Dan Bardell: Carla Ward must take credit for Aston Villa Women vast improvement after historic FA Cup win
The rise of Aston Villa Women from a relegation-threatened side into Women’s Super League top-four contenders hasn’t happened overnight, but the one constant has been manager Carla Ward.
The former Birmingham City manager masterminded a brilliant victory over title-chasing Manchester City in the quarter-finals of the FA Women’s Cup on Sunday (19 March), with her side coming out eventual 2-1 winners in extra-time.
Ward’s side will now face a historic semi-final date against either Manchester United, Chelsea or Brighton, with a chance of winning a trophy this season by no means out of the equation.
The club’s first-ever semi-final appearance in the FA Cup is a just reward for the steps taken this season, which has seen the Villans cement themselves in fifth position in the Women’s Super League, with 26 points after 15 games.
The summer purse given to Ward by Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris was a contributing factor to Villa’s recent success, with the transfers of Rachel Daly and Kenza Dali a masterstroke, but the tactical framework that Ward has instilled must also be credited.
Taking seven points from Manchester City in three games this season cannot be shunned and is a clear indicator that the West Midlands outfit possesses the tools to shake up the established WSL top-four teams.
Speaking exclusively to Villa News, Sky Sports and The Athletic’s Dan Bardell waxed lyrical about the transformation that Ward has overseen and predicted that future success would arrive at Villa’a doorstep if they keep her in the dugout.
He said: “Villa are punching way above their weight under Ward this season, but recruitment has been good, and they have got a settled team now.
“They have improved dramatically from this time last year. They were never going to go down, but compare that to this season, and the difference is massive.
“There is a genuine chance of a top-four or top-five finish as well as a brilliant opportunity in the FA Cup and Ward must take the credit for this improvement.
“Ward is a great ambassador for the women’s game and a great ambassador for the club. She always talks a good game and is an engaging person to speak to, so I hope she says at Villa for a long time and isn’t picked off by a big club.
“If she stays, I am sure she will have success at Aston Villa because she’s a brilliant manager.”
The draw for Aston Villa’s semi-final will take place on Tuesday (21 March) on the BBC, where Ward will be dearly wishing to avoid heavy-weight bouts against either Manchester United or Chelsea.
A semi-final tie against Brighton, who have won just two WSL games all season and are in real danger of relegation from the WSL this season, would be an exciting prospect and a more than winnable clash.
However, even if Villa don’t progress to the final of the Women’s FA Cup this season, further success is surely only around the corner.
In other Aston Villa news, Dan Bardell believes one Villa player was “hung out to dry” under Steven Gerrard and made a fan scapegoat.