Welcome to Full Time, The Athletic’s women’s football column, a one-stop shop every Monday to discuss the big issues in the game.
Spurs showcase youth in seven-goal epic
As the wind-battered West Ham United’s home, the Chigwell Construction Stadium in Dagenham, Tottenham Hotspur triumphed in a thriller, ending 4-3, which delivered everything you would want from a Sunday night game under the lights: incredible finishing, unusual defending and a controversial goal.
The goals by Tottenham manager Robert Vilahamn’s side were all created by or scored by players who were 23 or under, showing off the youthful nature of his exciting team.
Tottenham were looking to follow up their first-ever North London derby win against Arsenal (1-0) from before the winter break with another positive result, and despite being pegged back from 1-0 to 1-1 and 3-1 to 3-3, 23-year-old Jessica Naz’s 75th-minute winner secured all three points.
The win and impressive nature of the finishes are evidence of Tottenham’s direction, with Manchester United loanee Grace Clinton in particular being the star of the show. The 20-year-old midfielder has impressed in all aspects of her game this season, but scoring her third and fourth WSL goals highlighted her quality in finishing.
Clinton opened the scoring after only six minutes but it was her assist in the 43rd minute for Tottenham’s second that stole the show: a wonderfully weighted pass for 22-year-old Celin Bizet to run on to and finish. Though many felt that Clinton’s second goal in the 48th minute should have been disallowed due to defender Amy Turner being in an offside position in front of Hammers goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold, no one could question the sheer quality of the finish.
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Spurs manager Vilahamn has repeatedly said the club want to steer clear of loan signings as they build a dedicated squad, but Clinton is one of the exceptions as her talent is worth breaking a rule for. When asked post-match if there was the possibility of Clinton staying, Vilahamn was clear.
“I would be stupid to not want to keep her here but she is a United player and I am developing their player. At the moment I am happy as we get to work with her, but she will go back there at the end of the season… Unless we find some way to sign her.”
The successes of youngsters such as forwards Bizet and Naz show what Tottenham are building. This result, in combination with United’s 3-1 loss to Chelsea and Liverpool’s 5-1 loss to Manchester City, leave them level on points (18) with United and Liverpool, having already equalled last season’s total at the halfway point of the season.
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Brighton required a 95th-minute Elisabeth Terland winner to take all three points over bottom-placed Bristol City in a result which demonstrated the latter’s resilience, despite failing to take anything from this match.
Terland, the 22-year-old Norway international, put Brighton ahead in the 31st minute before Bristol striker Abi Harrison brought the teams level in the 55th minute. England midfielder Katie Robinson scored again for Brighton two minutes later but Carrie Jones’ equaliser appeared to have landed the Robins a crucial point.
That was until Terland struck again to ensure her side took all three back to the South Coast. Terland is now the WSL’s third-top goalscorer (nine goals).
Player of the week
With striker Sam Kerr set to be unavailable for the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury sustained earlier this month, Chelsea have needed someone else to step up, and against United, Lauren James took that role with aplomb. The 22-year-old forward scored a hat-trick against her former club as part of a top-four clash that manager Emma Hayes deemed Chelsea’s “best performance of the season”.
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It means that James has now scored as many WSL goals in her last five appearances (nine) as she has in her previous 40, with her composure in front of goal only growing. She is the WSL’s second-top goalscorer (10) sitting two behind Manchester City’s Khadija Shaw. This season, James has scored more goals at Stamford Bridge than any other Chelsea player (men’s or women’s).
James played both in her preferred No 10 role and as a No 9 later on in the game, scoring from both positions. Chelsea will hope she can continue her run of form in Kerr’s absence.
Moment of the week
Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema made her first league start for over a year as her side defeated Everton 2-1. There were some classy moments from the WSL all-time leading goalscorer despite Arsenal making life difficult for themselves.
Having taken an early lead through forward Caitlin Foord in the 9th minute, a Katja Snoejis equaliser in the 24th minute reinvigorated Everton before Beth Mead put Arsenal ahead just before half-time. Arsenal were unable to add to their tally creating some nervous moments as Everton pushed on towards the end but it was a comfortable victory for manager Jonas Eidevall’s side.
Goal of the week
You wait eight seasons to score a WSL goal and then suddenly two come along at once.
Liverpool defender Taylor Hinds followed up her first WSL goal against United on December 17 with an absolute rocket against City to give her side an early lead. Despite the quality of Hinds finish — taking full advantage of goalkeeper Khiara Keating coming off her line —the 24-year-old was unable to inspire Liverpool to victory, which would have taken them fourth.
— Barclays Women’s Super League (@BarclaysWSL) January 21, 2024
Instead, an own goal from former City player Gemma Bonner, a Chloe Kelly penalty and a Shaw hat-trick secured City 5-1 win and an extension to their WSL winning run to five matches, with 21 goals scored across those games.
What’s up next?
Most sides this week are in Continental Cup action as the group stage wraps up. All eyes will be on the Manchester derby with United currently topping that group although both teams are likely to qualify for the quarter-finals as a best second placed side.
Chelsea meanwhile host Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night as they look to confirm their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. A win would do it, whilst a win and a draw in the other match would see them confirmed as group winners.
(Top photo: Harriet Lander – Chelsea FC via Getty Images)