New dawn for the newest pride of Lionesses who impress on their FA WC debut.
Much had been speculated about London City Lionesses following the severing of ties with Millwall Lionesses and becoming an independent club back in May. A deafening silence on all forms of social media and online for the best part of 3 months suddenly sparked into life as the first day of the FA WC season dawned. A new club badge was launched at a media day held last week gave a glimpse into colours and branding that might be used in the season ahead. Sneak peaks of an all white kit with Nike branding was also glimpsed in the run up to the start of the season.
There were several rumours about players and it was all but confirmed that Ellie Mason, Hannah Short and Poppy Wilson had made the switch to the new Lionesses. Branded as a “a new kind of football”, questions were asked as to how many of the original Millwall Lionesses would be retained. There were plenty of surprises when City’s social media sparked into life and the squad for the season was released.
Of the original Millwall Lionesses, 8 had been retained and supplemented with a blend of FA WSL experience and youth. Furthermore, it had also emerged that City were also being run as a full-time professional club. In the aftermath of the game, some impressive commitments to the women’s game were made by the club; not least unprecedented private medical care to all their players. Grand ambitions to set out a blueprint for other independent women’s teams has also been touted. There is much to be admired with the way City have gone about their business prior to the season starting. In my season preview, I tipped City to finish fifth, however, I feel that I may have done them an injustice. Yes, there were some teething issues with the ball being given away cheaply and on another day the opposition may have taken an early lead – but this is to be expected. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will take more matches and more time out on the pitch understanding where their teammates wants the ball. The foundations are, however, firmly set in place.
London Bees have also had an active summer, recruiting several high-profile players with FA WSL experience and having a very strong squad to select from. Pick of the signings include Rosie Kmita from West Ham and Bonnie Horwood and Megan Alexander from Yeovil Town.
London Bees could have taken an early lead inside the opening minute as striker, Lauren Pickett was released one-on-one with the ‘keeper but she could only fire her shot directly at Lucy Thomas, making her City debut. This early effort seemed to spark City into life and they produced several passages of decent attacks at the Bees goals. Manager, Chris Phillips appeared to set his side up in a 3-5-2 formation with the wing-backs pushing up high. Much of City’s good play involved Grace Neville bombing forward and, on 7 minutes, she would enter the history books as the goal-scorer of London City Lionesses first goal. An in-swinging cross from the left found Neville free in the middle of the box and she latched on to the ball with a diving header to direct it past Sarah Quantrill in the Bees’ goal.
City retained much of the possession throughout the first half, proving to be a threat with their attacks. The midfield of Poppy Wilson, Juliette Kemppi and Freda Ayisi worked hard to win the ball to release Liz Ejupi on several occasions.
London Bees did have their moments and on another day could have had a couple of goals themselves, with Pickett proving to be a handful to City’s back three. On the stroke of half-time, Thomas pulled off an early contender for save of the season as she got across to palm a fierce shot over the bar. From the resultant corner, Thomas showed her bravery by diving at the feet of her opponent to smother the ball and ensure her side went into the break with the one goal lead intact.
At the start of the second-half, Pickett was again at the heart of Bees’ goal-scoring opportunities as she was released down the left channel but she blazed the ball over the bar. City gave the ball away cheaply on several occasions but they showed desire and courage to win it back at the earliest opportunity. The back three of Ylenia Priest, Harley Bennett and captain, Ellie Mason working hard and in tandem.
Rosie Kmita was lively throughout, before she was substituted in the second-half – demonstrating West Ham’s loss is very much Bees’ gain as she looked to carry an attacking threat down the right flank.
Bees’ wastefulness in-front of goal would be their downfall, when City doubled their advantage on 52 minutes when Lucy Fitzgerald slot the ball into the bottom corner following a cross into the box.
The game was almost put out of Bees’ grasp when Fitzgerald had an effort chalked off for offside. After another fierce shot from Pickett, Bees’ momentum fizzled out and the Lionesses looked to see the game out comfortably and looked the more likely to score. Priest had a headed effort go over the bar and second-half substitute, Evie Clarke had several fierce efforts saved in the dying minutes of the game.
For the 412 fans in attendance, they were treated to an exciting and entertaining game between two good sides. City were ultimately more clinical in-front of goal and were the stronger side. The FA WC is shaping up to be an exciting season with strong teams across the Division. It is clear, however, that this Lionesses squad is a significant upgrade from the side that finished bottom last campaign with professionalism and intensity already clearly on display.
London Bees Line-Up:
London City Lionesses Line-Up: