Beth England gives Tottenham vital win against Leicester in WSL | Women’s Super League
It was less a new-manager bounce and more a new-manager whimper, but Beth England’s stunning second-half goal earned Tottenham a critical three points in a scrappy contest with Leicester City, last in the WSL.
Spurs’ first league win since 30 October has lifted them five points clear of Leicester, with Reading and Brighton in between.
Willie Kirk had described the trip to Tottenham as the “biggest game of the season”, with Leicester having earned seven points in their last five games to claw themselves closer to safety.
That Tottenham’s manager Rehanne Skinner was sacked before this fixture, following nine successive league defeats, spoke to the heightened fear that Leicester might escape the drop. With three-quarters of the season gone, dispatching a well-liked manager is a risk, but with the Spurs players looking rudderless it made sense too. It means that assistant manager Vicky Jepson has the unenviable task of trying to provide enough direction to avoid relegation and, although she now has a first win under her belt, there was significant room for improvement.
Looking at the dugouts in this key game you could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu. Kirk’s first game in charge of her former club Everton was played against Jepson’s Liverpool. Then, derby bragging rights were at stake. This time though, with WSL survival on the line, the stakes were arguably higher.
Kirk had said he wanted his players “to be brave from the first minute” and while the opening period was cagey from both sides, Leicester provided moments of positive play. Within minutes Leicester’s Kerys Harrop sent a weak header into the arms of Tinja-Riikka Korpela, while Drew Spence and Ash Neville both conceded fouls in dangerous areas which the Foxes failed to capitalise on.
Tottenham settled into the half but struggled to carve out clean chances for their forward Beth England, with Leicester’s defence well organised. Against bigger teams, Leicester have been punished for an attempt to be bold and play on the front foot, with an 8-0 drubbing by Chelsea and 5-1 defeat to Manchester City a sign of the gaps that are left when they push forward. However, the risk of a similar scenario was low at Brisbane Road, with Spurs struggling to make the attack click.
Jepson swapped Nikola Karczewska for Arsenal loanee Mana Iwabuchi at the break in a bid to reconnect the front and midfield but they could not stop momentum swinging Leicester’s way. An impressive save by Korpela from a Hannah Cain effort was the highlight of a strong spell from the visiting team, but Spurs hit back instantly, with England sending a sublime strike curling over Janina Leitzig and into the top right-hand corner.
Despite Spurs taking the lead, Leicester continued to threaten. No team has dropped more points – nine – from winning positions in the WSL this season than Spurs. Liverpool’s 2-1 win after Rosella Ayane had given them the lead in their last outing provided Leicester with a timely reminder of that fragility.
Increasingly though, Spurs began to threaten. Celin Bizet should have extended the lead after she was played through by Ayane and rounded Leitzig but she fired into the side-netting, while Ayane failed to get her effort on target after she stumbled through with just Leitzig to beat with five minutes remaining.
Tottenham can take heart from a vital win after a difficult few days but with Arsenal up next in 10 days’ time the race is on for Jepson to turn a disjointed side into a team capable of ruining Arsenal’s title and Champions League aspirations.