Record crowds, great goalkeeping, and a few 25-yarders: FA WSL week 1 recap

The ninth edition of the FA Women's Super League kicked off with a bang this weekend, with record crowds, top goalkeeper performances, and some wonder goals.

Much of the focus in the run up to the weekend had been on two stand-out fixtures. The first of the two was the Manchester derby, which saw last year's runners-up take on the Championship champions at the Etihad Stadium. The game welcomed a league record crowd of 31,213 - about six times the previous record of 5,265.

City vs United

A closely fought encounter, Manchester City edged it with a 25-yard wonder strike three minutes after half-time from Scotland midfielder Caroline Weir. The game was far from clear cut despite City having 62% of possession, with 19-year-old goal keeper Ellie Roebuck pulling off some stunning saves to keep City in the lead.

Casey Stoney's Manchester United showed that they're where they should be: in the top tier of women's football, and if they can be a bit more clinical with their chances - they had five shots, two on target, compared to City's six with three on target - they will no doubt fare well over the course of the season.


Chelsea vs Spurs


The second stand-out game was the London derby: Chelsea faced Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. With a crowd of 24,564, the Blues significantly surpassed their attendance record, but failed to beat the league record set by City the day before.


They did, however, record a win following a fourth minute strike from Beth England. Crowned as the new Chelsea number 9 in the summer, England was fresh from her England debut against Belgium last week. Her 25-yard strike is an early indication of her potential to be this year's league top scorer.

Though less evenly-matched than the northern derby, Spurs showed they were no pushovers and put in a solid performance, more so considering that they only made the move to a full-time professional club over the summer, during which they also welcomed nine new signings.

The Etihad Stadium hosted 31,213 as Manchester City triumphed in the Manchester derby


Following both games, talk turned to ticket strategy: while City charged for tickets to their opener - £7 for adults - Chelsea had given away 40,000 free seats for theirs. What does City's higher attendance mean for the game - that people want to pay what it's worth? That a Manchester derby ignited more interest than a London one?

Whatever the reason for the differences in take-up, consensus seems to be that, while Chelsea's motivations were positive and the resulting event a massive success, after this weekend there is no longer a place in women's football for mass free tickets.

Despite all the furore about the two 'big' fixtures, the true test of where the game is at must be how many show up to the fixtures at the smaller grounds.


Bristol vs Brighton

The other Saturday fixture took that test and passed it with flying colours. A record 3,041 people showed up to watch Bristol City and Brighton & Hove Albion play out a 0-0 draw at Ashton Gate.

The stalemate was far from boring, as City keeper Sophie Baggaley saved a first-half penalty from Victoria Williams, after Gemma Evans had brought down winger Aileen Whelan in the penalty area. While Brighton edged the first half, City shaded the second, and Baggaley's counterpart, Megan Walsh, did her bit between the sticks to keep Albion in it.


Birmingham vs Everton

Birmingham City attracted the lowest crowd of the weekend when 873 people showed up to see them lose 1-0 to Everton at The Automated Technology Group Stadium on Sunday.

The attendance was still a success though, beating last season's league average attendance of 833, as calculated by the BBC. The game could have gone either way, and Kerys Harrop's unfortunate own goal seconds into the second half was the only difference between the sides.


Arsenal vs West Ham

Elsewhere, title holders Arsenal beat West Ham 2-1 at Meadow Park in front of a crowd of almost 1800. Arsenal, without last year's league top scorer Vivianne Miedema, who is suffering from a slight hamstrung injury, were relying on Beth Mead at the front of their attack. Mead didn't disappoint, slotting home from 18-yards on 14 minutes, before providing the assist for debutant Jill Roord's goal on 21 minutes.

The Hammers, who look an improved side from last season, pulled one back on 58 minutes through new striker Martha Thomas.

They hit the woodwork twice in the final 10 minutes, making it a nervy finish for The Gunners, who were delighted to see vice-captain Jordan Nobbs make her return to the field as a second half substitute following almost a year out due to an ACL injury.

Nobbs not only missed out on Arsenal duty for the majority of last season, she was also unable to join England in France at the World Cup, and will be looking to force her way back into Phil Neville's England squad very quickly.

Someone who made a recent return to the Lionesses is their most capped player, Fara Williams, who was called up for the recent friendlies against Belgium and Norway following Fran Kirby's withdrawal due to injury.


Reading vs Liverpool

Williams starred for her club side, Reading, on Sunday, when she smashed home a 25-yard free-kick after 42 minutes against her former club Liverpool at Prenton Park. The strike was the only goal of the game, and saw Reading take home a deserved 1-0 victory.


Women's Championship


In the Championship, Durham - the only team to overcome Man Utd in the league last season - beat Charlton 2-0, while Aston Villa and London Bees recorded 2-1 victories over Blackburn and Coventry respectively, Millwall triumphed 3-1 over Leicester, and Lewes and Crystal Palace drew 1-1.

Three games into the season, Durham and Villa are leading the pack with three straight wins, while fears are starting to grow for Blackburn and Leicester, who have both lost three of three.


Next weekend

Next weekend's Super League fixtures are Reading v Man City, Everton v Bristol City, Tottenham v Liverpool, Brighton v Chelsea and West Ham v Birmingham on Sunday, while Man Utd host Arsenal on Monday evening.

Opening weekend was a great success in terms of the standard of play, the quality of the goals, and, of course, the record attendances. The league and its 12 teams must continue to build it and, no doubt, they will continue to come.

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