Gareth Taylor praised the perseverance of his Manchester City players after a 3-0 defeat of Tottenham extended their winning run to 12 games and ensured they stay within two points of Chelsea as their showdown with the Women’s Super League leaders approaches.
“A 12-game winning streak in a 22-game season is phenomenal,” said Taylor. “It’s kept us in touching distance and knowing exactly what we need to do in these final three games.”
A new manager bounce helped Tottenham pick up their first four (and only) wins of the season in succession following the appointment of Rehanne Skinner in November. However, since then the team have just two points from seven games.
Most bruising, perhaps, is that many of those games, for a team that should be targeting the “best of the rest” mantle, were very winnable for a squad of Spurs’ calibre.
Their opposition has ramped up a level since to pile pressure on Skinner, who left her job as an assistant coach of England women to step into a head coach role in the WSL for the first time and suffered a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal last week. There may have been some hope for Spurs before kick-off, as City fielded a very makeshift backline.
Steph Houghton – the club captain – and the right-back Demi Stokes both remain out with injuries while Lucy Bronze had picked up a groin injury and the late withdrawal of England’s right back Alex Greenwood with a similar problem meant Aoife Mannion was swapped from the bench to the starting XI at the last minute to play alongside Georgia Stanway, normally City’s No 10, playing in a less conventional right-back role.
Spurs tried to target Stanway and the centre-back turned temporary left-back Esme Morgan, but even City’s reserves were a level above.
That defensive solidity was welcomed by Taylor. “I wouldn’t say there’s a second-choice or third-choice [backline], we’ve had players that have played more due to form and availability, but I really believe in this players, I believe in the squad.”
It took just four minutes for City to take the lead, as an inviting corner from the winger Chloe Kelly was diverted by Spurs’ goalkeeper Becky Spencer into her own net to turn the task from a mound into a mountain.
The home team were not without fight against the team looking to push Chelsea all the way at the top end of the table. Skinner urged her players to “stay high in the press and make them find a way out”. The problem, though, is that in the shape of Sam Mewis, Caroline Weir and Keira Walsh, City have the personnel that made finding a way out of that press very easy.
One positive for Tottenham was the performance of the 18-year-old Welsh full-back Esther Morgan, who forced Taylor to swap Kelly from left to right to shift her away from the attentions of the young defender.
“She’s a really positive and hardworking kid that’s learning her trade,” said Skinner. “The fact that she plays without fear really helps her, it helps with her decision making.”
Five minutes before the end of the half City doubled their lead. A wonderfully-weighted through ball from Mewis found Janine Beckie and the Canadian, who may have been marginally offside, slotted past Spencer. A brief spell of Spurs pressure in the second half, orchestrated by the Australian Alanna Kennedy, would be crushed by City’s third as Kelly, at the back post, poked Beckie’s floated cross towards an onrushing Weir to prod in. “We’re too tentative in the press, we need to be more aggressive and on the front foot,” said Skinner. “There was a bit of a disconnect between some of the players in terms of what that looked like.”
Next up for Spurs are Manchester United and Chelsea before a kinder season finale with Birmingham. The north London side may sit comfortably in eighth, four points above Birmingham, having played a game more, but only seven points separate them and bottom-placed Aston Villa, who have played two games less than Spurs and Bristol City in 11th.