After a month with no league matches, Tottenham Hotspur Women returned to their home digs at Barnet FC’s The Hive stadium this past Sunday, hosting Manchester United. It was one of Spurs’ stiffest tests yet against a side in United that came up with Tottenham to the WSL three years ago, but with the benefit of a lot more funding and monetary support behind them.
In an evenly contested match over 90 minutes, both clubs scored goals in extra time of either half — United with a 47th minute blast from Alessia Russo, and Tottenham with a last-gasp long range effort from Ria Percival in the 95th minute — and both teams were content to end the match with a point. The final score was 1-1.
Spurs manager Rehanne Skinner made a couple of changes to the starting lineup from their last league match, with Finnish keeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela deputizing for the injured Becky Spencer, and Korean captain Cho So-hyun anchoring the midfield. United lined up ahead of England #1 keeper Mary Earps, and powerful striker (and former Carolina Tar Heel) Alessia Russo.
Your team to take on Manchester United! pic.twitter.com/MxCq7dQxO5— Tottenham Hotspur Women (@SpursWomen) November 7, 2021
Spurs came out with a sustained spell of pressure early, and kept the ball in United’s half for most of the opening 10 minutes. Jessica Naz tested Earps early with a long cross that forced a good save, and strong midfield play from Cho, Percival, and Maeva Clemaron mopped up most outlet passes from United.
But United got a toehold midway through the first half and started asserting themselves more. Neither side had many good looks on goal until the 35th minute when Russo was able to turn Spurs captain Shelina Zadorsky in the box and fire a shot that was pushed away by Korpela. The ball fell to Leah Galton, but her rebound shot deflected off of Percival and sailed over the bar.
Russo was the difference maker for United in the first half and broke the deadlock just before the halftime whistle with a strong drive into the box and a rocket of a shot that gave Korpela no chance and went into the roof of the goal.
It was a disheartening end to the first half for Spurs, who had kept United from generating much of anything offensively for the entire half. The home side went into the break down 1-0.
Skinner opted to make a change at halftime, withdrawing holding midfielder Cho for wide attacker Chioma Ubogagu and moving Kyah Simon more central. United nevertheless came out firing, forcing Korpela into a few routine saves within the opening few minutes of the half.
Tottenham’s best chance of the match came in the 65th minute off of a long snap shot from Kit Graham. Her powerful effort was destined for goal, but Earps made a diving stop to keep it out of the top left corner.
Ironically, it was a very low xG shot that earned Tottenham the point. In the fifth minute of extra time, Percival set up for a very long free kick from near the left sideline. Her long ball somehow missed everyone, took a bounce right in front of goal and slipped past a diving Earps to earn Spurs the draw.
United very nearly scored a winner just after, forcing Korpela to make a fingertip stop from close range, but Spurs held on to earn a huge point, again proving that they are still dark horse contenders for a Champions League spot next season. The final score was 1-1.
- It’s well enough into the season that I think we can start to make some conclusions about what kind of a team Spurs are at the moment. It’s clear that Tottenham are a club with a good defense and a much improved midfield, but with an attack that still is not clicking and both creating and finishing chances.
- To wit, Spurs really didn’t test Mary Earps much apart from Kit Graham’s snap shot and Percival’s lucky long ball. Otherwise, Spurs looked pretty anemic in the final third. Their defense is keeping them in matches right now, enough so they can snatch results, but that’s not far away from backfiring. Kyah Simon also disappointed deployed wide right today, but it could just be lack of match fitness.
- But the defense has been rock solid. Molly Bartrip and Shelina Zadorsky were imperious at the back, Ashley Neville had some really nice runs down the flanks, and Tinja-Riikka Korpela made a couple of outstanding saves to keep United out.
- I was also impressed with Jessica Naz who has really improved over the course of the season, especially in possession. Tested Earps late with a wide shot that just skimmed over the bar. She’s only 21 and I think she’ll get better.
- Tottenham’s subs were ineffective against United, which was disappointing. Ubogagu, Josie Green, Rosella Ayane, and Angela Addison really didn’t do much to help Spurs offensively, and Tottenham found themselves defending more and more often as the 2nd half went on.
- The advantage to having this match on the BBC was that we got match coverage from Jonathan Pearce, who peppered the commentary with some really interesting facts and anecdotes. For example, I was not aware that Chioma Ubogagu moved to Texas as a young child, won a U20 World Cup with USA, was called up to the senior side (but didn’t play), and eventually declared for England. The flip side of that is that Pearce tended to also interject some of his own personal feelings into the match, including a couple minute rant on the switch to five subs in football. Knowledgeable commentary, but a bit distracting at times.
- The important point keeps Spurs in third behind Arsenal and Chelsea, one above fellow surprise team Brighton. Next match is a tough one — a home tie vs. Arsenal on Saturday, Nov. 13.