Tottenham Hotspur Women fell 1-0 to Aston Villa Women in Spurs’ first game back after a Covid outbreak at the training ground. Ramona Petzelberger’s late goal capped off an evening of missed connections, and dashed Spurs’ remaining Champions League aspirations, and Spurs now face another three weeks without a game during international break and FA cup games.
#ThingsYouLoveToSee pic.twitter.com/hF4DzBLEci— Tottenham Hotspur Women (@SpursWomen) April 3, 2022
Coach Rehanne Skinner made just a few tweaks from the March 13th loss to Manchester City, with Jessica Naz coming in for Cho So-Hyun, Ashleigh Neville returning to fullback after her fruitful adventures farther up the pitch, and Ria Percival moving up into midfield.
In the opening stages of the game, Spurs looked disjointed and disoriented, perhaps understandably so after two weeks off. Much of Spurs’ early possession ended in mishit passes and dribbles into pressure, not least because Villa double and triple marked Rachel Williams, Ria Percival, and Ash Neville whenever she crossed halfway. Spurs’ own press was uncharacteristically disorganized. Villa had no trouble playing through it, though they looked equally toothless and never created any real threat.
Each side traded early chances—After just ten minutes, Ash Neville intercepted a Villa pass and found Jessica Naz, who played a lovely ball through to Rachel Williams. With an early and decisive cut-in, Williams could’ve had a 1v1 with goalkeeper Hannah Hampton, but she took a few extra touches and had to settle for a corner. Shortly after, Villa fullback Maz Pacheco pounced on a mistake in Spurs’ back line during buildup, and found the electric Petzelberger at the top of the box. Petzelberger spun and lofted a pinpoint pass toward Alisha Lehmann at the far post, but Lehmann collided with Kerys Harrop and the ball went out for a goal kick. Lehmann appealed for a penalty, but the ref wasn’t interested.
At around the 20 minute mark, Spurs found their footing. Something clicked among our attackers, and their organized pressing forced a number of turnovers that led to half-chances. Villa scarcely had a sniff for the rest of the half, but Spurs continued to struggle with their final product. Rachel Williams nearly got on the end of a few balls, but they all fell just beyond her reach.
In the second half, Rosella Ayane came on for Jessica Naz. Naz looked bright on the ball and put in good defensive work, but has missed the last few games, so it was likely a planned, like-for-like substitution. Tottenham picked up the half right where they left off—Rachel Williams received Kerys Harrop’s pass under pressure and turned into the penalty area, but she scuffed the shot and it dribbled harmlessly toward Hampton’s gloves. Spurs spent more than enough time in Villa’s penalty area, notably Kyah Simon’s skied volley and a close range effort from Ria Percival cleared off the line.
Around the 60th minute, the game began to slip from Spurs’ control. Coach Rehanne Skinner brought on Angela Addison for the tiring Summanen at 68’ which sacrificed some midfield control, and Villa’s introduction of Jill Scott and Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah further shifted the tide.
Villa’s goal came after a sustained period of pressure. Pacheco collected a clearance and played a dangerous ball in toward the top of the box, Rachel Corsie flicked it onward, and Petzelberger reacted ahead of Ashleigh Neville with a strong header past Becky Spencer at the far post. Spurs spent the final minutes desperately trying to rescue a point, but to no avail. Villa held strong and saw out the game.
It’s a familiar story—Spurs dominated for long stretches, but struggled to create and convert clear cut chances and ran into defender Anita Asante and goalkeeper Hannah Hampton when they did. I have to wonder whether a squad with game time, momentum, and a clean bill of health might’ve come away with all three points. As the game wore on, key players seemed off pace. Eveliina Summanen didn’t seem to be quite as omnipresent as usual, and we lost some control of midfield when she left the pitch. Rachel Williams is typically more than capable of dealing with double and triple marking, but she lost the ball quite a few times in the final 30 minutes. Villa scored with their only shot on target, and on another day, Neville tracks Petzelberger’s run or we clear the ball before it even falls to her.
The good news is Spurs are still solidly in 5th with 3 points, two (albeit difficult) games in hand, and quite a bit of goal difference over Brighton. This game exposed known gaps in our squad, but we’ve seen what this team and this coach can do. We won’t be the only team looking to upgrade this summer, but I’m confident that if we do, we’ll be right back in contention for those Champions League spots next season.