By Freya Taylor and Lyndsey Bissell

7th Feb, 2023 | 1:06pm

Aston Villa Women Experts: Carla Ward's side suffer as controversial refereeing takes centre stage v Brighton

We’re delighted to welcome author Freya Taylor and former academy player Lyndsey Bissell as our exclusive Aston Villa Women experts. Each week they’ll be collaborating to give their views on the biggest talking points at the WSL club…

Fresh from their 11-0 win over AFC Fylde last week, Aston Villa were confident they could pick up the three points over 10th-place Brighton.

Villa started the first half being the more dominant side which was fantastic to see. The quality of the passing produced some brilliant football from Villa, particularly the outstanding crosses into the box from Kirsty Hanson, Rachel Daly and Sarah Mayling, the score line should have seen at least two or three goals within the first twenty minutes alone. It seems to be a consistent problem Villa have within that final touch of the ball. Brilliant build-up play, getting the ball into the box but just not clinical enough yet to able to cross the line successfully.

However, it was great to see Alisha Lehmann in the best form we’ve seen for a while. From making good runs to creating chances down the wings, she’s proven why she should be a consistent starter in Carla Ward’s squad.

The home side were determined to get a goal, but unfortunately for the visitors that came in the form of a defensive mix-up and deflection from Kayleigh Green to see Villa go ahead in the 33rd minute. Undeterred, the pace of the game still held strong, with the Brighton keeper Megan Walsh pulling off a spectacular save to deny Kenza Dali a goal in the 44th minute.

We went into the break 1-0 up, confident our dominance and skill would pay off to increase the score line. However, Brighton clearly had a fantastic pep-talk at halftime and came out strong; pressing high and catching a few Villa players out for offside early on. Villa looked a bit sluggish to start and there was a danger the visitors could have equalled in the first ten minutes back. The home side was furious however when a late offside flag was shown as Hanson was 1-on-1 with the keeper right beside the goal in the 56th minute. Daly and Lehmann, who were also in the box, threw their hands up in frustration at such a decision, denying them a chance at goal.

Unfortunately, the controversial refereeing decisions didn’t stop there, as five minutes later Brighton were given a corner for a clear goal kick, which again saw our Aston Villa players rightly furious. Luckily, some great goalkeeping from Hannah Hampton saw the chance saved comfortably.

However, the England goalkeeper’s luck was about to run out as in the 74th minute Laura Blinkilde unfortunately lost possession in their own half, allowing Brighton to have a shot on target. This shot was initially saved, however Hampton spilt it and the rebound came straight back into the bottom right corner from Julia Zigiotti Olme (her first WSL goal) which Hampton had no chance of saving.

Villa, who by this point were determined they were going to win despite big decisions going against them, saw another frustrating moment in the 84th minute. Hanson was fouled just outside of the box, but the referee didn’t want to know and signalled the teams to play on. Another chance at goal was taken away from Villa.

Daly, was one of the standout players today, showing her sportsmanship, leadership and quality. She kept pushing right until the end for the goal she rightly deserved; and as Villa fans we all felt her frustration when the whistle blew to signal a 1-1 draw. A mere point won. Daly went straight over to the referee and officials at the end of the game, letting them know how she felt about the decisions made.

In her post-match interview, Ward expressed her disappointment the team hadn’t played as well as they had previously but knew it was something they would discuss, work on, and use to come back stronger in their next match as this team have a “hunger to improve” which we’ve definitely seen since the start of the season. The gaffer also commented on the level of officiating during the match and says there needs to be a change in the game.

As quoted by FA WSL Full-Time on 6 February, Ward said: “We’re talking about professional football, a professional league and players that get out of bed every day and it’s their profession. What we’ve had today is amateur officiating and it’s not okay.

“Every manager, player and fan want the standards to go up but there’s a lot of talk and not a lot of action.”

Which begs the question, if we are to expect the women’s game to continue to grow, why isn’t the FA putting professional standards in place across the board? Why aren’t they making sure everyone involved in this beautiful game is qualified and appropriately skilled to be held accountable for their decisions? We saw what happened within Liga F in Spain, with the officials going on strike wanting to become fully professional, could we see that one day in the WSL too?

Overall, this was a match made up of moments and chances from both sides. This was a match that needed something extra special, something technically strong, or even just one mistake to produce a goal. Unfortunately, it was the latter that produced them both. Looking at the stats, Aston Villa should have been the clear winners and their first half performance deserved the win. However, after a slow second half start a 1-1 draw fairly reflects the overall effort of both teams. As Brighton celebrated at the end of the game like they’d won, as Ward said, “says everything about this match”.

In other Aston Villa news, here are three things learned from the draw with Brighton.