Aston Villa Women FC have started the season in the best possible fashion - by winning their first three games.
The latest match in this winning streak was against Blackburn Rovers at Villa Park - and Villa started as they meant to go on. Almost instantly Melissa Johnson was released through on goal with a smart pass but the Blackburn Goalkeeper - Stenson - was able to pull off a fine save to deny the Villa forward at close range.
Villa played out from the back - and with thought. A number of left-wing combinations released Melissa Johnson and Emma Follis - with the former creating scoring chances and the latter spraying out passes. Blackburn in the early stages of the game had no answer after a bright start. Villa’s midfield giveaways were retrieved by Sian Rogers in goal who was unafraid to leave her area.
Aston Villa Women’s dictation of the tempo and momentum of the game in the early stages was exemplified by Natalie Haigh’s tackle on the brink of the 15th minute. Haigh, sensing the counter-attack, launched a gut-busting sprint and threw herself into a sliding challenge. She took a knee and a boot to the face - but destroyed a clear chance for the opposition.
Melissa Johnson was able to reward Villa’s work with a 27th minute goal - after Marisa Ewers held up the ball and whipped it into the goalmouth. Johnson’s easiest bit of effort on the day was to tap it home past Stenson and open up the scoring.
Villa almost followed up with Elisa N’Dow and Emma Follis taking turns to spray at goal from long range before Blackburn Rovers found a massive chance with cavernous space opening up in the middle of the AVWFC defence, but Sian Rogers stepped up to save in the face of goal.
Villa’s front four of Haywood, Follis, Johnson and West combined and rotated with delight - and Rovers’ only answer for it was the goalkeeper, Stenson. Marisa Ewers was able to finish after work from the forwards, tapping in past Stenson with the help of a small deflection.
Rovers were able to bring a goal back moments later as Alex Taylor caught Sian Rogers out of position and executed a deft chip to respond to Ewers’ goal with instant impact. It was somewhat of an outlier for the game as Rovers had been unable to press Villa with any result or reward - with Villa Women owning the match, and the match ball, throughout the game. Rovers continued to grow, though, and seemed to offer a more serious threat than their first half-performance.
Villa responded by turning on the style. After surviving a few Blackburn attacks, Mel Johnson was able to force Fran Stenson into yet another save. Follis was able to find substitute Shania Hayles with a deep cross after Ella Franklin’s jinxing run into the wing. Hayles trapped the ball superbly before firing straight at the keeper. Amy West then queued up a shot, which trickled wide. Kerri Welsh, coming on as a substitute for Johnson, was the next to take a last-gasp shot with Villa 2-1 up. It came to nothing. Fran Stenson was able to save Rovers once more with a fantastic save to tip the shot onto the post.
Blackburn Rovers threw everything into a 95th minute set-piece showcase - with three corners hitting Aston Villa. Sian Rogers was able to save a point-blank header from the final corner to signal the whistle and three points for Aston Villa. Rovers will be left to ponder that chance.
With this dominant display, Aston Villa Women have won three games out of a possible three - showcasing their incredible fight to comeback from defeat in the first two, before executing a possession game to suffocate Blackburn in this latest matchup. Head Coach Gemma Davies has gotten her message across and this Aston Villa side are ready to battle for promotion.
Villa currently share the top spot with Durham, who have also enjoyed three wins out of three - and the two teams play each other soon in the WSL Cup before a league match in Boldmere in October. It’ll certainly be a battle.