The FA held the second annual ‘Women’s Football Weekend’ on Saturday and Sunday to celebrate the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship while the top domestic men’s leagues are on hold for the November international break.
Coronavirus restrictions meant there sadly couldn’t be a repeat of the momentous weekend last season when big crowds attended Anfield and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, while Chelsea also sold out their usual 4,790-capacity stadium.
But the action on the pitch still threw up plenty of drama and talking points as the WSL continues to underline its growing status as arguably the best women’s league in Europe.
Here’s a look through five key points to take away…
Bristol City Deserve Credit
Bristol City have had a nightmare couple of weeks on top of an already difficult start to the season. The Robins were made to play against Manchester City last week, despite losing five players to coronavirus isolation regulations, and then saw manager Tanya Oxtoby also test positive.
The ongoing disruption and depleted personnel further stacked the odds against the Robins, but they did take the lead in their clash with Tottenham and later rallied to find a late equaliser to draw 2-2.
Spurs were the more dominant side in terms of possession, but chances fell to both sides and the visitors ended the game with 10 players when Rianna Dean was sent off for a challenge on City goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley.
With no pressure on the ball in the closing stages, that player advantage counted as Jemma Purfield had time to advance in possession and pick out a raking pass that completely cut out the Spurs defence and allowed Ebony Salmon to equalise at the death.
Bristol remain bottom and winless, but it was a huge result in the circumstances.
Spurs in Danger & Morgan Still a Shadow
Tottenham would have eyed Saturday’s clash against that badly depleted Bristol City team as the perfect opportunity to get their own first win of the season.
Spurs were promoted in 2019 and enjoyed a respectable first season in the top flight. But their second year has already been much tougher and yielded only point from the first five games. Their last two have ended in draws and this campaign could soon end up being about just staying in the WSL as ambitions about kicking on go out of the window.
The Bristol City game also saw a first start for USWNT superstar Alex Morgan, a week after her long-awaited debut from the bench. Fitness and sharpness were always likely to be an issue for the 31-year-old, whose daughter was born in May, and she lasted 45 minutes of the contest.
The big question is whether Morgan has enough time to return to full match fitness in order to make an impact for Spurs before her short-term deal expires.
Birmingham Defying Expectations
Birmingham have no right to be doing as well as they are when the smart money in summer was on relegation to the Women’s Championship.
It was the second consecutive year when there were a number of key departures and little in the way of replacements, but the Blues are defying the odds and continued that run by beating Aston Villa in the WSL’s first ever ‘Second City Derby’.
Birmingham had just 13 available players for the game after being ravaged by injuries and coronavirus protocols, compared to the full Villa squad of 20 that lined up against them.
But it was Birmingham who came out on top in a game at Villa Park, albeit behind closed doors, that generally lacked quality, with Claudia Walker smashing in the only goal.
Villa still have a small buffer between themselves and the bottom, while Birmingham are up into the top half and are only one win worse off than Manchester City and their glittering array of stars.
Chelsea Grit Halts Arsenal Momentum
From starting the 2020/21 season in rampant form and averaging nearly six goals per game in their first five fixtures, Arsenal have now gone two games without a win after facing title rivals Manchester United and Chelsea in successive weeks.
The Gunners had the chance to return to the top of table on Sunday if they could inflict Chelsea’s first league defeat of the campaign and they were so close to doing it.
It was a tight game with little in the way of clear chances for each side. Arsenal’s goal - a six-yard box tap-in from Beth Mead after Vivianne Miedema had exposed Chelsea centre-back Millie Bright’s lack of pace - was the first shot on target from either team…in the 86th minute.
Chelsea managed to snatch a 1-1 draw without ever actually forcing a save from Arsenal goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger, who could only agonisingly flap at the deflected cross that looped over her head for the 90th-minute equaliser.
Chelsea stay unbeaten, but both sides missed their chance to go top of the WSL table.
Man Utd Underline Their Title Credentials
Manchester United went top of the WSL last weekend after a landmark victory over Arsenal. This weekend was their chance to show in a Manchester derby that it was not simply a one-off and they are serious title contenders this season. But it was a test Casey Stoney’s team were initially failing.
It was the game that was chosen to kick off Women’s Football Weekend, and as far as neutrals were concerned it didn’t disappoint. From a United perspective, it threatened to be a rude awakening from the dreamland of a week earlier as they fell 2-0 down before half time to their local rivals.
It was uncharacteristically poor United defending that saw City take the lead, while the second was a rasping effort from Laura Coombs. But the comeback showcases perfectly the blend that exists in a rapidly developing United side, with World Cup winning superstar Tobin Heath pulling one back and homegrown favourite Kirsty Hanson getting the equaliser to mark her 50th appearance.
Staying top, United - having now faced all three of the WSL’s biggest sides - remain unbeaten. Only Chelsea can boast that record and it took a freak own goal to preserve theirs.
The great ongoing shame is that there could be no fans in the stadium to witness a thrilling game between two top quality sides, or indeed any of the contests across the league.