I was on a bit of a spying mission Sunday. Whilst the West Ham Ladies were adding more misery to Swindon Town Ladies already miserable season halfway down the M4, I had opted to travel to Borehamwood for the chance to see at first hand, the difference in the standard of football between WSL1 and the WPL and also to keep tabs on Charlton Women, our opponents in the, wait for it, good move.co.uk Bostik Isthmian League Cup Final (invitational). (The trophy must be quite large to fit all that on it).

It was the Women’s FA cup quarter final between Arsenal Ladies and Charlton Women. Charlton the top team in the WPL were up against one of the top ladies’ teams period, boasting the likes of ex-England international Alex Scott as their captain, Jordan Nobbs in midfield and a whole host of other players who were really good but I didn’t recognise any of them. For Charlton,Kit Graham was making her 200th appearance and looking for her 184th goal, Charlotte Gurr (ex-West Ham) who was scoring for fun, and in goal under 19 England international Katie Startup.

                                    

Ex-West Ham manager James Marrs was there as part of the Charlton coaching staff and it was clear to see his influence on the style of play, playing it out from the back…. no hoofing. It was good to see ex-West Ham player Samantha Miller in her media role. I hadn’t seen her since she’d successfully swapped her boots for a microphone and it was also good to catch up with ex-West Ham Ladies midfielder Kat Clifton who since leaving the club had started She Can Play, a club that encourages girls of all ages to play football. (She’s been on the BBC and everything….)

It was a grand occasion, a big crowd, the usual suspects photographers (not me… proper ones) a queue at the burger stall (always a good sign) and a trophy was on display. I’m not sure which one. I suppose I should’ve asked. Maybe they were showing off the one they’d just won. Arsenal had a very partizan crowd cheer led by a vociferous young lady who showed no signs of letting up for the whole 90 minutes. The Strepsil sponsored yeller belted out a rousing chant after chant, although she might want to cut down on the ‘Come on the Red Army’ one, taking into consideration the current political climate.

Having never seen a WSL1 team up close I’d imagined that the players were going to be bigger physically than lower division ones. Whilst on the West Ham Ladies European tour, I’d seen that the two top European sides they played were quite Amazonian-ish in their a physical presence, however the Arsenal side were more of an average build , some bordering on the petite. The difference? ..they play the game at supersonic speed, always moving, always thinking, always probing and if they lose possession, they get it back pretty sharpish, which makes it seem as if they have 15 players on the pitch.
Charlton, probably for the first time this season, set up defensively hoping for a swift counter with Graham playing the lone striker role.. Even Gurr found herself playing defensive mid (which she was rather good at). It would have be foolhardy to go toe to toe with Arsenal as Tottenham Ladies found out at their peril last season, losing 10-0.

Charlton seemed to let the occasion get to them in the opening minutes, being closed down every ball and when they did have the ball they couldn’t find their passes. Strangely it was the 4th minute penalty that they conceded that settled their nerves, and from that moment they began to believe in themselves, and made it very difficult for Arsenal to break them down. The quality and fitness of the WSL1 side shone through though in the end, Charlton not really having a shot on target, their only half chances coming from corners, and the home side claiming a 5-0 victory.

It turned out that the match was a mirror of West Ham’s against Swindon, Swindon being the team defending for their lives, being only 1-0 down at the break then succumbing to a second half onslaught, Kelly Wealthall scoring the 100th goal that Swindon have conceded in the league this season.

So what did I learn then on my spying mission? Well the great run West Ham Ladies are currently on will count for nothing against teams like Arsenal. With the imminent leap frog into WSL1 they will have to continue evolving involving high calibre players along the way. With the start of the new season only four months away a lot of work will have to be done or maybe the UEL could offer free degrees to international superstars.
My attempted sussing out of the opposition for Wednesday’s goodmove.co.uk Bostik Isthmian League Cup Final (invitational) was a tad fruitless as I’m pretty sure that Charlton will set up quite differently compared to their pragmatic approach at Arsenal.

The final promises to be a humdinger of an affair with both sides in a great vein of form, both sides making mincemeat of the rest of the competition’s opponents and in their two league meetings they have one win apiece.

The Road to Wembley Aveley

Worthing Ladies 0 v 2 West Ham Ladies Charlton Women 22 v 0 Tonbridge Angels
Margate Ladies 0 v 13 West Ham Ladies Enfield Ladies 0 v 6 Charlton Women
Whyteleafe Lds 0 v 4 West Ham Ladies Burgess Hill ? v ? Charlton Women

It appears that both teams had a cakewalk to the final. The real mystery is how Charlton’s semi final was decided. Burgess Hill were supposed to host the game but were plagued by postponements and maybe ran out of time for the deciding tie. There is no mention of a result on either team’s websites. Did they draw straws? Toss a coin? Have a game of Subbuteto? Maybe the sponsors felt that it would be a good move to put Charlton into the final? Very strange. I have googled until the cows came home and can find not one piece of information on this…..

I expect Charlton to revert to two up front, and the system that has seen them top the league for most of the season. The big loss for Charlton is Katie Startup, who put in an excellent performance at Arsenal, as she is on England under19 international duty.

West ham Ladies will probably keep the team that played at Swindon continuing up front with the precocious young talent Kelly Weathall, consigning 2 goal hero Molly Peters from the Valley victory to the bench. Cara Connatser will probably keep her keeper place, yet to have to make a save after her first two games for the Hammers. West Ham Ladies may switch from their 4-5-1 formation to a 5-4-1 with full backs Auguste and Mackie going forward when the opportunity arises, but expect a very cagey opening 45 minutes.
The weather forecast is basically rain… the same conditions that West Ham Ladies won at the Valley in.

As omens go, that isn’t the worst one you can have…

My prediction West Ham Ladies to win after extra time and penalties.

Post Script

My comment about whether they decided the semi final by playing a game of Subbuteo got me thinking, as a supporter of the Women’s game, and how far the sport had come in recent years, whether it was possible to purchase Subbuteto female teams. So I googled. No joy. Then I found a site Subbuteoworld, dedicated to keeping the table top game alive. And they did sell female figures…………

SUPERB NEW STREAKER SET THAT CAN BE USED AS AN IMPORTANT TACTICAL PART OF YOUR GAME OR JUST AS A GREAT NOVELTY ITEM. AT ANY TIME DURING A MATCH THE DEFENDING PLAYER CAN SHOUT “STREAKER” AND THEN PLACE THE FIGURE IN THEIR PENALTY AREA – A FULL SET OF INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO USE YOUR STREAKER AND POLICE OFFICERS ARE INCLUDED. YOU GET ONE FEMALE STREAKER, 2 POLICE OFFICERS AND A SET OF RULES IN EACH SET, HOUSED IN A DISPLAY BOX.

 

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry……….

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