‘It is the intimacy that is very often missing in the men’s game, but so prominent in the women’s.’
As the Women’s Super League 2 drew to a close, Aston Villa Ladies hosted their first ever competitive match at Villa Park for the season finale.
It has been an inconsistent year for the Ladies, as the nature of fixtures and injuries to key players have hampered their progression.
However, they will be looking to make in roads in the second division of women’s football when it resumes in September of next year.
Aston Villa Ladies 1-2 Sheffield FC Ladies
The Ladies suffered a narrow defeat at home to Sheffield Ladies as Chloe Jones got on the scoresheet.
The claret and blues got off to a good lead, as Jones’ 25th minute header put them up 1-0 in deserved fashion. Merrick turned provider after scoring in the last game against London Bees, which ended 1-1, whipping in a fine cross, too appetizing for Chloe Jones to miss.
Just 10 minutes later, Jodie Michalska equalised from three yards out. Before a blast from Villa’s past was on hand to succumb the Ladies to defeat. Sherry McCue, former Villa captain, netted the winner.
Oxford United Women 0-1 Aston Villa Ladies
Kerri Welsh ensured Villa got back to winning ways, after going three games without a victory, with a second half header against Oxford United.
Villa had the lion share of possession and chances, with Chloe Jones being unfortunate as she failed to net two in two, as her long-range effort was just too high as she saw it drop onto the roof of the goal.
Tash Baptiste, who has been leading the line in the absence of Katie Wilkinson, delightful flicked on to Amy West whose shot drifted wide of the post.
The claret and blues took a deserved lead nine minutes into the second period with Welsh heading home Baptiste’s knock-on. Oxford couldn’t produce a response, with Villa going home with three points.
Millwall Lionesses 2-2 Aston Villa Ladies
Left-back Hannah George nodded home to snatch a point after Millwall had twice led in the penultimate game of the season.
The Londoners led at half-time as Amber Gaylor fired inside Jess Myers’ goal, yet Villa brought it back 10 minutes after the restart when Merrick equalised with a stunning 25-yard strike.
However, the hosts were ahead again when Megan Wynne nodded home from six yards.
But Villa levelled a second time when Jade Richards nodded Merrick’s free-kick back across goal for George to head in and steal a point in the 89th minute.
Villa Ladies Take Centre Stage at Villa Park
Aston Villa Ladies 4-0 Watford Ladies
Cruising to an emphatic 4-0 victory over Watford Ladies, in their first ever game at Villa Park, over 1,000 supporters turned up to see the Ladies finish their season in style.
It was a stark comparison to the game held at Villa Park the previous day, as the men beat Blackburn 2-1. There were no moans and groans, and the stadium was devoid of any boos with only positivity in the air.
It’s a close-knit group; from the players to the manager, to the supporters in the stands – everyone knows everyone. With the Aston Villa Ladies die-hard fans in tow, the atmosphere was that of celebration. From their usual chants of “Boom, pow Elisha N’Dow” and “Joe Hunt’s claret and blue army”, they kept the crowd and the players entertained.
It is the intimacy that is very often missing in the men’s game, but so prominent in the women’s.
Captain Beth Merrick opened the scoring for Villa with her eighth goal of the season, a powerful shot from the outside of the area, putting the claret and blues 1-0 up going into half-time.
Two quick fire goals after the restart from Lucy Shepherd and Tash Baptiste put them in the driving seat, as they dominated proceedings.
In the final five minutes, Beth Merrick’s 40-yard free-kick was deflected in for the fourth, rounding off an outstanding 4-0 thrashing to end their season in style.
Joe Hunt Impressed
“It was a great way to end our season with four goals, a clean sheet and playing in front of more than a 1000 people at one of the top ten stadiums in the country,” head coach Joe Hunt said following the game.
“We asked the question whether we could stage a game here and the club were very positive. It’s something we may look to repeat in the future.
“We have worked very hard this season – without quite getting to where we want to be – but this was a nice reward.
“It’s good for ladies football and the Super League in general to stage a game here.
“We’ve got a number of keen Villa supporters in our squad such as Amy West, Sarah Mayling and Katie Wilkinson, so this was a particularly memorable day for them.”
Next Season’s Plans
After finishing this season in sixth, the Ladies will have been disappointed to have not be challenging for promotion right until the end, which had been the aim from the beginning of the season.
Speaking about future plans, Hunt said: “We’ve had three Super League seasons of being middle of the table, the next season needs to see Aston Villa Ladies seriously challenging for promotion.”
Of course, with the changes to the Women’s Super League, the Ladies have got longer to wait until they can push for WSL 1 again.
The league will now be played alongside the traditional football calendar, from September until May each season.
The change in format has been introduced to increase player welfare, further grow and develop the league and attendances, address issues around fixture congestion and planning and provide the platform for a winning England team.
Player of the Season
It would be unfair to even look past Beth Merrick. It wouldn’t be the first time that MOMS have sung the midfielder’s praises, as she’s come to fruition as the season has progressed.
In the absence of skipper Katy Moran, Merrick has had to step up to the plate having been handed the captain’s armband by Joe Hunt. As one of the youngest in the squad, she has had to show maturity beyond her years when leading out the team – a quality that should not go unnoticed.
Not only is she a technically gifted winger, she possesses versatility; a characteristic that is admired throughout the Ladies side at Aston Villa.
Known for her jinking runs and pinpoint delivery, she has been a vital player to Villa’s season scoring eight goals this term, making her joint top scorer alongside Katie Wilkinson.
If Merrick continues in this vein of form next season, you would hope Villa can maintain their form as a team and look to win promotion to WSL 1.
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