By Freya Taylor and Lyndsey Bissell

12th Oct, 2023 | 12:44pm

Aston Villa Women ‘miles off it’ in WSL 2-0 loss v Liverpool Women

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…

After a heartbreaking loss in extra time to Manchester United the week previous in their league opener, Carla Ward’s Aston Villa Women travelled to Merseyside in a bid to finally get their season underway.

Without the likes of Kirsty Hanson (red card for a high challenge in the last game and faces a three-match ban) and Kenza Dali (injured), Villa fans knew our lack of creativity might prove to be a problem. Unfortunately, we were right.

After their 1-0 win against Arsenal last week at the Emirates, Liverpool looked to be on a mission to start strong and continue their winning campaign. Matt Beard’s side completely dominated the first 15 minutes and created some decent chances in front of the goal too.

The travelling side, however, initially seemed to be growing into the game, as they started to understand how Liverpool had set up. A lovely cross by Sarah Mayling (after a pass back from Adriana Leon) into Rachel Daly by the back post, unfortunately, saw her header go just wide. It seemed as though that was how it was going to be for Villa today. Close, but not good enough.

In what seemed like seconds later, Liverpool were on the attack again. Ceri Holland made a fantastic run to get Mayling out of Liverpool’s way, leaving the Villa net wide open. She was able to turn Mayling and send a pass into the box. Of course, our Danielle Turner was there (as she always is) and managed the deflection, but only as far as Marie Hobinger who sent an absolute rocket of a shot past Daphne Van Domselaar, who could do nothing but watch it ripple the net.

The home side looked confident, comfortable and a far cry from the Liverpool of last season and were clearly outplaying the Birmingham team. But, the visitors weren’t finished yet and were moments away from getting one back as a cross from Adriana Leon fell to the feet of Anna Patten, but there were too many bodies in the box to find the back of the net. It seemed Liverpool’s defence was as strong as the Villans’ normally is, and we’d need our full strength not to concede any more goals.

One of the Reds’ biggest threats throughout the match was Taylor Hinds, who at this point in the match crossed a beautiful ball into the box, but fortunately for Villa, there was no one to get on the end of it. Villa were being heavily exposed down the left-hand side and they couldn’t seem to change their shape to get a handle on it.

In the 31st minute, Daly made a great run but was fouled by Gemma Bonner. Nothing was given as the referee played the advantage and Leon (who played fantastically well) carried the ball into the box. She executed a quick pass back to Jordan Nobbs, who had the best Villa chance of the game and her volley should have been the equaliser. However, she didn’t place the ball as accurately as we know she could have and delivered it right onto the head of Emma Koivisto. The Reds’ clean sheet was still intact and it left us thinking. If Jordan had put away this chance, would it have been a different game entirely?

As the match progressed, we knew we needed something different. Something needed to change quickly or else Villa were in real trouble. Alisha Lehmann, for example, was losing far too many balls and wasn’t creating any chances, so could she be taken off for Ebony Salmon at half-time? She did, however, redeem herself in the last minutes of the first half when she managed to get a shot through three Liverpool players and Rachael Laws had to punch it out for a corner, but nothing came of it.

Heading into half-time, it was clear Ward needed to have an impressive team talk as this was not the Aston Villa we saw at the end of last season. There was no pressure on the home side and it felt like we were sitting back and letting them walk all over us. The absence of Dali and Hanson, as we mentioned earlier, was greater than we imagined.

As the second half began, we were correct in hoping Salmon would come on to replace Lehmann and she was so close to making an instant impact. After a mistake of a spilt ball by home keeper Laws, and if the Reds’ defenders hadn’t quickly gotten back to swarm the box, it would have definitely been an equaliser for Villa. Villa’s recent signing also had another chance to get the leveller as she received a lovely through-ball from Nobbs, but just couldn’t find the back of the net. Once again, we weren’t clinical enough in front of goal and it cost us.

In the 50th minute, Liverpool were unlucky not to gain another goal as the Villa defence and midfield seemed non-existent. Not keeping tight to their players and leaving so many gaps, it didn’t look like Aston Villa had turned up at all. It felt as though all of Villa’s fire was used up last week and only Leon, Lucy Parker and Lucy Staniforth seemed to be fighting tooth and nail to get at least something from this match.

In the 61st minute, a very frustrated Ward knew things needed changing and made two substitutions. Laura Blinkilde Brown came on for Nobbs in midfield and Maz Pacheco came on down the wing for Mayling. Ideally, we would have preferred some support for Mayling down that side instead of taking her off entirely. But as Ward said in her post-match interview, every single change “starts and stops” with her.

A much better passage of play then came from Villa and it seemed as though some spark was finally coming back. Simone Magill came on for Adriana in the 71st minute, but it felt as though she didn’t even get a look in for the rest of the match. Which again begs the question, were the right subs chosen at the right time? As it felt from a fan perspective, they didn’t actually make too much of an impact in the game.

In the 78th minute, Lawley made a break down the wing and although Parker pushed as hard as she could to catch her, she was allowed the space to pass to Tasha Flint in the box. She easily turned Rachel Corsie and slotted it home to make it 2-0. It looked as though Villa’s fate was sealed. The Villa fans, however, didn’t stop singing for their team, willing them to keep going.

As the game came to the final moments of normal time, the fourth official indicated 10 more minutes needed to be played. Half of us wanted the whistle to be blown early to save Villa from conceding any more goals and cut our losses. But our fighting spirit, our pride in Villa knew 10 minutes was enough time to get one back, maybe even two.

A moment finally came, when hope sprung up in all of the claret and blue army, when Melissa Lawley received a yellow card for her challenge on Parker which gave Villa a free kick on the edge of the box. This was their chance. Liverpool so far had won every single ball into the box and Villa had to be creative to win something from this one. But they repeated the same thing they had done all match and it came to nothing. A wasted chance. Staniforth was even knocked over by the referee late on and nothing was given but a drop ball to Liverpool. Understandably angry and frustrated, her grit and determination made her our Player of the Match, but it was Jenna Clark for the Reds who received the official award from Sky Sports after a fantastic match by the defender.

The match ended with a comfortable 2-0 win for the Reds, meaning that only the Merseyside club and Leicester City have won both of their opening matches and sit at the top of the table with six points each. Overall, we definitely expected more from our team, especially after fighting so hard last week against Manchester United. Even the basics just weren’t there today for the whole team and it was a real credit to Liverpool how easy they made it look to get two past us.

In her post-match interview, it was refreshing to see Aston Villa Women manager Ward be so open and honest about the team’s poor performance. She acknowledged they really “weren’t good enough” and how they “deserved that tonight” as “we were miles off it.” She commented on the outside expectations by saying: “People are talking about us being a top-four team” and this performance shows “we’re miles off that.” She concluded by saying it “was a reality check” for Villa and it’s her job “to pick them up and get them back.”

Will this defeat be enough to wake Villa up and bring back the fire and passion we know they have again next week? We certainly hope so. While it certainly wasn’t a performance worthy of the 11th place position Villa currently sit in at the table, it’s one we’ll want to forget very soon.

We know you only learn the hardest lessons from losing, and it was a tough physical and mental punishment to take. But we move, we grow and we’ll be there singing as loud as we can next week in north London as always. Aston Villa Women are on the road again next week, when the claret and blue army will travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal.

In other Aston Villa Women news, one player has spoken out amid the Castore kit controversy at the club.