The 2020/21 season will draw to a close in a months time and it remains incredibly tight at both the top and bottom of the Women’s Super League table.
Chelsea and Manchester City are both in contention to be crowned champions with only two points separating the sides.
They are set to face each other later this month in what could be a deciding fixture in the title race.
But, at the bottom of the table, Aston Villa Women find themselves in a relegation battle alongside rivals Birmingham City, West Ham and Bristol City.
The Villans currently sit bottom, a point behind Bristol City, with two games in hand after a number of fixtures were postponed earlier in the season.
The decisive fixtures
Despite losing five out of their last five, it can be argued that Marcus Bignot’s side have endured a grueling run of games in recent weeks.
Villa have lost to Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton since the end of February and even though they beat Brighton back in November, Hope Powell’s side were a different animal when they made the trip to the Midlands on March 17.
Now, as preparations are underway for the remaining five games of the season, only one of those fixtures is against a league heavyweight.
Before travelling to Arsenal on the last day of the season, Villa will face West Ham both home and away, Birmingham City away and Bristol City at home.
With four games against teams in the relegation fight, each will feel like a six pointer as only three points separate Villa in 12th and Birmingham City in ninth.
“We’re taking steps forward and then getting sucker-punched."— Aston Villa Women (@AVWFCOfficial) April 6, 2021
"We’re going to do everything it takes to ensure we maintain our @BarclaysFAWSL status.”
A season of challenge and change
Promotion at the best of times is difficult, whilst most players dream of playing in the top flight, with that comes the pressure of facing teams that boast some of the most talented players in the world that can easily put six or seven past you.
As Villa have learned on occasions this season.
Despite the fact they picked up wins against Brighton, Bristol City and Tottenham earlier in the campaign, as well as a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Reading - the Villans have more often been on the wrong end of some disappointing results.
As the difficulties of life at the top of the football pyramid became clear, a managerial change was needed to bring some much needed experience to a squad still trying to find their feet.
With Gemma Davies deservedly still in the long-term plans for the club, Bignot was brought in at the end of January as interim manager, to lead the squad alongside the current coaching staff.
The improvements became apparent straight away, but with a tough run of fixtures, the progress wasn’t reflected in results.
Now, it’s time for that to change.
The teams around them are getting better, Villa need to prove they are too
It wasn’t just the Midlands club that made changes to their coaching set up, both Bristol City and West Ham appointed new managers at points this season.
Matt Beard left his role at West Ham back in November and made the move to Bristol City to step in for Tanya Oxtoby whilst she’s been on maternity leave since January.
Olli Harder was confirmed as the Hammer’s new manager in December and both are doing all they can to keep their teams in the league.
Bristol City, in particular, looked destined for relegation before the Christmas break, but an incredible upturn in form that saw them beat Brighton and Reading, as well as earn draws against Birmingham City, Tottenham and West Ham, has given them a much-needed lifeline.
Harder’s side managed draws against both Birmingham and Bristol City in recent weeks, but a 5-0 thrashing of Reading at the weekend will make them a daunting prospect for Villa later this month as every point will be crucial in the closing stages of the season.
With a talented squad and an experienced manager at the helm, Villa are well placed for the battle ahead.
As so few points separate the teams at the bottom, it is impossible to call who will be playing Championship football next season.
The WSL’s new TV deal with the BBC and Sky will make relegation even more bitter for whoever suffers the drop, but the foundations are in place at the club that, should the worst happen, they'll be in a strong position to come back up sooner rather than later.
But one thing is for certain, it’s going to be an interesting month ahead.