Tottenham Hotspur Women smashed London City Lionesses 5-0 to advance in the FA Cup. The current leaders Women’s Championship leaders put up a fight, but they proved no match for a Spurs side transformed by new signings.
Rehanne Skinner selected a stronger lineup than one might expect for a game against a Championship side. Tinja-Riika Korpela started in goal, with Molly and Shelina at center back. Ash Neville returned to the lineup in place of Amy Turner at right back, and Kerys Harrop retained her position on the other touchline. Angharad James and Drew Spence formed a midfield two, with Mana Iwabuchi playing as an attacking midfielder in front of them. Rosella Ayane and Celin Bizet patrolled the wings, and Beth England led the line.
London City’s forward line pressed hard and high for the duration of 90 minutes (if you’re the fitness coach at London City and you’re reading this, hi! Might I interest you in a little trip across London?). Spurs managed to play out of the press and make some inroads into London City’s third. Beth England scored the opener just outside the ten-minute mark. London City’s defenders afforded Rosella Ayane all sorts of space on the wing, and she put in a gorgeous cross. Beth only had to stand beneath it and watch it rocket into the top netting.
Mana Iwabuchi grabbed a second just before halftime–an Ash Neville cutback found her unmarked in the center of the box, and her deflected shot found the back of the net. Mana later called the goal “lucky” on Instagram, but it was skill and superior vision that allowed her to arrive in the box unmarked.
Rehanne swapped Angharad James for Eveliina Summanen at half time, and the goal fest continued. Not five minutes after the starting whistle, Drew Spence slotted home Beth England’s deflected shot. Around the 60 minute mark, Amy Turner replaced Shelina Zadorsky, and Nikola Karczewska replaced Beth England.
Nikola’s 30 minute cameo put to bed any concerns I might’ve had that she’d fester away on the bench thanks to Beth England’s arrival. Spurs’ fourth goal came from Nikola pressing London City’s center backs, rattling them so much that one of them played the ball straight past her own keeper into the net. The fifth came after Eveliina (who also had a phenomenal cameo) won the ball back and teed it up for Drew to find Nikola in the box. Rather than take a suboptimal shot herself, Niki selflessly squared it to Eveliina, who finished the move flawlessly. When Nikola first signed, we didn’t have much data on her decision making. The fact that she has this level of composure, especially in a 30 minute cameo, is hugely encouraging for the future.
It was one among a number of encouraging signs. Ash Neville may still be lacking match fitness, but she’s already back to her creative ways, assisting Mana Iwabuchi with a clever cutback. She and Celin Bizet caused mischief down the right wing all day. Throw the genius of Mana Iwabuchi into that mix, and damn, that’s one fearsome flank. Drew Spence showed once again that she can play in a deeper role and carry a defensive load. Spurs have been crying out for a strong passer deeper on the pitch. The fact that Drew can play that role without being a massive defensive liability makes me much more optimistic for the rest of the season. Elsewhere, Spurs look to have tightened up their defending on corners. There’s a clear plan now–usually three man markers and four zonal markers. Players we know to be weak in the air are making good clearances. There may be more individual errors to come, but for now, and for the second game in a row, it’s looking alright!
If you think I’m overreacting to a performance against a significantly weaker side, you’re underestimating London City Lionesses. Though they’re only just ahead of Bristol City in the Championship, they’ve scored six more goals than anyone else in the league, and conceded the second fewest, all the while playing an energetic high press. We don’t face much opposition like them in the WSL, and I wasn’t sure how we’d handle it. I was thrilled to discover we actually can play out of serious pressure, and more than that, keep possession under it.
One caveat I will make is that London City’s back line do not seem to press the way the rest of the team does. Rosella Ayane, Drew Spence, and Mana Iwabuchi in particular seemed to have ages on the ball at times. Drew and Mana obviously can do it against better sides, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect Ros to put in crosses like that week in, week out.
As an alternative, I thought London City’s winger, Karin Muya, looked particularly bright. She caused Kerys Harrop all sorts of trouble one on one, and put in a spicy cross or two. I can think of a few of our forwards I’d send away to get her in the squad. I’ll be keeping an eye on her, and if she still looks good come summer, you can bet I’ll be manifesting her signing.
Looking ahead in the FA Cup, Spurs will face Reading at home on February 26th. The squad looks a bit different from the last time we faced Reading, thanks to Beth England, Mana Iwabuchi, and several youngsters who seem to be finding their feet. There’s no reason to think we can’t advance. In the meantime, you can relive our decisive victory here: