The demise of a head coach in nine games

Rachel Lara Cohen reflects on the circumstances that led to Rehanne Skinner departing from the post of Tottenham Hotspur boss this week (16/3/23)

Above: Rehanne Skinner who has left her post as Tottenham’s head coach. Photo: The Telegraph.

Spurs lost their ninth straight game on Sunday at Liverpool. The next day head coach Rehanne Skinner was removed from her post. Skinner had led the team to its highest-ever WSL finish of fifth last season and had done a lot behind the scenes to professionalise and resource the women’s team, but no one’s going to survive that kind of form. Not with Spurs now sitting just two points off relegation.

This is the story of how we got here.

Before things went off the rails there was Brighton away. Spurs’ biggest-ever win in the WSL: eight goals, five scorers, players coming back from injury. Ashleigh Neville, Jess Naz, and Drew Spence each getting a brace. Things had never looked brighter (to make a bad pun).

Above: Before it went wrong, there was Brighton. Photo: Spurs Women

Before Brighton, the season had started with Spurs narrowly beating lower-ranked teams Leicester City, Reading, and Liverpool, each time playing well in the first halves and fading but hanging on after the break. There had been games when Tottenham had lost decisively without scoring to top four teams Arsenal and Manchester City. But none of that seemed cause for concern. Spurs were what people expected of them, a mid-table team, that found it difficult to score sometimes.

And then came Brighton. Goals and more goals. Optimism abounded. But instead of it heralding a new beginning it turned out to be the end of the beginning.

Maybe the first bad sign came the very next week, with the postponement of the match against Everton at home, a game that was billed as the first good test of how Spurs might do against tougher mid-table opposition.

The pitch was waterlogged. Can’t be helped. But so much for momentum. Instead, there was an international break and, a few weeks later, momentum gone, Chelsea away.

1: Chelsea Away

Playing the reigning champions at Stamford Bridge surrounded by hostile fans was never going to be easy. And so it proved. Skinner’s side had no out-and-out striker. Instead, Naz played up front, not her most effective position. There were moments when Tottenham were in the game. But Chelsea scored three times in 24 minutes in the first half and that was it. There were signs that the team had regressed in comparison to the two games played against Chelsea at the end of the previous season. But this was Chelsea. There was no real cause for alarm.

2: Reading Away

This was the first indication that it was not business as usual. Spurs had already played Reading away in the Conti Cup and were easily the better team that day, despite letting the Berkshire side back into the game in the second half and conceding a penalty in the final minutes.

In this WSL encounter, things were very different. For the whole first half, Reading dominated: they were first to balls and looked more confident and fitter. The goal which sealed a 1-0 loss was, however, a defensive fiasco – the first but by no means the last witnessed this season. Becky Spencer made a save and Amy Turner then headed the ball back at her and into the goal. Omnishambles.

Above: One of many mistakes. Own goal against Reading. Photo: Spurs Women.

In the second half, with the introduction of Kerys Harrop and Chioma Ubogagu on the wing Spurs created more chances, but there was no comeback.

3: West Ham at Home

For the second game in a row, Rehanne Skinner started Rosella Ayane at centre-forward. Spurs played better than against Reading. But as in the previous three outings, could not find the back of the net. Then, just before half time, West Ham got a penalty. When they missed it seemed like things might still go the home side’s way. Only for the team to concede minutes after halftime. As individual players tried to equalise there were a number of shots from distance, but nothing quite worked.

And then, as Spurs pushed up, West Ham scored a second almost directly from a Tottenham free kick, with Cissoko breaking from the halfway line while Tottenham centre-backs were stranded up the pitch tearing back, and Becky Spencer in goal was caught off her line. And that was that. Except that in the rush back to clear Molly Bartrip hurt her wrist.

4: Everton at Home

Until the game against Liverpool, this was the nadir.

It was the rearranged game that had initially been scheduled for the week after Spurs played Brighton – a time when everything seemed possible. In the event, it was played on a frozen pitch on a snowy Wednesday in December. In case the weather and the timing were not discouraging enough the game coincided with rail strikes and the men’s world cup semi-Final. And so it was that only about 100 fans were there to see Spurs’ season self-destruct.

All the problems that had marked the previous two games surfaced here. Players lacked ideas on the ball, could not move it forward, and consistently seemed to be two steps slower than the opposition. Everton scored early and then on 36 minutes keeper, Becky Spencer, attempted to dribble around Jess Park who stole the ball and shot into an empty net. By halftime, 2-0 down, it felt over. Tottenham had not scored in three games prior to this game and there was little sign that they would here. Skinner made substitutions, but little changed.

To make matters worse Jessica Naz, who had come on as substitute for Nikola Karczewska, who not up to playing 90 minutes at that point in the season, went off in obvious pain, with an unidentified injury that has kept her out of the team ever since. Then, in injury time Ashleigh Neville dribbled across the front of Spurs’ goal, got pulled back by an Everton player, stayed up but slightly lost control of the ball, and in trying to retrieve it slid in on an Everton player receiving a red card. Oh, and Everton scored a third in the 95th minute.

So that was it. In one miserable evening Spurs played horrible football, suffered a humiliating defeat, and lost two players through injury and suspension. Happy Christmas.

5: Aston Villa Away

This was the start of the new year and the start of hope. Spurs had signed Bethany England. The team had struggled for goals for much of the 2021-22 season and for the first half of the current season, with Karczewska only sometimes available and Kyah Simon injured. So bringing in a prolific goal-scorer was potentially a game-changer.

Above: Bethany England brought hope. Photo: Girls on the Ball.

Surely? After all, the reasoning went: In the previous four games Spurs had not scored, so this must be the solution.

As the game started it seemed like it might be a new Spurs. The team went ahead, against the run of play in the first half. England scored. A goal! It worked.

Then ten minutes later Aston Villa were 2-1 up. Spurs were too easily undone. Kenza Dali, Kirsty Hanson, and Villa’s new signing from Arsenal, Jordan Nobbs, were dominating midfield.

Things improved in the second half after a couple of enforced changes, notably Kerys Harrop on for Amy Turner, which meant Asmita Ale moved to right back and Harrop went at left back and Eveliina Summanen and Celin Bizet on for Chioma Ubogagu and Cho So-hyun. But there was not another goal.

As the game ended it was hard to know what to think. Maybe there were green shoots (a goal) but clearly there was a way to go.

6: Chelsea at Home

This game was the second time that the North Londoners played Chelsea in a week. The first, in the Conti Cup, they lost 3-1. This one Spurs lost again: 3-2. But they were in it. Some of the time at least. Especially in comparison to the game back in November when the team had no response to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

With a squad that now contained both England and Mana Iwabuchi, on loan from Arsenal, and with Neville back from suspension, this was the game that fans had been waiting for. And, for moments at least, those watching could imagine what might be possible. Passes were effective in progressing the ball. Players found space and found one another in space.

And there were goals. The first showed the potential of a Drew Spence – Beth England combination, with Ash Neville starting the move. But it was not just about England. There was a lovely Eveliina Summanen-Nikola Karczewska combination for the second goal, reversing the assist-scorer roles they had played in the previous week’s Conti Cup game against London City Lionesses. And with the score at 3-2, watching fans could at least hope for a last-minute equaliser. Not that one came.

7: Manchester United Home

This game both surpassed and then fell short of expectations. Most Spurs fans went in expecting a loss, playing a high-flying United team at the top of the table. So when the team went a goal down it was disappointing but not unforeseen.

Then the equaliser: Beth England’s glorious solo goal from a cleverly taken quick free kick. Tottenham were back in it. Until, only seconds later United went ahead again, Lucia breaking down the right almost from kick-off, crossing the ball, and Molly Bartrip, who thought she had Leah Galton on her shoulder, sliding it into the net. Not Bartrip’s fault. These things happen. But it was a sign of Spurs’ poor game management. Why had they not taken a minute before the restart? How could they switch off?

And then, Manchester United’s Ella Toone got sent off (won’t go into that here because it’s been discussed). With a player advantage and fifteen minutes to play, Rehanne Skinner subbed on Angharad James, a defensive midfielder. Why? There was an extra striker on the bench.

So, when the game ended 2-1 it was the hope that made it worse. Of all the games since Christmas, this was perhaps the one in which the opportunities were the most obvious. For a draw at least.

8: Manchester City Away

No Bethany England. She had been out with an undisclosed injury the previous week as well and missed a long goalless FA Cup game against Reading that Spurs had (yup) lost on penalties.

After that game, there were questions about whether Tottenham without England could even score. No one was optimistic. And if Chelsea and United had seemed like uphill battles Manchester City with a Bunny Shaw, Chloe Kelly, and Lauren Hemp frontline seemed a lot. Yes, the North London side had won away at City in last year’s WSL. But they had also been thumped at City in the Conti Cup Semi-Final last spring and had gone on to lose to them at home earlier this season 3-0.

So when Celin Bizet scored on the half-hour, coming in late on a Rosella Ayane cross, giving Spurs took the lead, it seemed both miraculous and maybe like history could repeat itself. Until just before halftime when the visitors conceded. And then, just after half-time, they conceded again. From 1-0 up on the 45th minute, Tottenham were 2-1 down in the 47th.

As the second half continued Spurs had chances but City dominated. And even though there had been a few opportunities to equalise, Bunny Shaw’s third goal, in the 83rd minute, was not a surprise.

Photo: Celin Bizet scores at Manchester City. Photo: Spurs Women

9: Liverpool Away

This was the end. For Rehanne Skinner at least. A subsequent vital midweek win over fellow strugglers Leicester City also would bring an end to the losing run.

It was clear to everyone that this game would be critical. It was the first since January’s additions of Iwabuchi and England in which Spurs did not face a top-four opponent. While it is understandable to play well and still lose against Manchester City, this game was only ever going to be about the result. Moreover, Spurs had beaten Liverpool 1-0 in the reverse fixture for their only WSL home win up to that point.

As the game kicked off, Liverpool dominated, winning challenges, seemingly faster, more technical. Then, as against Villa and Chelsea, Spurs went ahead against the run of play. This time with a Rosella Ayane banger. It was the kind of goal that – almost – justifies a manager’s otherwise unfathomable trust in a forward who heretofore had two outfield goals in four years at Spurs, and who misplaces passes with depressing regularity.

But that was a false dawn. In under 20 minutes, the team were behind. Liverpool scored a ‘lucky’ goal and a potentially ‘offside’ goal. But the result did not feel lucky. Liverpool, like Reading, way back in November, seemed to have Spurs’ number. They were hungrier and better equipped to compete for the ball.

And at the back Spurs’ defence, missing Shelina Zadorsky, and for the first time in months, arranged in a back four, exposed Amy Turner, who was lucky not to pick up a second yellow after repeatedly tussling with players who seemed able to beat her with ease.

Meanwhile, the endlessly adaptable Ashleigh Neville looked at times like she thought she was meant to be playing at wing-back, driving forward and then having to chase back, not always successfully. Undoubtedly she wanted to make things happen and felt constrained.

Yet it was only when Asmita Ale, criminally under-used, was brought on as an 80-something-minute substitute that Neville was pushed forward. Why this move was not made earlier is unclear, given that Neville is one of Spurs’ top scorers this season.

Meanwhile, Celin Bizet, excellent against Manchester City, was another late substitute. And Eveliina Summanen, a key part of the Spurs midfield in the games in which the team played their best football (Chelsea, Manchester United), returned from suspension as a second-half substitute.


And that was that. After nearly 24 hours of silence, the club posted on its social media accounts that Rehanne Skinner had left the club.

Skinner’s departure is sad. Anyone who followed Spurs last season when she led a team that never gave up and over-performed expectations will have a long-lasting soft spot for her as a head coach. Since going, she has made a very heartfelt statement about her time at and relationship with the club. There have been messages from players about how much she supported them. We have repeatedly heard about the changes and professionalisation she fought for and won at Spurs. There is a reason the club was so keen that she extend her contract last summer. Her legacy is going to be felt for a long while.

But the nine losses were bad. They were undoubtedly made worse by injuries and scheduling – and a run of games against big teams at a point at which Spurs were actually improving. But there were mistakes, initially an inability to score and then an inability to hold a lead and there were periods of bad football (the pre-Christmas run; this last game against Liverpool) that were not fun to watch and highlighted a raft of unaddressed issues.

And now Spurs are in a relegation fight.

This article was originally published at

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