Tottenham Hotspur Women roared to a 2-0 win over bottom of the table Birmingham City at St. Andrews on Sunday. Spurs got scrappy second half goals from Ashleigh Neville and Ria Percival to propel Spurs up to third in the WSL behind Arsenal and Chelsea, and setting up an important match at Reading in early March.
Rehanne Skinner handed a full debut to her newest signing, Arsenal loanee Viktoria Schnaderbeck in a back three with captain Shelina Zadorsky and Molly Bartrip. Kerys Harrop moved to the bench. Asmita Ale also started at LWB with Ashleigh Neville on the right. Maeva Clemaron and Ria Percival anchored the midfield, with a front three of Jessica Naz, Kyah Simon, and Rachel Williams. Becky Spencer retained her place in goal.
Birmingham City are bottom of the WSL table, but they gave Spurs a decent scare early on. City’s Greek international Veratriki Sarri had the first big chance of the match after 14 minutes, firing a low effort that Spencer did well to save for a corner. Jade Pennock latched onto a loose ball four minutes later and fired a shot over Spencer’s goal. However, Spurs pressed Birmingham relentlessly and kept City’s chances relatively few.
But just after, Naz nearly put Spurs in front. Rachel Williams found Jessica Naz in space with a lovely through ball and Naz who was one on one with the keeper, hesitated on the shot. Naz attempted to square across the face of goal to Williams, who crashed the back post, wasn’t able to direct the ball on target. Naz got a header on the ensuing cross, but her effort went wide.
Spurs had another good look in the 23rd minute on a counterattack, with Williams and Naz again combining to progress the ball. Kyah Simon had the ball inside the box with space in front of her, but City were able to block her shot away with a well-timed slide.
Tottenham had another opportunity from a free kick just outside of Birmingham’s box, but Percival tried to loft the ball to the back post for a teammate instead of shooting straight at goal, and the attempt was wanting. Zadorsky also had a free header at the back post off a corner late in the half, but put her effort wide. The first half ended scoreless.
At halftime, Rehanna Skinner made a rare double substitution, bringing in former Birmingham defender Kerys Harrop and Evaliina Summanen for Schnaderbeck and Simon and changing the formation to a 4-4-2. This pushed Neville higher up the pitch, and she played the second half essentially as a right sided midfielder with Ale at fullback behind her. The change also stretched Birmingham City’s midfield, giving Percival and Clemaron more room to progress the ball; Spurs started numerous counterattacks in the second half by pressing Birmingham into coughing up the ball in midfield and hitting it out quickly to the flanks.
Ale created the first chance of the 2nd half in the 52nd minute after she overlapped with Neville and fizzed a cross in for Williams, who got a head to it but put her chance wide of the post.
Spurs’ first real opportunity of the half came at 59’ when Williams played Percival through on goal, but City keeper Ramsey was able to make the save. The breakthrough came in the 66th minute, as Spurs capitalized on a defensive error by Ramsey. Off a corner, Naz fired in a curler of a shot that was spilled by Ramsey, but Neville was well positioned to slot the rebound effort into the net.
Spurs came close to doubling their lead four minutes later. Molly Bartrip’s corner was met by Williams again, but her headed shot was saved by Ramsey. The rebound was half-volleyed off the crossbar by Neville and was eventually cleared.
Neville went close a third time in the 72nd minute from a well worked team move. Naz fired another low ball towards Williams at the spot, but the veteran striker somehow whiffed her shot. The ball dribbled to an open Neville, who struck it just wide of the far post.
Tottenham had numerous chance and half chances, mostly created at high speed due to the pace of Naz, who was granted an incredible amount of space on the left flank. Naz herself had a chipped ball saved by Ramsey, and Summanen had a glancing header also saved. Neville also hit the post again late. Birmingham, by contrast rarely threatened at all in the second 45.
Spurs added their insurance goal in the 85th minute; Neville put yet another cross into the box for Neville, who knocked the ball to feet of Ria Percival. Ria fired past Ramsey to put Spurs up two. City players appealed, suggesting that Percival was in an offside position, but with no VAR in the women’s game the goal stood.
Spurs were content to play out the string in the final ten minutes, and when the final whistle blew Spurs were comfortable, and deserved, winners. The final score was 2-0.
- Skinner has wanted to play with a back three in the past and has experimented with the formation, but hasn’t really had the players to adequately fill out all the positions. The addition of Schnaderbeck gives Skinner a new tactical wrinkle, with Viktoria and captain Shelina Zadorsky playing on either side of Bartrip, and Spurs now have two capable natural wingbacks in Neville and Ale. Spurs looked a little uneasy in the formation, and didn’t generate as much offense as you’d have expected.
- The switch to 4-4-2 changed the game really brought out the best in Neville, who had an EXCEPTIONAL match, playing extremely high up the pitch and creating havoc going forward. She’s having an outstanding season and could have had a hat trick.
- Spurs did a lot of ball progression on the counter through Williams and Naz, whose connection in this match reminded me a lot of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min. Williams isn’t afraid to drop deep and play in the speedier Naz, only to see Williams crash the box and look for a scrappy second effort seconds later.
- You’re not going to finish every chance and Tottenham had plenty, so while it’s fun to have two goals against a team that’s likely for the drop, you still have to wonder why they didn’t convert more.
- Naz had a bit of a mixed game — she had so much space to work with on the left and was given a lot of license to get forward but didn’t always capitalize on the chances she was given. She’s super quick but needs to figure out how to finish on those counterattack chances.
- Winning is fun! Spurs have done quite a bit of it lately, and thanks to Manchester City’s win in the Manchester Derby they are now back in third, two points ahead of United. Spurs’ next match is a tough one at Reading; a must-win if they’re going to continue to stay in the hunt for that Champions League place.