This one really matters for Tottenham Hotspur

Impetus’ Tottenham Hotspur correspondent Rachel Cohen looks ahead in depth to tomorrow’s huge game in the WSL relegation battle against Reading with both a match preview and her report from Spurs boss Vicky Jepson‘s media conference this afternoon (19/5/23).

Above: Beth England – her influence on tomorrow’s game for Tottenham is potentially season-defining. Photo: Suvadeep Biswas for Impetus.

If Tottenham Hotspur win against Reading this Saturday, they are safe in the WSL for another year.

Lose or draw and, depending on goal difference and how Reading perform against Chelsea in their last game, Spurs may require a point away at West Ham United on the final day.

There are some other scenarios involving Leicester City and Brighton & Hove Albion (currently one place above and one place below us) but they are less likely to occur.

For those who like calculating such things, there is even an outside chance that West Ham are relegated but that involves a complicated scenario of Reading and Leicester winning all their next games, Brighton beating Everton (but losing to Leicester) and Tottenham losing to Reading and then beating West Ham. It also requires that Reading wins their games by big margins and/or that West Ham lose heavily.

The complications of relegation scenarios aside, the big takeaway is that Tottenham’s game tomorrow matters.

The fact that it will be the second game in a double header is a whole other issue.

That there are issues that span the club, for instance that neither Spurs men’s nor women’s teams have a permanent manager nor an obvious plan, is another.

But for now, let us focus on how the team ended up in this relegation battle and what might happen on the pitch on Saturday.

How we got here

Let’s start by remembering what a total shit show this year has been.

First off, while everyone is now focused on Arsenal’s injury crisis (with the team suffering another serious injury just this week) there was a period earlier in the season when Spurs had four players out with ACLs, and another handful with long-term injuries.

Fans were not always told what the injuries were because the club operates in relative secrecy (although this has improved with Vicky Jepson taking the helm) but also because there is less media interest in injuries to players at a middling WSL team, especially where none of the injured players are Lionesses, nor even golden boot contenders. In the midst of all this one of our summer signings (Ramona Petzelberger) disappeared for eight months before returning in our last game to play a few minutes against Manchester United.

Above: Ramona Petzelberger: Back in the team after eight months. Photo: Spurs Women

And then there was the bad luck. This season has been a revelation in how many things can go wrong all at once.

Like when Spurs beat Brighton 8-0 and were cock-a-hoop, due to play Everton the next weekend at home. But a waterlogged pitch meant the game was cancelled. So, instead their next game – four weeks and an international break later and all momentum gone – was Chelsea away. Spurs lost that game 3-0. And, a month later, when they finally played Everton, it was a dark snowy rail strike hit Wednesday evening and everything that could go wrong did go wrong, losing that one 3-0 as well.

The bad luck was not just around postponements, but also related to losing important players to suspensions at bad times. Ashleigh Neville was suspended for a foul committed in response to herself being fouled in the dying minutes of that same Everton game. As a result, she missed the game against Villa that Tottenham lost by a single goal.

A few weeks later Eveliina Summanen, increasingly the team’s most important midfielder, got retrospectively suspended for ‘that’ red card incident against Manchester United, something that no one in women’s football had ever been suspended for before, and missed two winnable games: Reading in the FA Cup (which the team lost on penalties) and Liverpool in the league (a game lost by a single goal).

And you could argue the team was unlucky in having to face a series of top-four teams just as things were starting to improve on the pitch at the start of 2023. This meant that the run of defeats that had begun pre-Christmas was extended and as it did it became more and more of a weight – with players clearly under pressure and committing mistake after mistake.

Injury and bad luck notwithstanding there has undoubtedly been bad decision-making, and things going wrong on the field. Most critically, as discussed in the pre-Christmas period, players who do not seem to understand where each other will be. There has also been a widespread lack of fitness which has impacted both players’ ability to win contested balls and has also meant that at any one time, throughout the season, about half the squad were on managed minutes.

The consequence has been a season in which team selection and substitution decisions have more often depended on player availability than tactics.

Above: Beth England, whose impact has been massive. Photo: Spurs Women.

There have been signs of improvement in the period since Christmas. Not just the introduction of Beth England – although the impact she has had cannot be understated. But beyond her we have seen moments, even longer periods, when players seem to be finding each other in space, predicting runs, lining up as if they do not know what they are doing. But these periods have not yet been sustained enough to extend across an entire game, let alone span games.

The upcoming game

For the first time this season, it looks like Spurs will have a full, or nearly full, squad available tomorrow. Meaning that there are actual options and tactical choices.

Given the relegation fight, and that what is necessary is to come away with a point, it is likely that the Interim Manager, Vicky Jepson, will set the team up relatively conservatively.

Unlike her predecessor, Rehanne Skinner who used a back-three in some games, especially against bigger teams, Jepson has stuck with a back four with Molly Bartrip and Shelina Zadorsky as the central pairing when available. Given that Reading is not the most attack-minded of teams it is likely she will do this again.

But if the focus is on not losing (rather than winning) we may see Neville starting as a fullback rather than being given the freedom to roam forward. That would be a shame but for a crucial game makes sense. If that is the case, it may be that Kerys Harrop starts on the other wing. She is not the paciest of strikers but is a more natural full-back than Amy Turner with excellent positional sense and the ability to contribute to the attack.

Harrop also had a very good game when she came on as a substitute against Reading in the reverse fixture. Turner has, however, heretofore been un-droppable (starting every single WSL game) so this would be a first start on the bench if it happens.

Asmita Ale, the other option at fullback, has had almost no minutes under Jepson. That is a shame, as she is an excellent young player who started the year strongly. She even played well in her last full 90 – against Aston Villa away, when she was one of Spurs’ best players. But the only start she has had under Jepson were 59 minutes in the draw against Aston Villa at home.

With a three-month gap since her last start, it was unsurprising that she started the game a little rusty but improved as it went on. The risk is that if she is not getting game time and with her contract up this summer, Ale may leave the club. That said, given that she has been out of favour, and if Jepson sees her as a risk, it is unlikely she will use her much in this game given its importance.

It is unclear what determines who is in goal. If it’s about ensuring that two keepers have equal game-time (they played 11 games each last season) then we will see Becky Spencer between the sticks, as she has to date played in nine games; Tinni Korpela has played in 11. If it is about form, then Korpela’s calmness and shot-stopping against Manchester United may see her preferred. Her save percentage is also currently about 20 percentage points higher than Spencer’s.

Across Spurs’ previous games against Reading (they have played three times this season: winning, losing, and drawing – in that order) Tottenham have struggled to win midfield battles, and it is likely that these will again prove crucial.

In this game, Spurs’ midfield lineup may hinge on where Jepson decides to play Summanen. We understand that she was dropped for the Manchester United game to ensure she did not pick up a yellow card suspension in that game which would have meant that she was unable to start this game. But that game showed how much less control Spurs have with her out of the team so they will need Summanen at her combative and hard-running best if they are going to get hold of – and keep – the ball against Reading.

If she starts in a holding midfield position it would be good to see her partnered with either Ria Percival (who looks to have come back from injury with all her tenacity intact) or Drew Spence (who can swing between being easily Spurs’ best player and invisible).

Above: Eveliina Summanen has become increasingly important to Spurs. Photo: Spurs Women.

But Jepson may opt to play Summanen as a number 10. This is a position from which she has shown that she is effective at leading the press (Spurs have otherwise been poor at pressing high). She has also scored three times in the three games in which she played 10 to England’s nine. If Summanen does play higher Jepson may then opt for Percival and Spence as holding midfielders behind her. Or she may bring in Angharad James to play alongside either of them.

James has had moments since joining Spurs last summer, with flashes of passing vision and her effort cannot be criticised, but has been inconsistent and at times seems flustered on the ball. Whether that is down to how she is being used or her as a player is unclear.

Alternatively, if Summanen plays further back, there is scope to give Kit Graham another start. Graham was one of only a few players to impress in the game against Manchester United. Her vision produced two excellent through balls that lead to Spurs’ only chances in an otherwise barren first half.

Looking to the wings Spurs have a plethora of options. But it essentially boils down to a choice between more technical players (Celin Bizet and Mana Iwabuchi most obviously) and more speedy players (Jess Naz and Rosella Ayane). In the last game, Jepson chose to have one of each on the pitch, with Bizet and Naz starting. Since they did decently in the time they had, it may be that they have done enough to claim their berths against Reading.

When she came on as a substitute for Naz, Ayane looked stronger than she has done in earlier games this season, and impressed with her speed and ability to run with the ball. But she still seems to lack awareness of other players, too often playing with her head down – indeed it is the combination of this with her undoubted potential that makes Ayane so frustrating to fans. Iwabuchi also got minutes against United but seemed a little off the pace and lacking strength on the ball. This is a little surprising since these were attributes she possessed in her first games after she joined Spurs. 

There is, of course, no discussion about selecting the striker: Bethany England. Spurs’ saviour. Or she will be if Spurs are saved.

If, however, we get to the point where Spurs really need a goal, or where they are on top and can play more attacking football, I hope that Jepson gives Nikola Karczewska a chance. We know that she has goals in her, that defences find her difficult and that her hold-up play is impressive. It would be good to have an opportunity to see what she can do, ideally playing as a second striker.

Above: Nikola Karczewska: It would be good to see her get some minutes. Photo: Spurs Women.

The good news is that, even while Spurs are far from the finished item, and while the season has been painful at best, and that even now the team is yet to find an identity, Spurs do finally have a range of players available who can be introduced and, especially going forward, can create new problems.

This is exciting. And I hope we see Jepson making the most of it – making early changes if needed and using all five substitutes to affect what is happening on the pitch. It does not sound like a lot, but if this were to happen it would mark a major step forward, even while the time left in the season to develop the team is all but gone.

Most importantly, a deeper squad with options for the formation, lineup, and substitutions mean that it is that much more likely that the team will come away with three points. If they do, fans can all exhale. They can even go to Spurs’ final game of the season – a potentially tricky trip to Chigwell Construction Stadium – and enjoy a game that does not matter at all.

The above article was originally published at:

Jepson: Men’s team fans should get behind the badge and support us tomorrow

Above: Tottenham Hotspur interim head coach Vicky Jepson. Photo: Forbes.

In her pre-game press conference, Interim Tottenham Hotspur head coach Vicky Jepson sent a message to Spurs men’s team fans.

“If they support that badge, it doesn’t matter who’s wearing it. They should support anybody that’s wearing it. So whether it’s the men’s team or the women’s team, they should be getting behind and definitely cheering them on tomorrow. 

“If you’re at the men’s game tomorrow and you’re supporting them against Brentford then stay afterwards because we’ve got a big game after that and we need as much support as we can to get behind our women’s team. And, by the way, they’ll be surprised with the quality and the talent that will be shown on that pitch from both teams.”

Jepson spoke about the importance of going after the six remaining points, saying that it was not just this game against Reading on which the team was focused, but also the final game away at West Ham United. “We’ve always said we want to accumulate as many points as we can. There’s six points left in the league, so they’re the six points that we’re going to go for.”

Jepson also answered a question that many Spurs fans have been asking for the last two seasons about the mystery that is Spurs shared goal-keeping duties. She denied that there was any conscious attempt to give equal minutes to Becky Spencer and Tinni Korpela (last season they played 11 games each and so far this season it has been nine and 11, respectively).

Above: Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Tinni Korpela. Photo: Catherine Ivill

“Keepers aren’t selected to equal their minutes, that’s for sure. They’re selected on who we feel is right for that game against that opponent and, I’m definitely not going to be answering who will be starting in goal tomorrow, but I appreciate the question.”

In good news, the Spurs boss confirmed that there were no major injury worries – with Nikola Karczewskwa back fit. Rather, for the first game this season, there will be more players available than spaces on the bench and so there will be tough decisions to make.

“We’ve got 10 subs available, and we can only name nine on the bench. So that’s always hard. The thing is in training at the moment, we’ve trained so well. Every single player has been training so well. So we’re in a great place. That’s a tough decision when you’ve got to leave somebody out of the squad, and when everybody deserves to be in the squad.” 

Finally, Jepson clarified that she was not involved in thinking about contract renewals for the (approximately half dozen) players who will be out of contract at the end of this season. “Those decisions are way above my head at the moment.” While helpful, that does not, of course, answer the question of who is making those decisions.”

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