On March 13th 2020, British football came to a sudden halt, with all fixtures postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. The players, like everyone else, went into lockdown. They did so not knowing when they would play again. This meant that they needed to stay as fit as possible, with very little training equipment to do so, just in case the decision came to resume the season. Come May, after much debate by officials, pundits and fans alike(I mean, what else did we have to talk about), the final decisions were made regarding the 2019/20 season. In the men’s game, the Premier League and EFL Championship were returning in full. League’s One, Two and the National Conference Premier called an end to the leagues, using the points per game system to decide final positions, with only the play-off teams returning to fulfil those fixtures. All other football further down the pyramid had their season ended. In the women’s game, the decision was far less positive. The decision was made to end the season in all divisions completely, using the points per game system to decide final spaces. It saw Liverpool relegated from the WSL into the Championship, while Aston Villa were crowned Champions of the Championship and promoted. For Palace, the PPG method saw us finish in seventh, on 13 points. This was both our highest finish, and highest points tally, but if we are all honest, it didn’t quite feel much of an achievement, because it had been awarded by PPG, not earned on the pitch. In fact, there was every chance that had we finished the season, we could have achieved better in both areas.
When the news broke outlining the plans for the women to return for the 2020/21 season, it must have felt like a weight lifted for both the players and staff. Finally, after months of being stuck at home trying to train for something they had no idea if it would be happening, they had a target to work towards. While the return to training was carried out in gradual, non-contact steps, along with all new Covid protocols to be adhered to, the fact was it was still a return to training, and that meant everything.
I highlighted in the 2019/20 review, that the summer of 2019 had seen a massive overhaul of players at the club, as we tried to adapt to the step up in league, having not been given the time to do so the previous season. The summer of 2020 however, was a little different. There were still some comings and goings. Lucy Gillett, Nicol Pepper, Jordan Butler, Freya Holdaway, Magda Mosengo, Hannah McKenzie, Lily Stevens, Mia Rocket, Beau Parker and Rea Laudat all departed the club permanently, while Charlie Goad went on loan to Kent. We then saw striker Kate Natkiel join from Brighton, Welsh International Ffion Morgan join from Coventry, defender Georgia Clifford join from Oxford(Their 2019/20 player of the season), goalie Chloe Morgan join from Spurs, midfielder Leigh Nicol who had been on a year off after leaving Charlton, and midfielder Coral Haines from Spurs. For me, what made this summer different, and key to our possible progress, was that we had kept the vital core of the team together. The previous summer had seen so many changes, it took a long time to settle. This time round, we had kept hold of key players, and then added to that with some more quality. Those that remained included mid 19/20 additions Shiv Wilson, Hannah Churchill, Amy Taylor, Amber Gaylor and Amber Stobbs. On top of that, the likes of Bianca Baptiste, 19/20 top scorer Ashleigh Goddard, 19/20 ever present Amy Goddard and 19/20 Eagle Eye View Player Of The Season Andrea Georgiou also remained with the squad. Meanwhile, 19/20 CPFC Player Of The Season Annabel Johnson not only stayed, but took over the Captain’s armband following the departure of Freya Holdaway.
So, with the squad taking shape, the aim for the season had to be progress. Realistically, given the massive imbalance of the league, promotion was not going to be possible. Our sights would have been more firmly set on moving away from relegation battle and establishing ourselves as a strong mid-table team. Our opening game looked set to be a marker for what steps forward had been taken, as we travelled to London rivals Charlton, who had struggled in the 19/20 season, finishing bottom. Despite this, since promotion to the Championship, we were yet to beat the Addicks, having lost twice and drawn once in our previous three encounters. We started the match the stronger, only to go 1-0 down after eight minutes. We kept up our tempo however, and goals from Bianca and Cherelle put us 2-1 up before half time. The second half saw us continue in the same way, but our failure to get the third goal was ultimately punished, as Charlton equalised minutes from the end, causing us to leave with just a point, and still no league win over the Addicks.
Our first home game of the season saw another London derby, as London City Lionesses were the visitors, looking to build on a strong 19/20 season. Just like Charlton, we started strongly, and this time we got the early goal after Lizzie Waldie converted a Wilson cross for her first Palace goal. This seemed to spark the Lionesses into life however, as Chloe Morgan was called into action a few times. It looked like we might get to half time with the lead, only for Morgan to be breached as the interval approached, leaving it 1-1 at half time. Strong second half performances from both keepers saw the score line stay that way when the game ended. Two games in, and Palace were undefeated, but could easily feel like we should have had more than two points on the board. In general, though, confidence would have been high.
The month was then rounded off with Blackburn Rovers visiting Hayes Lane. After our decent start, the belief was that we could play well and pick up the win over a Rovers team in just their second Championship season. One thing that hung over us, however, was the fact that we had not won at home since January 2019. It was very much time to put that winless run to an end. The game, however, did not start that way, with early Blackburn pressure putting us on the back foot, while Ashleigh Goddard had to go off injured, an injury that would rule her out for a large part of the season. Palace though took the lead moments later, Cherelle Khassal finding the net against the run of play. Blackburn however did not falter, and eventually their strong performance would bring an equaliser, sending the teams in level at half time. The second half started in perfect fashion, with Bianca netting her second of the season to put us back in front, only for a penalty to pull Rovers level for a second time. It looked as though we were heading for a third successive draw, only to then suffer heartbreak as Rovers snatched a winner in the 94th minute. The 3-2 defeat saw our unbeaten start come to an end, and our winless run at home extend agonisingly further.
October started with the first of what would eventually be four encounters with the London Bees. September had seen strong performances, with a points tally that didn’t match it. Still hurting from the late loss to Blackburn, gaffer Dean Davenport would have been chomping at the bit to get that first win on the board. The players clearly felt the same, and it showed in our performance at The Hive. We dominated the game from start to finish, and took the lead within five minutes, when Shiv Wilson curled a superb free kick into the top corner. We continued to press forward, and then it was Coral Haines’ turn for set piece mastery, as she found the top corner with a free kick to double the lead and net her first Palace goal. We went into half time 2-0 up and dominant, and continued that into the second half. A brilliant solo run from Bianca saw her make it 3-0 with her third of the season. Then, while the Bees were having a few chances, it was Palace who scored again, as Coral slotted home from the penalty spot to make it 4-0. The only sour note from the game was that the Bees bagged a consolation goal, costing us the clean sheet. But when the full-time whistle blew, we at last had the first win of the season that our performances had deserved, and we had gained it in dominant fashion.
With the win under our belts, we stepped away from league action to start our Conti Cup campaign. We had been drawn in a group with fellow Championship sides Lewes and London Bees, as well as WSL side Bristol City. Upon seeing the group, my instant belief was that this is the best chance we have had so far of making the knockout stages for the first time, although it would still be tough. If we wanted to qualify, we needed to beat the other two Championship sides, starting with Lewes. Dean changed the team completely for the game, giving others some much needed match time. However, Lewes took the lead and forced Dean into second half changes, which would prove to be match winning changes. One of the substitutes was Bianca Baptiste, who came on and scored twice to grab us a 2-1 win and start the cup campaign off positively.
Returning to league action, we made the trip up to Durham. This is always a tough fixture. Durham are a strong team, who are always up in the top part of the table. This was set to be a real test of our team and the way we had been playing, as we were for the first time this season, up against one of the league’s top sides. We could go into it buoyed by back to back wins however, and hope to use that momentum to get a result. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. For the first time this season we drew a blank, while Durham hit the back of our net twice to give them a 2-0 win.
We needed to put the result behind us and move on. The month would end with Leicester City visiting Hayes Lane. We had a winless home run to end, while Leicester, who had turned full time in the summer, were looking to push their way into the promotion picture. We started the game positively and took the lead through Cherelle. Bianca then went close to making it 2-0, forcing a save from the Foxes keeper. Leicester though started to click into gear, and our task was made tougher when Amy Taylor was shown a straight red card. The rest of the half was dominated by Leicester, who were repeatedly foiled by Chloe and the woodwork. Eventually though, with half time approaching, Leicester grabbed the equaliser, and within moments they were 2-1 up. The second half felt like it would be damage limitations, as Leicester had complete control of the game. They would add two more goals to cement a 4-1 win. Going into the game the teams had been side by side in the league. That was the last time it would be that way, as this result started an incredible run that would lead the Foxes to the title. For us, there was much to reflect on, after a month of two wins and two defeats.
November brought about a feeling of similarity to October with it. The month consisted of two league games and two Conti Cup games and would once again see us win two and lose two, beginning with Sheffield United away. Playing against Sheffield is just something we don’t like to do. It feels like no matter when we play them, we don’t score, we don’t get any points and we get resoundingly beaten. Sadly, this match followed suit, as United ran out comfortable 3-0 winners. Having been scoring freely in our opening four games, suddenly we had just one goal in three league matches, a similar struggle to what we have had in previous seasons.
Next up, the Conti Cup gave us a break from the league, as WSL side Bristol City were the visitors to Hayes Lane. Both sides had won their opening group game, and so this game was the chance to see who would take hold of the group, and likely book themselves the automatic qualification spot as group winners. The gaffer rang the changes again, and it was Palace who had the first opportunity, with Amber Gaylor getting a shot off. City would the step up a gear and start to dominate, breaking the deadlock on 19 minutes. A penalty would seem them double their lead, and they made it 3-0 just before half time. Dean would make a couple of changes, including bringing on top scorer Bianca at half time, but it did not stop City making it 4-0 early in the second half. The game was as good as over, but Bianca had other ideas. A quickfire double from her halved the deficit, and at 4-2 with half an hour to play, the most unlikely of comebacks had some life to it. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as City saw out the 4-2 win to take control of the group.
We had now suffered four successive defeats in all competitions, and with Coventry United next up in the league, something needed to change. Despite the losing run, Coventry’s own struggles meant that we could have the confidence of getting a positive result. The only problem, was that the game was at Hayes Lane, and the small matter of that long winless home run. We started positively, putting some pressure on Coventry, and it paid off when a loose ball in the box led to an own goal to give us the lead. We were dominating the game, and Bianca thought she had made it 2-0, only to see her strike chalked off for offside. However, two minutes later she found the back of the net again, and this time it did count, and that 2-0 lead was very much on the board! Despite our dominance, a deep Coventry free kick saw them score with a back post header before half time, pulling it back to 2-1, and suddenly our home curse started to nag in the back of the mind. The second half was more edgy, with the next goal clearly key. Thankfully, when it came, it was a goal of the season strike from Kate Natkiel, her first for the club, making it 3-1. We had further chances to increase the lead, but failed to make the net bulge anymore. It didn’t matter though, because when that final whistle blew, the score was still 3-1. It meant that not only had we ended the four game losing run, but at long last, after a year and ten agonising months, we had finally won a home game!
There is an old football saying, involving buses…you all know what it is. Well, it is relevant here. The month rounded off with London Bees coming to Hayes Lane for the final Conti Cup group match. Bristol were group winners, but there was still a chance of getting one of the best runners up spots, which was worked out in a very confusing way. We needed to win, we needed a decent number of goals, and we needed other results to go our way. We delivered on our end. We started the game brightly, but it was the Bees who struck first on eight minutes. We then pushed for an equaliser, and Bianca though she had it after rounding the keeper and striking towards goal. But a Bees defender blocked it with her hand, and rightly saw a red card for her efforts. Coral put home the resulting penalty to pull us level. With the player advantage, we pushed on and soon Bianca had us 2-1 in front, before efforts from Shiv and Cherelle would see us go into the break with a 4-1 lead. This swiftly became 5-1 after the break, as Bianca got her second of the night, and was eventually rounded off by Amy Taylor with her first for the club. 6-1 winners, we not only had our second home win in succession(there’s that buses relevance), but we had given ourselves the best chance of qualifying. The problem was, due to earlier postponements from other groups, we would have to wait on those fixtures to be played at a later date.
The Christmas month saw us play just two games. The first of those games was a trip to Liverpool. Liverpool are a full time team, having been relegated from the WSL the previous season, and were favourites to instantly bounce back at the start of the season. However, Leicester, Durham and Sheffield were making that difficult for them. While they had shown some vulnerability in the season so far, it did not show itself in this game, as they defeated us comfortably 4-0.
Looking to bounce back, we then travelled to the Dripping Pan to face Lewes in the final game before the winter break. A much better performance saw us take the game to Lewes, and a brace from red hot Bianca would see us take the much needed three points. Not only that, but a strong display at the back would at last see us pick up our first clean sheet of the season.
Going into the winter break, we had collected 11 points, equalling our highest natural total, which we achieved in our first Championship season. I say natural total, because our total of 13 in the 19/20 season was worked out by PPG. To reach such a milestone by Christmas was huge for us and provided plenty of hope that the rest of the season would see us comfortably set a new highest points return, and a highest league placing too. More good news came this month, as the final Conti Cup games were played, and our qualification for the knockout stages was confirmed. For the first time ever, we would be in the League Cup Quarter Final, and our opponents would be fellow Championship side Leicester City. On a sour note, the new Lockdown meant that all women’s leagues below the Championship were once again suspended.
With the winter break over, we came back full of positives. We had a cup Quarter Final to play this month, while in the League, new boundaries were in our reach, and a fifth placed finish was most definitely possible with a good run of results. There were some incomings too. Kirsty Barton joined on loan from Brighton, while Gracie Pearse and Grace Garad joined from Arsenal’s Academy.
We started with a trip to the London City Lionesses, with both teams on the same points in the league. Palace started well and were creating all sorts of problems for the Lionesses with our movement up front. Cherelle in particular was having a fantastic game leading the line. But for all our play, we couldn’t find the scoring finish and at half time it was 0-0. We started the second half as we finished the first, and it felt a matter of time before we broke the deadlock. That changed though, when early on Amber Stobbs was sent off for a second bookable offence, and suddenly a game we had been dominating became a back’s to the wall affair. Even so, we created a couple of decent chances, and were more than worthy of the point the 0-0 draw brought us. While it should have been three points, after the red card, a draw was decent. It was also a second consecutive clean sheet.
Now, it was Quarter Final time! Leicester came to Hayes Lane favourites for the tie, especially given their dominance in the league that had seen them rise up to top spot. This is the cup though, and anything can happen in the cup! It was such a shame that fans could not be there to witness this momentous occasion for the Eagles, and had they been, the outcome may have been different. We put in an excellent performance, in a match that was tightly contested, with both teams wanting that semi final spot. The tie looked to be heading into extra time, when a late Leicester free kick was superbly dispatched, snatching them the victory. It was a gutting night, but one of which our ladies could hold their heads up high.
With the cup dream over, our return to action saw Durham visit Hayes Lane. We put in a decent performance, in what is always a tight affair with the visitors. But in the end the game was decided by a solitary goal, and it came from Durham. A narrow 1-0 loss brought the month to a close. It was one that had started with such optimism, but had ended with just one point, a cup exit, and not a single goal scored in three games. Football really can be cruel!
With January over, February had to be about dusting ourselves off and going again. Fifth spot was still very much a possibility, and the draw against the Lionesses had seen us move onto 12 points, setting our new highest natural points total. What better way to get going again, than a trip to Blackburn in a bid to avenge our last-minute defeat earlier in the season. It was a lively game, with both teams moving the ball about well, and we were creating chances, but it was Blackburn who took a first half lead. Refusing to let it get us down, we got back to pushing forward, and by half time we were level at 1-1 courtesy of Cherelle. The second half was much the same as the first, with both teams looking to get the win. The deadlock though remained, until the 88th minute. Then up popped Captain AJ to rifle one home, and it looked like we had avenged that last minute defeat, with a last-minute win. One minute later however, the score was 2-2, and we left with just the point.
London Bees were next up(for the third time), as they came to Hayes Lane. They were on a downward slide and having scored ten goals against them already this season, they were the perfect tonic for that late equaliser by Blackburn the previous week. Our third meeting, and for the third time, we put them to the sword. Both teams started lively, but Palace swiftly took control as the Bianca & Haines show began. On 21 minutes, Bianca gave us the lead, with an assist from Coral. Minutes later, an effort from Bianca was tipped into the path of Coral, who made it two. Coral then put Bianca through to make it 3-0, and before half time a cross from Bianca was met by the head of Coral to make it 4-0. The second half was less eventful, as is often the case in games like this, but Palace had one more goal up their sleeve, as Kate Natkiel bagged her second of the season to make it 5-0. That is how it stayed, with three valuable points on the board. It was also our third, and last, clean sheet in the league.
Buoyed by the big win and four points, we travelled to champions elect Leicester for an incredibly tough match. It was a solid performance in a game that, just like in the Conti Cup, was decided by one goal. Unfortunately, just like in the Conti Cup, it was the Foxes who scored it for a 1-0 win.
The month of March brought just two games with it. Our hopes of fifth were dwindling, but there was still football to be played, starting with Liverpool’s visit to Hayes Lane. Our performance on this day was excellent. Given we were up against a full-time team, we were truly outstanding, and fully deserved to claim all three points from the game. However, a familiar pattern reared its ugly head, and it was Liverpool who snatched the goal, and left with a 1-0 win. We seemed to be getting so close to beating the big guns, only to fall short narrowly.
This would have been our only fixture of the month, but the re-arranged Charlton fixture meant we had one more match to play. Going into the game, Charlton were on a high. Having been struggling down the bottom most of the season, their results had started to pick up. They had appointed former Spurs manager Karen Hills, and the Charlton owner had announced he would be turning them full time in the summer. For us, it was a case of trying to get a first Championship win over them and try to finish as high as possible. The difference in momentum between the two on the pitch was obvious to see from the start. Charlton were the better team from start to finish, we just never got going. We had a few moments, but mostly created by Charlton’s errors. It was no surprise when they took the lead in the first half, and perhaps the surprise was that they failed to add to it. The game was frustrating, and was heading for a dismal defeat, when in second half stoppage time, a cross into the box hit a Charlton defender and went it for an own goal. We had snatched a 1-1 draw, but it looked like two teams heading in opposite directions.
With April upon us, just three league matches in the season remained, as well as the return of the FA Cup. Looking for an improvement on the Charlton performance, the last thing we needed was Sheffield United coming to town. Remember how earlier I said that it feels like every time we play them, we don’t score, done get any points and get resoundingly beaten? Yep, you guessed it. United did what they always do against us and left with all three points following a comfortable 3-0 win.
The FA Cup was next, and a welcome step away from the league. Back in January, this competition had been under threat, following the halt of all football below the Championship, meaning the early round fixtures had not been completed. Those leagues never returned, and disgracefully, the women of the game were having to put up with the insult of a suggestion to decide the ties by the flip of a coin. Thankfully, that shambles did not happen, and the teams returned for the cup. For us, or start in the cup saw London Bees(yes them) come to Hayes Lane for the third time this season, as we faced off for the fourth time in total this season!! If there is one team we have loved playing, it’s the Bees. It was another confident and dominant display, this time though limited to just the three goals. We were 1-0 up within minutes courtesy of Shiv, and by half time, goals from Coral and Cherelle had made it 3-0. Bees must have feared the floodgates opening again, but it didn’t happen. Instead, we saw out the comfortable win to book our place in the next round against WSL giants Arsenal, who had narrowly despatched Gillingham 15-0.
The cup win having provided some good feeling, we made the trip to Coventry, looking to complete the double over them. The first half was a strange affair. We were all over them and went 1-0 down within 5 minutes. 19 minutes in, Cherelle got us level. We were dominating and only one team looked like scoring. We should have been clear, yet on 35 minutes we were 2-1 down, and went into the break that way. On 58 minutes parity was restored, courtesy of Coral from the penalty spot to make it 2-2. Then it all went wrong. Gracie Pearse saw red for her second yellow card, and Coventry proceeded to score three times to get a 5-2 win. All of the positivity back in January had slipped away. At the start of the year, fifth was possible, now though, Bianca’s goals had dried up, we had picked up just one league win in nine matches and faced the very real possibility of finishing second bottom. On top of that, Amy Goddard had left to rejoin Yeovil and Aoife Hurley had left for other reasons.
Just one league game remained. Lewes were the visitors to Hayes Lane. On paper, the match had nothing on it, but for us, it was huge. This season had seen some real positives, some big steps forward and some great performances. Yet old issues had haunted us, and what was looking like a real step forward in the table, was in danger of ending on a big negative. Looking to put recent performances and results behind us, we played with positivity and control. It was a solid performance, one that was rewarded when a stunning strike by Amber Gaylor gave us a first half lead. Lewes though grew into the game, and at the start of the second half they were level. The game then looked in danger of just petering out in an end of season draw, but there was one final twist left. In a season where late goals had played such a part in our changing fortunes, it was kind of fitting that a late goal would take place here. This time though, it went our way, as Lizzie Waldie popped up in a goal mouth scramble to force the ball home and end our season with a 2-1 victory. You could see by the reaction of the players just how much it meant.
We went into that game in danger of finishing tenth. The win catapulted us up the table(ahead of Charlton) and saw us finish 7th, our highest natural finish, on a record 20 points.
We have the Arsenal cup game to come, but I feel safe in writing this knowing the likelihood of our season being at its end.
It has certainly been a strange season, perhaps a typical Palace season in a way. I feel there are some similarities with the men’s season. The men’s team have been comfortable all season, never in danger, but yet our play is woeful, our defence is dreadful, our squad is a mess and people are fed up with the manager. Now don’t get me wrong, those things are not what I refer to when I say similarities. What I refer to, is the base that despite a reasonable season(one that Fulham, WBA and Sheff Utd wish they had), there are negatives, some recurring issues and some questionable choices that have fans not as happy as we should be(typical fans, we are never satisfied!).
What do I mean by this in terms of CPFCW? Well let me explain. In several ways, this has been a great season, and our women should be proud of what they have achieved. By finishing 7th, we have achieved our highest natural finish in the Championship. By reaching 20 points, we have achieved our highest natural points total in the Championship(by 9 points). In previous seasons, we have really struggled in front of goal. In 18/19 we managed just 14 league goals. In 19/20 we managed just 15 league goals(lowest in the league). This season we have scored 27 league goals, the fifth highest in the league. In Bianca, we have had the striker we have been craving. In 18/19 Ashlee Hincks was top scorer with five in all competitions. Last season, midfielder Ashleigh Goddard was top scorer with 5 league goals. This season, Bianca has scored a total of 14 goals, 8 in the league and 6 in the cup. She came fourth in the league Golden Boot. On top of that, Cherelle has 7 goals(5 league, 2 cup) and is the joint 6th highest scorer in the league. Plus, from midfield, Coral has 7 goals(5 league, 2 cup) making her also joint sixth highest scorer in the league. We have put in some great performances against the top teams with narrow defeats, compared to heavy demolitions we suffered at the hands of teams like Man Utd and Aston Villa in previous seasons. We reached our first ever major cup Quarter Final and were incredibly unlucky to not reach the Semi Final. Oh, and of course, we finally ended that nearly two year long winless run at home. I also think that Hannah Churchill and Lizzie Waldie have silently excelled this season and made themselves great assets to our squad. These are some great positives, and all of them show progress. That is what this season was all about, progress. It was about us taking that next step, pushing ourselves away from the relegation battle and moving up the table. It was about being more competitive, about making our presence known. We have done those things, and the team should be incredibly proud about it.
So why is there some negativity? Let me start with some decisions that I have found a little questionable, and I know others have too, and then I will move onto stats. For the previous two seasons, Dre(Andrea Georgiou) has been one of our stand out players in midfield. Many fans have labelled her one of our key players, and keeping hold of her last summer was a huge result. There is a reason why she was the 2019/20 EEV Player Of The Season. Yet this year, having worked hard to keep hold of her, we have barely played her. She has managed just three starts and two sub appearances in the league, as well as three starts and one sub appearance in the Conti Cup. That is a massive decline in playing time, considering last season she started 11 of the 14 league games completed. What has happened, that someone seen as such a key player, has suddenly become so uninvolved? Then there is Amber Stobbs. Amber joined in December 2019 and hit the ground running. Playing up front last season, she scored 2 goals in 4 league games, and 2 goals in one FA Cup match. Going into this season, a lot of us thought she would be a key player in our forward line and our quest for more goals. Yet this season, she has played as right wing back, and even right back. Obviously, we are not on the training ground, but from a fan perspective, it hasn’t really made any sense. There is an argument about the attacking role of wing backs, but Amber has not scored this season, despite 12 starts and 2 sub appearances in the league. Of course, the form of Bianca, Cherelle and Shiv has been hard to dislodge, but I just don’t get the switch, and our defensive record backs up the reason to question it. That leads me into the thing that has made me question the most. Last season, right back Annabel Johnson was voted the official CPFC Player Of The Season. She excelled at right back, something we had desperately needed. This season, we have moved her to centre back. We have taken her out of the role in which she got POTY, and moved her to centre back, while leaving two natural centre backs on the bench. At the start of the season, we had Amy Goddard and Georgia Clifford in the squad, both of them centre backs. Now, I know Amy was recovering from injury and missed pre-season, and later would be struck down by Bells Palsy, but she was still available for the majority of games. AJ missed one league game all season, and it was through suspension. She was suspended due to five yellow cards in her first nine games, and they were from fouls that were made by someone playing out of position. It is just hard to understand as a fan, why your POTY right back spends the whole season at centre back, while your centre backs ride the bench. Georgia was on the bench for 16 timesthis season. Amy, our only ever-present last season, was on the bench for 12 games this season. Now, like I said earlier, I’m not on the training ground, I don’t see what goes on. But our defensive record does not back up the switch of AJ to centre back. We have been vulnerable in the air all season. I wish I could get the stats for how many goals we have conceded from set pieces and high balls into the box, because it has certainly been an issue, and it is happening when you have a tall powerful centre back on the bench. Of course, these are just opinions, things seen from an outside perspective. I also wonder how a player of Martin Kelly’s ability has not played a single minute of Premier League football this season. That is what we do as fans, put on our manager heads and share opinions!
Moving away from those thoughts, for all our positive stats I have shared(and there were plenty), there are some negative ones too. We have massively improved our scoring rate this season, but have been unable to improve our defensive leaks. In the 18/19 season we conceded 44 league goals, with just 2 clean sheets. In the 19/20 season we conceded 33 goals, with just 2 clean sheets. This season, we have conceded 36 goals, the third worst in the league, with just 3 clean sheets(eighth in the league). This is certainly an area we need to get to grips with if we want to keep progressing up the table. Especially when you take into account that nine of our 27 goals scored came against London Bees. It’s tough to find the balance of keeping goals flowing for us, while keeping them out of our goal, but it’s an answer we need to come up with.
We also need to find a way to get results against the big teams. Now, I’m not saying we should beat them all, but I mean get the odd result. Sides like Lewes and Coventry have taken points off Liverpool this season, for example. Our record against the top teams in the league does not make for good reading. In three Championship seasons we have played Durham 6 times, losing all 6, scoring 2 and conceding 13. We have played Sheffield United 5 times, losing all five, scoring 1 and conceding 14. We have played Charlton 5 times, drawing 3 and losing 2. That’s 3 of the 11 teams that have been in the league all three seasons, and we haven’t beaten them once. In 18/19 Man Utd and Spurs got promoted, and we lost all four games against them. Last season Aston Villa got promoted and we lost our game against them. This season Leicester got promoted and we lost both games against them. We also lost both games against relegated Liverpool. Blackburn have been in the league two seasons, and in three games against them, we have drawn 1 and lost 2. Since the Lionesses formed, we have played them four times, losing 1 and drawing 3. These are a lot of teams we play every year, that we have never beaten. Six teams finished above us this year. Of those six, we only beat one of them, Lewes, who we did the double over. The rest of them we lost to all of them home and away except the Lionesses, which were draws.
Now, let me clarify, I am not highlighting these stats to moan, far from it. We have made some great strides this year. There have been some huge steps forward and I am so delighted for all at the club that they have been achieved. What I am highlighting, is the areas where the next stage of improvement is needed. If you turn the draws against Charlton, Blackburn and the Lionesses into some wins, we are looking at a fifth-place finish. Get a couple of points against the top four, and suddenly we are on the verge of top four. Easier said than done of course, but certainly the areas I feel as a team, we can improve on, because the spirit and determination our players have is incredible, and I know they have the drive to keep pushing forward.
Finally, let me say this. Dean, the players and all the staff at Palace, they work tirelessly to keep the team going, and improving, but they need and deserve some support. The landscape of the women’s game is starting to change. Bigger players are starting to join the WSL, which is leading to bigger players filtering down into the Championship. The league is incredibly imbalanced. Every year it is won by a team that is full time or near to it. Each team that gets relegated from the WSL is full time, so Liverpool are, and next season Bristol City will add to that. Then you have teams like the Lionesses and Durham who train four times a week. Meanwhile the rest of us get two nights training and that’s it, and the league is so often divided by these levels. The new Charlton owner has already announced that Charlton are going full time this summer, and Coventry are on the verge of it too. We are in danger of being left behind, if we don’t do the same. Dean, the players and the staff can only do so much. They need the backing and support to do this full time, to be able to truly compete. With the Academy improved, for me, it is time for Steve Parish to truly back our women, truly make it ‘One Club’ and take us full time. This season has shown what we can do, on an uneven playing field. Just imagine what our fantastic women can achieve, on a level one!
Thanks for reading. Thanks to all at CPFCW for a rollercoaster season, for their passion, dedication, desire, and determination to represent our club, and for all the work they have done with me over the year. I can’t wait to be back in the stand with the Loyal cheering you on. For now though, keep your eyes peeled, because the Eagle Eye View Player Of The Season 2020/21 is coming very soon!!
*All Photos Courtesy of Tara Hook Photography*