by Rachel Lara Cohen (1/11/22)
Above: Celebrations for Spurs during their sensational 8-0 win at Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday. Photo: Spurs Women.
On Sunday, Tottenham Hotspur went on the road and beat Brighton and Hove Albion 8-0.
To put that in context: Spurs scored three more goals than they have scored in their last five outings across all competitions. They scored twice as many goals as they have ever before scored in a single Barclays WSL game (four). And their eight-goal haul equates to a full third of all of the (24) goals they scored in the 2021-2022 season. It is also only the second clean sheet the team has kept this season.
So, what has happened to turn one of the WSL’s most goal-shy teams into free-wheeling goalscorers, and what have we learned about Spurs from Sunday’s game?
- Sometimes you need a Number Nine: Spurs’ second goal on 19 minutes – the one that settled the team and opened the floodgates – came from Nikola Karczewska putting pressure on Brighton’s goalkeeper, Megan Walsh, and then using her physicality to muscle past Walsh, pushing the ball in front of her and into the net. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective and the sort of goal that Spurs need to be scoring. Earlier in the game, immediately after kick-off, Karczweska pounced on a poorly weighted back pass forcing the first of a series of corners from which Tottenham scored their first goal (a record-breaking 62 seconds into the game). Karczewska is not yet at full fitness and was substituted at half-time. It may therefore be a while before she regularly plays a full 90 minutes. But when she’s on the pitch there is an additional dimension to Spurs, one that poses problems for opposition teams and creates space for our other attacking options to exploit.
- Ashleigh Neville is a phenomenon: Two goals, two assists, two tackles won, five recoveries, all in 63 minutes on the field. Since she moved from fullback to the wing, Neville has become Tottenham’s top scorer while retaining her defensive instincts. She currently graces WSL top ten lists for goals and assists but also interceptions, blocks, and tackles, making her, arguably, the most fully-rounded footballer in the league. What’s more Neville’s goals are varied and wonderful. Following her ‘Goal of the Month’ winning, 40-yard lob at Leicester, the Brighton game saw her score with a far-post header and a left footed volley. Her assists included a ridiculous backheel and a goal-line dribble followed by a slotted passback (more detail on her contribution). Most excitingly, at 29, Ash is still improving in a position (winger) that is relatively new to her. Last Spring the player signed the longest contract in Spurs Women’s history, but I think most fans would be happy if it was now extended in perpetuity.
- Spurs’ bench is less sparse: With the return from injury of Kerys Harrop and Rosella Ayane, there were seven players on the bench on Sunday as opposed to the five or six there have been in all of the previous four games. As importantly, the players on the bench seem to have improved their fitness and were able to be impactful when they came on. Of course, entering a game with your team up by four goals at the half (as was the case for Jessica Naz and Cho So-Hyun) or when you are winning seven-nil (as was the case for Chioma Ubogagu, Rosella Ayane, and Gracie Pearse) means the pressure is well and truly off. That notwithstanding, Naz and Cho each put in a full-throttle half, making important and confidence-building contributions (and racking up two goals and two assists, respectively). The other three substitutes had less impact on the outcome but were able to maintain the tempo and it was good to see Ros back from injury and running; for Ubogagu to get the game-time she needs to build match-sharpness, and for Pearse to make her debut.
- Spurs are starting to find intriguing attacking combinations: Neville twice set up Drew Spence. Cho twice set up Naz – including an interception that resulted in Jess’s ridiculous five-touches-from-the-restart goal (her first; the team’s seventh). And Angharad James teed up Molly Bartrip’s scorcher, spotting an opportunity to reproduce a training-ground set piece and simultaneously defy the growing collected wisdom that short corners are inevitably damp squibs. Overall, Sunday’s new attacking combinations and raft of scorers (five in all) hint at a team that is willing to take chances and a squad that is increasingly integrated and on the same wavelength. Moreover, five of Sunday’s goals involved a player that signed for Spurs in the summer window – either as scorer or in making the assist. As the season continues and the whole squad develops their familiarity with one another we can, hopefully, look forward to more intuitive interplay, more goals, and more goalscorers.
- The Maéva Clemaron shaped-gap is filled: at least insofar as it can be. Despite just a season at Spurs, some fans will always miss Clemaron, for both her defensive cover, metronomic play and willingness to have the back of teammates when games turned fiesty. But over the last few games, the combination of Eveliina Summanen and Angharad James has emerged as Spurs’ go-to defensive midfield pairing. Both Eveliina and Naz are effective at disrupting opponents’ flow and good at intercepting or recovering the ball and, albeit offering different strengths, both look to move the ball forward. When, as they did on Sunday, they have players in front of them who are ready to receive the ball, our central transitions work. Perhaps as importantly, given the fragility of a team too dependent on individual players, it was good to see that with Eveliina’s half-time withdrawal and replaced by Cho So Hyun, the team did not lose shape.
- Spurs’ backline has got into sync: It’s taken a while. Moving Neville forward to cover for gaps at the front, and playing Amy Turner at right-back hasn’t been smooth sailing. And against better teams than Brighton, it may still be a concern (yet another reason why Kerys Harrop’s return is welcome). But this was a game in which Shelina Zadorsky, Molly Bartrip, Asmita Ale, and Amy Turner seemed in tune with one another and with goalkeeper, Tinni Korpela. The result was a pleasant absence of penalty-area chaos and the effective defence of set pieces, most often at the first attempt (so that Brighton rarely had a sniff of second balls). An important part of that was Korpela, who made a handful of saves with minimal fuss and whose ball distribution and work with Zadorsky and Bartrip was slick.
- Asmita Ale has quietly become one of Spurs’ most consistent performers: She is playing more minutes than last season and has now started four of Spurs’ five WSL games (as compared to the ten she started across the whole of 2021-2). Against Brighton, she showed a calm maturity at left fullback, tracking back to nullify attacks down the wing, but also finding space to go forward on overlapping runs or cut inside. Her tackling numbers this season are second only to Neville (with whom she has developed a nice understanding). Already, making very few errors, Ale seems to grow in confidence every game. At just 20 years old she is a fantastic long-term prospect for Spurs’ backline.
- Gracie Pearse has a nice touch: She’s been on the bench all season but this was the first chance Spurs fans have had to see her on the ball. What they saw was promising. She played at centre-back while on loan at Crystal Palace last season but in this game, Pearse came in at right-back. That meant Turner slotting into the right-sided centre of defence and Bartrip coming off (thus denying her a repeat of 2021-22’s ever-present status. Not that she’s going to be worrying about this, having kicked off Sunday’s goal-fest in rare style; her first ever goal for Spurs, and Spurs’ first of the afternoon, was an absolute rocket). In the 19 minutes Pearse was on the pitch, she showed composure going forward, controlling the ball under pressure, and made a block during a late attacking flurry from Brighton. Not enough for a definitive judgment, but her display will have whetted the appetite of Spurs fans, who will likely get to see her in action in the not-too-distant future, probably at a Continental Cup game (the next is against Coventry United at Brisbane Road on 27th November).
- Celin Bizet is fun: That really. What she tries doesn’t always come off. But it’s helluva fun to watch her take on players. Already over her first few games at Tottenham, Bizet has started to adjust to the pace of the league and repeatedly creates problems, in the best way, on the right side. On Sunday she sustained her end-to-end performance into the second half, before being substituted on 71 minutes. After which she was off to Belgium where she got engaged.
- Spurs can play well over two halves: Before Sunday, Spurs had played poorly in two halves (Arsenal), well in the first half, and poorly in the second (Leicester, Liverpool, Reading) and sporadically across a game (Manchester City). So playing well in the first half, scoring four, and then coming back and maintaining the momentum into the second half was a welcome novelty. Scoring four second-half goals was the icing on the cake. It also justified manager, Rehanne Skinner’s, cautious optimism post-match the previous week, when she claimed that the team had ‘improved’ and was ‘more consistent’ despite a 3-0 loss to Manchester City. Given the skepticism with which Rehanne’s comments were met by many fans, this is a useful reminder that spotting green shoots, even where these have not yet borne fruit, is a necessary part of good management. Of course, Spurs’ ability to build on Sunday’s game and repeatedly achieve two good halves isn’t straightforward. It will hinge on a variety of things, including the team’s fitness (and an absence of additional injuries), but also on the form of our starters, especially key players like Neville and Karczewska, as well as the game-readiness of our substitutes. That said, while it’s unlikely Spurs will score eight against any of their upcoming WSL opponents, if they more consistently retain their first half intensity into the second half of games, they should do fine this season.
This article was originally published on https://spurswomen.uk/