The Rehanne Skinner derby may not have been the biggest billed WSL matchup this weekend, but it still delivered–seven goals all from set pieces, questionable refereeing, horrible weather, and a few brilliant individual performances. In the end, Spurs came out on top 4-3 thanks to a brace and assist from Grace Clinton and a brilliant winner from Jess Naz.
Robert Vilahamn put out a familiar looking lineup. Barbora Votikova retained her starting spot from December’s WSL fixture against Arsenal, but somewhat surprisingly, Becky Spencer didn’t even appear on the bench. Whether injury or simply team selection, Vilahamn only had youth keeper Eleanor Heeps to use as backup. Elsewhere, Angharad James, Amy Turner, Molly Bartrip and Ash Neville started across the back line. The Finnish double pivot returned with Martha Thomas ahead of them as the number ten. Ahead of them, Captain Beth England led the line with Grace Clinton and Celin Bizet on the wings.
Grace Clinton opened the scoring after just eight minutes. After a throw-in, Spurs worked the ball quickly around the box, then Grace pulled out some lovely footwork and fired a rocket of a shot past Mackenzie Arnold at the near post. Spurs’ control seemed to slip in the middle of the half. The onslaught of West Ham attacks culminated in a Risa Shimizu goal, also the result of a throw-in. West Ham’s Ueki dribbled past Angharad James to put in a cross. Molly Bartrip couldn’t stop Asseyi from flicking it on, and Ash Neville’s last-ditch challenge wasn’t enough to stop the onrushing Risa. Spurs responded just four minutes later with a brilliant equalizer–Grace Clinton picked up the ball off of a quickly taken throw-in (I know, I know) and played a gorgeous pass into Celin Bizet, who fired home.
Spurs struck first again in the second half with another beautiful, if controversial, goal from Grace Clinton. The ball bobbled around in the box after a corner, and Grace fired through traffic on both sides and into the far corner. West Ham fans claimed Mackenzie Arnold was unsighted by the offside Amy Turner. Subsequent visual evidence suggests that Arnold had eyes on the initial shot, but that Turner may have blocked her view of the ball as it sliced through. There’s no VAR in the WSL, so Clinton’s banger of a goal was allowed to stand.
This is perhaps unkind to Kristie Mewis, who really turned things around for West Ham, but it’s difficult to say which side’s substitutions helped West Ham more–Rehanne Skinner introduced the freshly-signed Kristie Mewis along with Jessica Ziu and Anouk Denton, while Vilahamn brought in Jess Naz for Martha Thomas and Ramona Petzelberger for Amy Turner. Eveliina Summanen moved back into Amy’s place at center back, which instantly destabilized the defense and decimated our ability to control midfield.
Not too long after, Barbora and Eveliina failed to communicate and execute, leaving Asseyi to fire home a second goal. Things fell apart after that. Eveliina struggled to defend Tysiak on a corner, and the ball stretched between Barbora’s outstretched hands into the back of the net. Luckily, Jess Naz put Spurs back into the lead with a beautiful first time hit straight into the bottom corner of the net. The rest of the match was just about weathering the whipping wind and sideways rain, and a newly invigorated West Ham attack. Spurs emerged unscathed with all three points, and all of us fans breathed a collective sigh of relief at the final whistle.
If I sound mad about today’s game, that’s because it’s been several hours and I’m pretty sure my heart rate is still in the stratosphere along with Kristie Mewis’ 83rd minute free kick. Obviously, Spurs still have serious defensive issues. Earlier this week, Vilahamn spoke about Eveliina’s potential at center back. He may be right, but it’s costing us goals while he works out the kinks. To be fair, with Luana Bühler still out injured and Amy Turner only just returned, our other options may not currently be better. Spurs could hypothetically still sign another center back before the January transfer window closes, but if the right one isn’t available, it makes more sense to wait.
In the end, though, it was a really good result. We know Rehanne Skinner has the ability to put together dangerous, well-organized sides (RIP 2021-22 Tottenham, I think of you often), and we’re still riding out the tail end of an injury crisis. You can really see Vilahamn’s style starting to develop–players making pinpoint passes under pressure, creating and taking chances, and fighting back from behind with a degree of self-confidence that would’ve been unimaginable during last years’ near-relegation season. Unfortunately, we have to face Bunny Shaw (and the rest of Manchester City) again next week. But for once, I’m excited to see what we can pull out of the bag!