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Tottenham Hotspur Women 2 – 1 Leicester City: Spurs hold on for nervy win in season opener

Drew Spence giveth, Drew Spence taketh away

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Women’s Super League Photo by Matt Lewis - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur Women defeated Leicester City 2-1 at the King Power stadium in front of a raucous bunch of fans. Drew Spence scored for both teams on her generally impressive debut, but it was Ash Neville’s opening banger of a goal that stole the show.

Rehanne Skinner sent out a 3-4-3, with Shelina Zadorsky, Molly Bartrip, and Amy Turner in front of Becky Spencer in goal, with Ashleigh Neville and Asmita Ale as wingbacks. New signings Angharad James and Drew Spence started in midfield, and interestingly Eveliina Summanen started ahead of them as a sort of false nine. Familiar faces Jessica Naz and Rosella Ayane slotted in up top. Disappointingly, brand new striker Nikola Karczewska didn’t appear. Rumor has it she picked up an injury with Poland, and was only fit enough for the bench.

It was like this for about 7 minutes and then Ellie Brazil came in for Rosella Ayane.

Spurs looked sharp in the opening stages of the first half, beating Leicester to every ball with ease. But before we could really build any attacking momentum, Rosella Ayane succumbed to an early ankle injury and Ellie Brazil replaced her. For large spells of the first half, Spurs had plenty of sterile possession but struggled to get the ball or players into the box. Leicester seemed happy to sit back and strike on the counter. They found a pretty concerning amount of space in our midfield, but Becky Spencer and our trio of center backs cleaned up most of the counters with ease.

Just as things were starting to seem a bit hopeless without a target person in the box, Ash Neville grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. She received the ball at about 35 yards out, glanced up once, and launched a jaw dropping shot past goalkeeper Kirstie Levell’s outstretched hands. That instant goal-of-the-month contender seemed to galvanize us into a spell of bright attacking play, with plenty of link ups between Eveliina Summanen, Ellie Brazil, Drew Spence, and Asmita Ale. Drew Spence closed things out with another long range banger of a goal, and we went into the break with a comfortable 2-0 lead.

Spurs took a step back in the second half, leaving Leicester’s center backs to pass amongst themselves rather than pressing high. But Leicester came out swinging. After they sliced and sliced again through our midfield, our old set piece demons came back to haunt us when Drew Spence volleyed the ball past her own keeper on a Leicester corner. The home fans went wild, Leicester brought on fresh legs in key places, and things got pretty nervy. Leicester seemed to be winning every ball, charging out of the back into space, and forcing us back into our own box. But only one flicked on free kick really made its way through to trouble Becky Spencer, and their sustained pressure ultimately led to nothing.

Spurs still had chances to put the game away, and as usual, failed to take them—Ellie Brazil missed a point blank chance and Asmita Ale failed to connect with an Ash Neville header. Somewhere in the shuffle, Kyah Simon came in for Jess Naz and was fairly anonymous. Exciting new signing Celin Bizet got a run out, crucially dribbling Leicester’s entire defense at one point and linking up well with Ellie, who looked her best for the fifteen minutes Celin was on the pitch. Spurs resorted to the old dark arts to see out the game, a pursuit largely spearheaded by Ash Neville and Drew Spence screwing around by the corner flag while the boos of a thousand Leicester fans rained down around them.

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Women’s Super League
Ash ruffled some feathers today. It was fantastic.
Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

I was glad to see things coming together in the first half. Ashleigh Neville is still really, really good at football. Fellow wingback Asmita Ale barely put a foot wrong today either, though we’ll have to see her against better teams to know whether she’s truly made a jump. Drew Spence looks like a real player—phenomenally smooth, with an eye for picking out nearly any pass and a habit of popping up in just the right spot trying to make things happen. I don’t think she works in a midfield two with Angharad James, but I’m not sure how much we’ll be seeing of that again so I’m not hugely concerned.

Amy Turner seemed to have vanquished her preseason demons, our press limited Leicester to toothless attacks that were easy for our defenders to snuff out, and we even had some bright moments in attack. Although we were missing a target up top, players showed they could find other ways to score. It was a far cry from our sloppy, lethargic preseason play.

I’ll be honest though, I didn’t particularly enjoy anything that happened from about the 55 minute mark onward. Most of my issues were knock on effects of Nikola’s omission and Ros getting subbed off. We need Nikola as a target, otherwise we’re still struggling to get players and the ball into the box at the same time, and using Eveliina as a forward leaves us too defensively vulnerable. Right now, Ellie Brazil is a step down from Rosella because she gets pushed around a lot, she doesn’t take the number shots Ros does (yes I know Ros’ shots don’t go in, but you can’t score if you don’t shoot), and she presses but she’s not as physically threatening so it’s not quite as successful. I’m hoping maybe more minutes will help because she can stand players up and beat them on a good day—there’s definitely a player in there somewhere.

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Women’s Super League
Molly telling Kerys Harrop and Rachel Williams how much we miss them.
Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

We’re also obviously missing Rachel Williams and Maeva Clemaron, as well as Kit Graham and Ria Percival. As a result, nearly everything we did went through the right wing, which made it easy for Leicester to close down. Some of these problems will resolve as players come back from injury or new ones bed in, but for others, Rehanne Skinner will need to find solutions. I’m still super high on Skinner in general, but I found myself frustrated with her today. Leicester were able to get back into the game by making subs. We didn’t (or couldn’t) do that. Sometime soon, I’d like to see us use the bench to take control of a game and keep it. We’ve also had issues defending set pieces for a while now, and while that goal was sort of flukey, it makes me think we haven’t taken steps to address this at all.

This performance, however uncomfortable, was a clear improvement on our late season games last year. I’ll absolutely take three points in an away stadium full of fans, with missing players and early injuries. Last year, I don’t think we manage to see out a victory there. Hopefully, this atmosphere and intensity will have served as good practice for our players as they head into a week of prep for the upcoming North London Derby. And meanwhile, I’ll just be over here manifesting Nikola Karczewska’s debut hattrick.