There was a time when Manchester City watchers wondered whether Gareth Taylor would last too long at the Academy Stadium.
Not long after the former City men’s coach took charge last summer there were murmurings he could be overly autocratic and was unwilling to allow Lucy Bronze and company to voice opinions.
During the autumn the team stuttered but it seems a watershed was reached over Christmas and New Year when Taylor evidently listened to those advising a reset. He returned from a spell of Covid-induced isolation with a softened, more collaborative, style while still retaining the perfectionist streak now elevating City to new heights.
On Sunday Taylor’s team recorded a ninth straight Women’s Super League win, beating Everton 1-0. It left them second, two points behind the leaders, Chelsea, and came at the expense of a defensively near-immaculately organised Everton who were finally undone by City’s first effort on target: a 20-yard shot swept home by Keira Walsh.
It offered Steph Houghton a fitting way to celebrate her 200th appearance for City, with the England captain’s central defensive excellence highlighted by a breakdown of her double century. It features 149 wins and 105 clean sheets. Taylor said: “We weren’t at our best but Steph’s taken her game to new levels. She’s a huge figure; a shining light for us. She’s got time for everyone and would sacrifice her own personal gain to help others.”
Houghton certainly seems to be thriving under the new regime. “With Gareth Taylor coming in it’s a different way of playing and I’m learning new stuff every day,” she said. “But I’m enjoying my football and I’m in the best shape I’ve been in.”
Chelsea had no trouble in retaining their shape during a routine win at second -bottom West Ham, where goals from Sam Kerr and Beth England kept Emma Hayes’s title defence well on course.
Europe loomed into slightly closer view for Manchester United as Casey Stoney’s side strengthened their grip on third place, courtesy of a 3-0 home win against Aston Villa. United’s superiority was such that Marcus Bignot’s deep-sitting visitors failed to manage a single shot on target.
While Villa hover four points and two places above bottom-placed Bristol City – who aim to escape the WSL’s sole relegation position and leapfrog West Ham by beating Reading at home on Monday night – goals from Kirsty Hanson, Jess Sigsworth and Katie Zelem ensured United continue to cling to the top two’s coattails. “It was a controlled performance, although we can still be better on the ball, we were a bit untidy at times,” said Stoney, who gave Carrie Jones, the 17-year-old Welsh midfielder, a debut as Sigsworth’s 88th-minute replacement. “But Lucy Staniforth’s delivery from set pieces was outstanding – and it’s a confidence boost ahead of a big game.”
The fixture in question is the potentially pivotal league match at Arsenal on Friday 19 March. With Joe Montemurro’s side similarly desperate to qualify for the Champions League, much is at stake.
A comfortable 4-0 victory at Birmingham’s expense at St George’s Park left Arsenal fourth, six points behind United but with a game in hand. Goals from Caitlin Foord (twice), Vivianne Miedema (with a fine solo effort, which took her back above Manchester City’s Ellen White as the WSL’S all-time top-scorer on 56 goals) and Lisa Evans left Birmingham’s manager Carla Ward, reiterating her dislike of her team’s temporary home at the national football centre. “I want to go back to Solihull,” she said.
Hope Powell’s improving Brighton registered a third straight WSL victory – 2-0 against Tottenham – where Inessa Kaagman scored the goals as Spurs slumped to a fourth successive defeat. Both teams warmed up in T-shirts bearing the name of Rebekah Stott, the Brighton and New Zealand defender who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma last week.