There is an argument that the Women’s Super League is more or less divided into three sections.
The top five teams are fighting for the league and Champions League spots, the next four are mid-table and then comes the bottom three. West Ham United, Aston Villa and Bristol City are the trio currently trying to remain in the WSL.
Here is an assessment of the bottom three clubs and how likely they are to be demoted to the Championship.
West Ham – P11: W2, D1, L8
Matt Beard left his role as West Ham head coach by mutual consent in November. The club had just one win from seven league games and have only experienced one more victory since Beard’s departure.
Olli Harder was appointed a month later on an initial two-and-a-half-year deal. The Hammers beat Bristol City 4-0 before Harder’s arrival with the new manager losing both of his league games in charge so far. Furthermore, Harder has yet to see his team score a league goal under his management.
As with all teams in the bottom three, goals have been hard to come by. Rachel Daly was West Ham’s top scorer in the league with three goals (level with Emily van Egmond), but she has returned to Houston Dash following the conclusion of her short-term deal.
As well as struggling to score goals, West Ham are far from solid at the back. They have kept just one clean sheet in 11 WSL games and need to become harder to beat when goals are at a premium.
Chances of avoiding relegation: 4/5Embed from Getty Images
Aston Villa – P11: W2, D1, L8
Newly promoted Aston Villa are level on seven points with West Ham and have a near identical record. In a surprising twist to their season, Villa have appointed Marcus Bignot as Interim Manager with immediate effect, seemingly replacing Gemma Davies.
The current Villa coaching team, led by Davies, will remain in their existing positions. Fans are understandably confused by this development. Sporting Director Eni Aluko provided clarity around the situation:
The buck now stops with Marcus Bignot who will lead on team selection, tactical selection, in game touch line decisions and training with assistance and mentoring of the technical team. Thanks for your support!— Eniola Aluko (@EniAlu) January 25, 2021
Villa have struggled with the step up to the top flight. This may explain them turning to Bignot to provide some much-needed experience. New signing Mana Iwabuchi has already made a difference to the side. In the 2-2 draw against Reading, she scored a goal and provided an assist.
As it stands, Villa will remain in the WSL on the basis that Bristol City are worse than them. Avoiding relegation should be seen as a successful campaign for Villa.
Chances of avoiding relegation: 3/5Embed from Getty Images
Bristol City – P12: W1, D2, L9
It has been a very difficult season for Bristol City. The Vixens are rock bottom, but they have won their first game of the season on the 12th attempt to give themselves hope of survival. While they are now just two points behind West Ham and Aston Villa, both sides have a game in hand.
Manager Tanya Oxtoby is on maternity leave and will be covered by Matt Beard until the end of the season.
Beard’s first game in charge saw Bristol City lose against 4-0 against Everton. In eight of their 12 league games, four or more goals have been conceded by the bottom club. These poor performances are unsustainable and Bristol City seem destined to end their four-year spell in the WSL.
Amid a dour season, goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley and striker Ebony Salmon have been shining lights for the Vixens. Baggaley is an excellent shot-stopper and in the 1-1 draw against Reading in December, she made 13 saves.
The youngster is one of the best ‘keepers in the league and it will be a surprise if she does not remain in the WSL, regardless of Bristol’s plight. Salmon is a very talented forward and raises the level of her team. Even if she is not on the scoresheet, Salmon pressures the defence and runs all game.
Matt Beard is a well respected manager who won the WSL twice with Liverpool but this is a completely difference scenario. Beard may improve the way Bristol City play but a return to the Championship beckons.
Chances of avoiding relegation: 1/5Embed from Getty Images