The day after the National Women’s League Cup final and I was in a curious mood. The Womens team who have been a credit to the club all season ended up losing that final in the last few minutes of extra time. The players had, as they have done all season, run themselves to a stand still against an overall larger team with more strength, pace and power than the Hornets. That is not to disparage the cup winners, Nottingham Forest was over the entirety of the game, in my view, the better team and deserved to win the trophy, but it is also fair to say that the Hornets showed more fight and, at times infuriatingly, insisted on playing their brand of football throughout.
Why “infuriatingly”? Well at times you just wanted them to move the ball forward quicker, you wanted the forwards to battle to win the ball with their back to the opposition goal and move the team further up the field. But a team reflects their management and the women’s team management have stuck to their guns all season building a team not only with fight and camaraderie (isn’t he the boy who played for Everton?) but with an identity, a way of playing and a group who believe in that style of play.
Some of the Watford players did not surmount the physical challenge or the atmosphere of the final being played within a short drive of Nottingham at Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium. This proximity made the game have the feel of a Forest home game including a stadium announcer who hardly bothered to hide his partisanship. This is not a grumble as Watford fans we tried hard to “give as good as we got” but it does demonstrate what can be achieved by supporting the women’s game, as Forest did, rather than being critical of it.
And so, I come to my curious mood. I have made no effort to hide my enthusiasm for the women’s game and in particular this women’s team who have been everything that our mens first team have not this season. So, on my way back on the coach I received messages from people calling out the quality of the women’s game and our team. Upon arrival home my son did the same. It had been a long day and so I hardly bothered responding to the half dozen message senders or my son. I do not know what reaction they were or are expecting but I thought I would sleep on it so here is my answer.
Firstly, I am a positive person I think, and reacted to the game for what it was rather than to a mens match, which it was not, but even I left disappointed. It was a final after all and the result is always going to influence your mood especially with the deciding goal being scored in the last few minutes of extra time. Our team, as stated above, tend not to simply smash the ball forward but try to build up from the back however perhaps a more direct option would be useful as a plan B moving forward, as Forest showed a combination of pace and power can be effective.
The quality of the goals scored and conceded, and the quality of the goalkeepers was also raised, and it is fair to say that, when comparing the men and women’s game, the goalkeepers are likely going to shorter than your average male Premier League or Championship goalkeeper. This means high shots are going to cause more trouble for them. However, this is not limited to football. if you put Serena Williams in a match with a male counterpart she would struggle as was proved in 1998 when Williams and her sister Venus took on the World Number 203 in Australia. The Williams sisters lost back-to-back against the German Karsten Braasch (below-no I had never heard of him either).
My point here is that comparing the men and womens games (as I am doing in this column) often sees people calling out the absence of a negative characteristic of the other genders game – rather than appreciating the qualities that each does have. People saying that the womens game is good because players DON’T argue with the ref or players DON’T dive (in comparison to the men’s game) are missing the good points of the womens game. The reduced physicality has led to a more technical level of build-up, the reduced average pace means that those with pace can genuinely use it too devastating effect – there is therefore more wings play in the womens game and I personally like those moments when a player who might go inside or outside of their opponent. At Watford we have been spoilt this season with wide players - Flo Fyfe started the season in unbelievable form before injury meaning that Bianca Baptise had a sustained run in the team to devastating effect under pressure from Ade Faduga Dada and the evergreen Gemma Davison (below) has been incredible down the left hand side and in the final parts of the season Araya Dennis has come in for a sensational cameo – most notable for her winner vs Oxford United in the penultimate game of the season.
I do not dislike the mens game because of a player like Kortney Hause decided he was never fit enough to play despite the rumours that two sets of clubs’ physio departments were stating that he was! However, I do like, no I am in awe, that Megan Chandler (below) has played the last few months with a brace having dislocated her shoulder – THAT is character, and this team has it in abundance!!
That character was demonstrated when facing the league leaders, Oxford United at Vicarage Road the following Thursday they came back from a halftime 1-0 deficit to win 2-1 with Baptiste and Dennis scoring in a pulsating match that none of the 1100 fans will forget quickly! The result sets up a game away at Billericay Town this coming Sunday which the girls must again win – in the meantime Oxford United (back in first place having won their game in hand) travel to Ipswich Town (third behind Watford on goal difference).
All three teams have had outstanding seasons and it is not straight forward for Oxford! Ipswich have been the best team I have seen coming to Grosvenor Vale this season and Watford only just got a draw with a last-minute Poppy Wilson header (below). The away game to the Tractor girls went to the East Anglian side by a single goal.
So, if Oxford win then the title is theirs, but should there be any other result and Watford win Watford will take the title of NWL Southern Premier Champions – however that will not be all. Whoever wins out of the three teams will have to play the champions of the Northern Premier League to determine which team is promoted to the second tier of the women’s game.
And guess who has won the Northern Premier League – Nottingham Forest once again.
If we can win the league the girls should enjoy it massively but then turn attention to finishing the job with the play off final. The womens team will not be looking that far ahead as Billericay themselves proved a tough nut to crack earlier in the season. The Essex side turned up and took a 3-0 half time lead against the Hornets who were defied by a keeper in determined mood. A second half comeback was almost accomplished with the final score being 3-2 to the Essex side! So, like I say let not get ahead of ourselves!! One game at a time!!
This may be Helen Ward's last game for Watford, but then again. it might not! Whichever it is, this team has done the club and the fans proud this season!
Fingers crossed for Sunday.