AS the curtain comes down on another season of WSL football it was a case of so near so yet so far for Manchester City Women as they narrowly missed out on the title. Jordan Davies looks back on their campaign as a whole.
Nick Cushing’s side went into the final game of the season knowing a victory against Notts County coupled with Chelsea failing to beat Sunderland would see them crowned WSL 2015 champions.
The Blues kept up their end of the bargain with a 2-1 win but Chelsea’s 4-0 demolition job of the Lady Black Cats ensured City had to settle for second place. City can be consoled by the fact that Champions League football will be coming to Manchester as a result of finishing in the top two in the league standings.
Now the dust is settling on the 2015 campaign, there is no better time to analyse the Blues season in a month-by-month breakdown.
City’s season began all the way back on March 22 with a 3-1 FA Cup success over Doncaster Rovers Belles as the pursuit of a Wembley final began in earnest. The league campaign started the following week with a goalless stalemate in the swirling winds of Solihull against Birmingham City Ladies.
April started well for Nick Cushing’s troops, Nikita Parris scored the only goal of the game as City picked up their first three-point haul of the league season at Sunderland before another early-season encounter with Birmingham, this time in the FA Cup ended in a 3-1 victory. Then came a slump which would ultimately cost City in their pursuit of silverware. A 1-0 defeat at home to Arsenal, in which midfielder Jill Scott was dismissed for a headbutt on the Gunners’ Jade Bailey, was followed by another failure, 2-1 away at Liverpool, in a game which, in truth, they were second best throughout.
With the Women’s World Cup landing slap-bang in the middle of the English domestic season, Manchester City Ladies only had two matches in the month of May and, as luck would have it, they were both against Chelsea.
The first was an FA Cup semi-final at Wycombe’s Adams Park. Sadly, City were left to rue missed chances as a solitary Ji So-Yun strike took Emma Hayes’s side to the home of football and condemned the Blues to a third consecutive defeat.
City had the chance to exact revenge a week later on home soil and, although Toni Duggan cancelled out fellow England forward Eni Aluko’s strike, City couldn’t find a winner and went into the World Cup break with a 1-1 draw.
A mammoth nine weeks later, City took on Birmingham with Womens’ football fever still in full swing. A record-breaking 2,102 supporters saw Toni Duggan score the only goal in a 1-0 Blues victory. Bristol Academy were then brushed aside with a 3-0 win for the Citizens in Gloucestershire before the Blues began the defence of their Continental Cup title with another 3-0 victory, this time over Doncaster Rovers.
City were now on the crest of a wave and inflicted the only home defeat of the season on eventual champions Chelsea with Steph Houghton’s deflected free-kick four minutes from time securing a 2-1 win. The perfect month was rounded off with a 5-0 triumph over Durham Women in the Continental Cup.
August saw City straddling league and Continental Cup duties with much success. It began with a win at Arsenal by the odd goal in five before a seventh straight win across both competitions came at Sunderland in the cup.
Steph Houghton’s brace looked like securing the Blues all the points in their final away game of the league season at Notts County but Rachel Williams capped off a remarkable comeback from the Lady Magpies in second-half stoppage time to give Cushing’s men a frustrating trip home.
The month ended with victory over both Merseyside opponents in the space of four days, giving City a played 5, won 5 record in the 2015 Continental Cup that ensured progression to the quarter-final stage of the tournament they won in 2014.
The win against Liverpool, however, came at a massive cost as striker and top scorer Toni Duggan was ruled out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury after a full-blooded tackle from Natasha Dowie.
City had four league games remaining and realistically needed maximum points to have a chance of becoming WSL champions for the very first time. Isobel Christiansen’s header proved enough to see off Sunderland and lift the Blues to second place, five points off Chelsea with a game in hand.
That game in hand came four days later as Liverpool visited the Academy Stadium and were sent home with their tail between their legs as Christiansen and Tash Harding gave City a 2-0 win.
The month rounded off with Bristol Academy arriving in Manchester needing the three points to stand any chance of surviving in the Women’s top-tier, while City needed the win to take the title race into the last game of the season. A dominant display from the Blues ensured a season-high 6-1 victory that condemned Bristol Academy to WSL 2.
City’s grasp on the Continental Cup was relinquished in controversial circumstances at the hands of Arsenal. Having been accused of playing midfielder Keira Walsh in the group stage match with Sunderland without having submitting the appropriate paperwork, the FA postponed the initial date for the quarter-final in mid-September.
After an inquiry found City had done everything expected of them, the game was hastily rearranged for the first day of October with City given just three days notice that they had to travel to Boreham Wood on the Thursday night.
A solitary Natalia strike sent Arsenal through to the semi-finals and left City with just three days to prepare for the title decider, which infuriated manager Nick Cushing no end, the Blues boss claiming his side had been ‘disrespected’ by the FA.
And so it came to Sunday, October 4, with City knowing they must win and hope for a favour from the Lady Black Cats. The Blues may remember when a year ago Chelsea went into the final game of the league season knowing a win would secure the title but they slipped to a 2-1 defeat against Cushing’s men, allowing Liverpool to nip in and steal the silverware.
Unfortunately no such favour came from Sunderland today and, even though Parris and Christiansen’s goals ensured City ended the season with four straight league wins, Chelsea held their nerve and crushed Sunderland 4-0 to disappoint the majority of a new league record 3,180 fans at the Academy Stadium hoping to see a title parade.
Having finished in fifth place in the 2014 season, coming just two points from the title in 2015 merits a significant improvement for Cushing’s side. They will look back on the points dropped at home to Chelsea and away at Notts County as the moments the league was lost but will use whatever disappointment they are feeling to spur them on for the next campaign, just as Chelsea did this year.
The Blues will also be dejected that they didn’t quite make the FA Cup Final and will feel aggrieved in the way their Continental Cup title was lost but these experiences ought to strengthen a side who will feel they are close to dominating women’s football in England. They may well be this years’ bridesmaids but it won’t be long before Manchester City Women become the brides.
— Kimberley Sayle (@Kimberley_Sayle) October 5, 2015
Congratulations to all at @MCWFC on a fantastic season, 2nd place & Champions League football next year.
— Sam Rosbottom (@SamRoscoe) October 4, 2015
By Jordan Davies