With England’s national men’s team slinking home at the group stages of this summer’s World Cup, and no current claret-and-blue representatives in any of the recent squads from under-16s to senior level, perhaps it’s time for patriotic Villa fans to turn our attention to the Ladies' team.
I discovered this week that eight of our players, four of whom are regulars for the first team in the FA Women’s Super League 2, have been involved with their England age groups over the past few months.
At under-17 level, Mollie Rouse, Lucy Porter and Danielle Farey appeared for their country in the UEFA Development Tournament in April.
All three were involved as England faced Poland, Denmark and Switzerland, and they’ll hopefully be off to Sweden this month too as the under-17s take on Iceland, Holland and the hosts at the Nordic Cup.
In addition, this week both the England under-19 and -20 squads were named for their respective Euro and World Cup tournaments this summer, and there will be three Villa Ladies competing in each.
Elisha N’Dow, Sarah Mayling (both 17) and Maddy Cusack, 18, will be travelling to Norway this month to take on Sweden, Republic of Ireland and Spain in the UEFA Women’s U19 Championship.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Caitlin Leach and 19-year-old Sherry McCue have been included in the under-20 squad for the World Cup this August.
They’ll be pitted against South Korea, Mexico and Nigeria in Group C over in Canada.
Abbeyleigh Stringer, too, was named amongst them, and although the 19-year-old has this week moved to Birmingham City Ladies after seeing first-team opportunities limited following injury, she graduated through Villa’s Centre of Excellence and had been at the club for five years.
All three Ladies were also called up to the under-23s last month as head coach Mo Marley used fixtures against Norway and Sweden to prepare for the under-20 tournament.
With only three FAWSL starts between them so far, I’ve not seen much of Stringer or N'Dow, so hopefully both highly-rated talents will feature more often for their clubs in the coming weeks.
Leach and McCue, on the other hand, have started every game for the Ladies this season, while Cusack and Mayling have appeared in all nine fixtures in some capacity.
In the absence of Dani Petrovic, McCue has also taken the captain’s armband in the Ladies’ last three fixtures, taking on the role admirably.
Both she and Leach have really impressed me so far.
McCue is all work and no nonsense, a well-oiled midfield engine who isn’t afraid to get stuck in.
Oh - and she can also do this!
And Leach, at the tender age of 17, has consistently performed beyond her years between the sticks, pulling off some impressive stops at crucial times for her team.
It will undoubtedly be a massive blow to manager Ron Mellor and head coach Joe Hunt to lose all five over the course of two months this summer, but it will also present opportunities for more up-and-coming Villa stars to shine.
Young goalkeeper Jess Myers, who joined the club last week, will be aiming to step in for Leach, while the likes of Emma Chatterton and Abbie Horton will be pushing to build on their single substitute appearance this season - with the aforementioned Rouse, Porter and Farey waiting in the wings.
There are also some familiar faces from the development team included in this weekend’s first team squad to face Bristol Academy Women.
Emma Baptiste-Pilkington (the 17-year-old cousin of Tash Baptiste), Leanne Bryant, Chloe Harper and Amy West all starred for the title-winning under-17s side, who sealed the championship with victory over Birmingham at the end of May, and will be vying for their first FAWSL appearance today.
The Ladies kick off their Continental Cup fixture away at Bristol at 6pm, targeting their first points in the competition.
After ending the first half of the season unbeaten in two following a draw at Yeovil Town Ladies and a fantastic win at home to Millwall Lionesses, Villa returned to FAWSL action a week ago but were unlucky to lose 3-1 to Reading Women.
It’ll be a tricky tie for Villa, as Bristol currently sit third in League 1, but Hunt is looking for a positive response to counter such a disappointing result last weekend.