Updated: Jun 18, 2020
In 2018/19, Crystal Palace Ladies embarked on their first ever venture into the newly reformed FA Women’s Championship. It was a season of ups and downs, as we got to grips with the last minute jump to a higher level. Despite the enforced lack of preparation(courtesy of the FA), and a plague of injuries determined to hurt the squad as often as possible, the team managed to make a good account of themselves, finishing 10th out of 11, with 11 points. Given the fact that we had been planning for the third tier, and were thrust into the second tier with just three weeks before the season started, it was an outcome to be proud of.
So, as the 2019/20 season rolled around last summer, Palace were readying ourselves for a second consecutive season in the Championship. Both Manchester United and Tottenham had been promoted to the Women’s Super League, but Yeovil, who were relegated from the WSL, dropped lower than the Championship due to financial troubles. This meant that with no relegation from the Championship in the 18/19 season, two clubs were promoted up into it, in the form of Coventry United and Blackburn. The new look to the league didn’t end there. Having finished bottom in the 18/19 season, a split took place at Millwall Lionesses, and the new London City Lionesses emerged. On top of that, our very own Palace made a slight change, switching from Crystal Palace Ladies, to Crystal Palace Women.
It wasn’t just our name that changed. Last summer, our squad oversaw a large overhaul. We saw the likes of Nikita Whinnet, Megan Lynch, Hope Nash, Kallie Balfour, Megan Chandler, Pam McRoberts, Ria Collins and Shannell Salgado leave the club. Meanwhile, Lucy Gillett made her loan move from Brighton permanent, and was joined by other new faces in Amy Goddard, Ashleigh Goddard, Leeta Rutherford, Ella Rutherford, Magda Mosengo, Cherelle Khassal, Rea Laudat, Bianca Baptiste, Emma Gibbons, Nicole Pepper and Annabel Johnson. While it was tough to see fan favourites leave, inevitably the step up in leagues always ends up requiring change in personnel. In the long run, so many changes had a lot of potential, but as always, there is the risk of it taking time to settle. Even so, with the likes of Captain Freya Holdaway, player of the year Ashlee Hincks, as well as Andria Georgiou, Ciara Watling and Hannah McKenzie all staying, as well as the gaffer Dean Davenport still being at the helm, there was consistency to build on.
Pre-season had been decent, although a final friendly against Spurs showed just how big a gap there can be between full time and part time teams. It didn’t matter though, because a new season was upon us, and everyone was looking forward to seeing what we could do. Our opening fixture saw newly promoted Coventry come to town, in what ended up being a very entertaining 0-0 draw. Coventry made a very good account of themselves, showing that they would not be push overs this season. For us, you could tell that this was the first time these eleven players were playing together. Despite this, we were unlucky to not grab all the points as Ashlee Hincks dominated their defence in the second half for spells. While we would have loved to start with a win, the performance had given us a lot to look forward to as the team settles down, and it also meant a clean sheet and our first point of the season, obtained much earlier than in 2018/19.
Our second game of the season saw us travel to Durham, a team who are always a threat in this league. We looked to be set for another point, with Ashleigh Goddard opening our goals account for the season. But last minute heartbreak saw us come away with nothing, as Durham grabbed a 2-1 win. That second point did come in the next game however, as Ashleigh bagged for a second successive game in a 1-1 draw away to Lewes. With two points on the board, and one last gasp defeat, there was reason to be positive as we returned to Hayes Lane. The visitors were Aston Villa, and they showed their dominance, just as they did all season in the league, beating us 6-0. It was a blow, after such a positive start to the season. Another blow, was the loss of Ashlee Hincks to serious injury, one that would rule her out for the rest of the season.
Without a win in the opening four league games, the Continental Cup brought a change of scenery for us, albeit via a return to the Dripping Pan to face Lewes once more. This time, goals from Cherelle Khassal, Magda Mosengo and Rea Laudat saw us start the cup campaign with a win. Given that our other four opponents in the group stage were all WSL teams, this win was vital in any hopes to qualify.
With our first win in any competition now under our belts, we travelled to Leicester in search of that inaugural league win. Leicester had been having a tough start to the season, and we compounded that, with goals from Annabel Johnson and Leeta Rutherford sealing a 2-1 win. At last, we had a ‘1’ in the wins column, and were on 5 points from 5 games, nearly half of the previous season’s total tally. The Villa result aside, it had been a decent start to the season, and something we all hoped to build upon. Sadly though, the momentum gained from back to back wins, was stopped dead when we returned to Hayes Lane. Sheffield United came to town, and left with dominant 5-1 victory, as Magda Mosengo grabbed our solitary goal, and her first in the league.
Next up at Hayes Lane was eventual WSL Champions Chelsea for a Continental Cup Clash. We made a decent account of ourselves, but it didn’t stop Chelsea from getting a 3-0 win. Thankfully, a return to the road saw a return to winning ways, as our trip to London Bees saw us pick up a 3-2 victory. Ella Rutherford grabbed two, and Bianca Baptiste the other to seal the three points. Sadly, this would be the last time we would win in the league this season. It would also be the last time we would see Captain Freya Holdaway in a league game, as concussion would force her onto the sidelines.
November was upon us, and brought with it not just the dark cold nights, but four defeats from four. In the league, Ashleigh Goddard netted in a narrow 2-1 home defeat by London City Lionesses, while a trip to Blackburn yielded a 2-0 defeat. In the Continental Cup, a 3-0 home defeat by Tottenham was followed up by a 6-0 away defeat to Reading. Injuries were also starting to play a part, to the point that for the trip to Blackburn, ever present goalie Lucy Gillett had to miss out, and we could only name three subs on the bench.
December is the season of good will, and after a November to forget, we were looking for some. With struggling Charlton visiting Hayes Lane, it looked like we had the perfect opportunity to get back on track. In the end though, Cherelle Khassal had to rescue a point, as her goal grabbed a 1-1 draw. 2019 then came to an end with a 4-1 loss away to Durham, and a 7-0 loss away to West Ham in our dead rubber Continental Cup group match. December also saw the departure of long time player Ciara Watling, while Beau Parker and Amber Stobbs joined the club. Amber marked her debut at Durham with our only goal of the game.
January saw the departure of Ella Rutherford, ending her loan to join Leicester. It also saw us start with a narrow loss, as Ashleigh Goddard and Magda Mosengo netted in a 3-2 defeat away to Coventry. This was then followed up by 3-1 loss at home to Leicester, in which Amber Stobbs grabbed her second goal, while Ella Rutherford returned to haunt us. The month would then end on FA Cup frustration. We travelled to Southampton Women, and were leading 3-0, when the game was abandoned with just fifteen minutes left to go due to a waterlogged pitch. Despite the fact that the result was going to be obvious, the game had to be replayed a week later. So, we started February with our match away to Sheffield United being postponed and replaced by a re-run of the cup match. Thankfully, we ran out 4-0 winners, as a brace from Amber and one from Magda, added to a first ever goal for Charlie Goad, to book ourselves a clash against rivals Brighton.
Our match at home to London Bees was called off, before we then travelled to face high flying London City Lionesses. In that game, we grabbed a very credible 1-1 draw courtesy of Ashleigh Goddard. Sadly, the cup game could not bring a similar result, as Brighton showed why they are a WSL team, beating us 3-0 at Hayes Lane. This would prove to be the last game we would play this season, as the Corona Virus brought a halt to all games. Just a few weeks ago, it was decided to end both the Championship and WSL where they were, using a Points Per Game method. Aston Villa were crowned champions, and rightfully promoted to the WSL. They will be replaced next season by Liverpool, who have been relegated from the WSL. As for us, while we had accrued 10 points at the time of the season stopping, the PPG method saw us finish 7th out of 11, on 13 points.
In all, it has been a strange season. As with our first season, our biggest problem has been scoring the goals at one end and keeping them out at the other. Our 15 goals scored was one of the lowest in the league, while at the other end we managed just two clean sheets, as we conceded 33 goals. Another concern, will be our struggle at home. A total of 10 league and cup matches have taken place at Hayes Lane, with only two of those being draws, and the other eight all being losses. Not only did the CPFCW Loyal fail to see a home victory, they also only got to celebrate 5 goals, of which only one gained a point, while having to endure a total of 27 opposition goals across the competitions. This will certainly be something that the gaffer Dean Davenport and his team will be keen to address from the start next season. It isn’t helped, that there are different levels at this stage of the women’s game. For Palace and most other Championship teams, they are part time, meaning just the two training sessions a week. All teams in the WSL are full time, meaning full time training, fitness etc. It is no surprise that the games between WSL and Championship teams can be so high scoring. Even in the Championship itself, both Villa and the Lionesses were able to run four training sessions a week, again enabling extra preparation and fitness.
However, while results may not have gone the desired way, it is not all doom and gloom. We are still very much a team in transition. We are trying to establish a squad that can become a force at this level, and such a thing takes time. A massive overhaul of the squad last summer was always going to have an effect. Even during the season, changes continued with players coming and going. There were some players who had only just joined, when the season was brought to a halt by the virus. On top of that, to lose such influential players as Ashlee Hincks and Freya Holdaway to injury, was always going to be a massive blow. There were a few games that were very tight, with last minute losses that could have easily gone the other way. We were also on course to beat the previous season’s point tally and achieve a higher finish in the table(which we still did via PPG), which in itself would have been a target at the start of the season. So, there is plenty to be pleased about, plenty to work with, and plenty to look forward to for next season.
My stand out players of the season, for me, would be Amy and Ashleigh Goddard. Amy was our only ever present, playing in all 14 league games, while Ashleigh finished our top scorer, with 3 goals from 10 games. Special mentions to keeper Lucy Gillett and right back Anabel Johnson, who both managed 13 league appearances, keeping two clean sheets, while Annabel also got on the score sheet once. Another mention, and one to look out for next season, is Amber Stobbs. Amber joined late, but made an immediate impact scoring 4 goals in 5 appearances(league and FA Cup). So, with a strange season coming to a strange end, now we can look forward to a summer of reshaping, as we prepare for our third consecutive season in the Championship, and hopefully our best yet!
All Photos Credited To Tara Hook Photography