We’re half way through a run of five games in two weeks, and Rehanne Skinner once again had the tricky task of selecting a team of uninjured players that could create chances and contain the opposition with minimal rest. This time, Skinner kept the back three, but shifted Kerys Harrop to center back in place of Viktoria Schnaderbeck, and moved Asmita Ale to left wingback from her usual position on the right. Maeva Clemaron and Eveliina Summanen took up their usual spots in midfield, while Tang Jiali replaced Kyah Simon in attack and Becky Spencer came in for Korpela in goal.
This setup gave Spurs plenty of options for ball progression and chance creation. Our three center backs stayed wide enough to find angles through Clemaron and Summanen centrally, or play balls out through Ale and Neville on the wings. At times when Everton closed down the short passing options, Rachel Williams provided an additional target up top. It didn’t take long to see the fruits of the plan. After just five minutes, Molly Bartrip played a long ball to Williams, who brought it down, turned, and slipped in Eveliina Summanen. Eveliina strode toward goal and got off a weak shot, and Asmita Ale reacted ahead of the Everton defenders to ensure it reached the back of the net.
The goal set the tone of the first half. Rachel Williams was particularly phenomenal, setting up plays, creating chances, and getting on the end of a few set pieces. Both Williams and Tang found joy picking apart Everton’s defense with through balls for the speedy Rosella Ayane and Eveliina Summanen. Ale and Neville also contributed in attack, and on another day Spurs could’ve had three or four by halftime instead of just one.
Everton never really threatened in the first half, but they showed enough bite to make me nervous about such a narrow lead. At one point, the lively Poppy Pattinson beat several defenders only to put her shot wide. Simone Magill, Hanna Bennison and Toni Duggan also looked capable of causing trouble, but Spurs contained them well, and Summanen and Clemaron were always well-positioned to step in and clean up loose balls.
After half time, Skinner made a double substitution and a formation change—Kerys Harrop came off for Cho So-Hyun, and Tang Jiali came off for Jessica Naz. Spurs shifted to a back four that looked stretched against that capable Everton attack. Our defenders struggled to play out from the back, which became more of an issue as attackers tired and could no longer successfully hold up long balls. We also lost some cohesiveness in both pressing and passing in the final third. Still, our attackers continued to create chances, and Cho, Ayane, Williams and Naz all missed opportunities to double our lead.
At 70 minutes, things got spooky. Everton substitutes Claire Emslie and Danielle Turner looked sharp in attack, and our players, particularly Rachel Williams, started to seem dead on their feet. Everton finally capitalized with five minutes left to play, when Gabby George found Kenza Dali on a throw-in. Dali turned and created enough space from Cho to launch a floating cross toward the back post, and Danielle Turner raced between Asmita Ale and Shelina Zadorsky to head into the far corner.
Spurs dug deep and responded instantly. Josie Green played a ball to Jessica Naz down the wing, and Naz beat her mark with a tricky touch at the end line and raced into the box. She put in a dangerous ball across the mouth of the goal, and Josie slid in to finish the move off. For five whole minutes, I thought Josie Green had saved the day. But it wasn’t to be. Our typically organized back line dissolved into chaos, and Everton kept knocking on the door. Their second equalizer could’ve been a carbon copy of the first—a cross to the back post from a throw-in, where Megan Finnegan this time beat Ale to the ball to head home.
I have mixed feelings about this result. A last minute equalizer is always heartbreaking, especially when we did more than enough to win, but then slowly lost our grip on the game until the final whistle. It was also frustrating to concede two goals from our clear weakness in the air in front of our own net. We’ve conceded from close range headers in all of our last four games, and we’re showing no signs of addressing it.
But—and bear with me, because I know I’ve said this before—I’m so impressed with Rehanne Skinner’s problem solving. Every week, I see new ideas from her that maximize the skills of the players she has at her disposal. We put up 10 shots on target and 3.7 xG against Everton, something I never thought I’d see from an exhausted Spurs team missing Kit Graham and Ria Percival. It makes me feel slightly more positive about the upcoming Arsenal game, and as always, I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happens next season.