Aston Villa welcomed Tottenham Hotspur to the Banks’s Stadium on Saturday afternoon as match day 14 got underway in the Women’s Super League.
Villa’s Mana Iwabuchi found the back of the net with a fantastic finish from 25 yards out to give her side an early lead inside the opening 15 minutes.
It was arguably their defensive efforts that were the most impressive, though, as they held onto their tight 1-0 lead to walk away with an important three points that moves them up to ninth in the table.
Aston Villa started much brighter than in recent games and held their nerve in the opening 10 minutes as they looked to weather early pressure from the visitors.
With 12 minutes gone on the clock, against the run of play, Iwabuchi picked the ball up 25 yards out and completely unmarked, lifted a fantastic effort into the top corner that left the Spurs keeper, Aurora Mikalsen, with absolutely no chance.
Things then opened as Rehanne Skinner’s side were left searching for an equaliser and Villa carved some openings for themselves as Asmita Ale had a shot blocked by Kerys Harrop and Diana Silva pounced on the loose ball, but her effort was also blocked by the Spurs defence.
Marcus Bignot’s side remained compact, but Spurs came close to drawing level as a short corner was played to Kit Graham, who’s shot was deflected fractionally wide.
Despite the mounting pressure, Villa dealt with Spurs’ threat exceptionally well as the first half drew to a close, but with just one goal separating the sides, the hosts still had it all to do in the second half.
Skinner made a double change at the break, replacing Rianna Dean and Angela Addison with Rosella Ayane and Jessica Naz.
The changes nearly paid off for the Lilywhites as Lisa Weiss was called into action twice in the early stages of the second half, with Ayane sending a cross into the box in which was initially spilled by the goalkeeper, but quickly reclaimed before a Tottenham player could reach the loose ball.
Villa remained a threat as an onrushing Diana Silva collided with Mikalsen to win a free-kick on the edge of the penalty box on 66 minutes.
Iwabuchi stepped over it, but was unable to make anything of it as her cross floated straight out for a goal kick.
With 10 minutes to play, Jodie Hutton was on the turf requiring treatment and Bignot summoned his players, “Nobody’s tired, it’s all in your head” was the message as they looked to hold on to their lead.
The words a clear indicator of the sheer effort put in by every single player across the 90 minutes, but with eight additional minutes added at the end of the second-half, Villa had to dig deep to see the game out.
Deep into stoppage time Spurs’ Cho So-Hyun nearly found an equaliser on her debut as she was unmarked in the box, a clear opportunity, but her effort was fired over the bar.
A late free kick gave Skinner’s side one last chance to level the score-line, but Shelina Zadorsky’s cross into the box went straight into the safe hands of Weiss and the final whistle closely followed.
What a day +3 points & professional debut for the club I’ve grown up supporting UTV https://t.co/Fb739FP3qf— Freya Gregory (@FreyaGregory11) February 6, 2021
Every game and every point is crucial for Villa with how tight the bottom half of the table is, and Bristol City’s convincing victory over Brighton last weekend only put more pressure on the Villans.
“I said to the players beforehand, let’s embrace the situation we’re in. Bristol City have won, let’s embrace it,” Bignot said, speaking on City’s upturn in form.
“One or two would say it’s squeaky bum time because they’ve closed the gap. We’re in a relegation battle, we know that.”
“We’ve known that all season. Bristol City know they are. But I always knew they’d gain momentum with Matt Beard.”
“The win [against Brighton] didn’t surprise me. Them getting into the Conti Cup final didn’t surprise me.”
“I think Bristol City are going to be alright. But we’re looking ahead. Instead of looking at their result, we knew that if we beat Tottenham, we’re only two points behind them.”
“And that brings Tottenham into it. So, the more teams we can bring into it, the better for us.”
“We’ll embrace it, but the situation won’t define us. We want to finish as high as possible and if we close the gap on Tottenham, and that’s a small gap, I don’t think we’ll get relegated.”
There’s no rest for Villa though as they are back in action on Wednesday night with Birmingham City being the next challenge for Bignot’s side to overcome.