarri in particular made a noticeable impact, forcing a useful save from Hannah Hampton, after her deflected shot appeared to be heading for the top corner. But as the second half continued, Albion were still having to hang on in there.
Villa’s quality was showing. But not enough to kill off the game. Rachel Daly uncharacteristically missed two good chances. The first volleying a simple chance over the bar from six yards. The second running onto a ball played in behind the Albion defence, but failing to beat Walsh in a one-on-one, who blocked her tame effort.
And with 15 minutes to go, Albion made Villa pay for all those missed chances, when Julia Zigiotti Olme pounced to put Albion level on the rebound.
An initial attempt from Veatriki Sarri, one-on-one with the Villa keeper Hampton, was well saved, but the loose ball was not dealt with by the Villa defence. Katie Robinson pounced to win it back, playing it into the path of Zigiotti Olme, who drew Albion level. Her first goal for the club since joining just over a year ago.
And that’s how it ended. It’s massive goal in Albion’s season that secures a vital point, one which didn’t look like it was coming for long periods.
Given Albion’s poor defensive record this season and Villa’s overall control of the game, keeping the home side down to just one goal is also a huge positive to take forward.
In particular, this was credit to another fantastic game from Megan Walsh, who at times kept Brighton in it. She could have done better with the cross for Villa’s goal, but her supreme shot-stopping abilities were on show for all to see. Once again showing why she’s made the most saves in the WSL since it began, and for my money, is one of the best shot stoppers in the women’s game.
With Walsh’s competition for the number one jersey, Australia international goalkeeper Lydia Williams, signed from PSG last month, making the goalkeeper position at Albion one to keep an eye on.
It was a performance from Albion, which BBC Sport described as “Gutsy”, but also admitted: “this was a largely uninspiring display, but as long as they pick up gifted points as they did here, they can avoid dropping into the Championship.” A statement as damning of Albion’s season so far as it is reassuring, for a club with stated ambition of becoming challengers at the other end of the table.
Jens Scheuer was more positive in his post-match comments. Whilst admitting that the home side were the better team in the first half, he stated this was without creating “really big chances.” And after that tactical switch at half time he said, “the girls did really, really well. I saw an Albion team which were in the second half the better team, and for me the point is really deserved.”
This game certainly did demonstrate evidence of the work the team has been doing on the training ground to improve its defensive record. Albion gave away fewer chances, limited the opposition to lesser opportunities, and the draw was a just reward for all that hard work.
This was a point they didn’t look like getting for long periods of the game, but a result that lifts them five points above bottom placed Leicester, who lost 2-0 at home to Man City.
In a league where there’s only 12 teams, and only one relegation spot this was a hugely important set of result for Albion. With any points won away from home always being particularly crucial.
It’s a result that puts Albion above Reading and up into 10th. There is still a long way to go, but you wonder if Leicester have left themselves with too much to do to catch Albion now, even after their win at the King Power last time out.