Roker Report: Thanks for speaking to us again, mate. Until very recently, Palace were right at the top of the FA Women’s Championship. So how’s things in the world of Crystal Palace women these days?
Michael Cuell: Firstly, it’s a pleasure. I think it’s great that we can share knowledge with each other about our teams, when there is currently so little information out there in the public domain in regard to the women’s game.
When it comes to the world of Crystal Palace Women currently, it’s probably fair to say we have come down to earth with a bump! The week after the game away to your Lasses was postponed, we travelled to Durham and beat them 3-2. We were excellent, especially in the second half when we controlled the game. That put us 2nd for an hour and 3rd by the end of the day. Confidence was sky high as we were set to welcome Liverpool to Hayes Lane. That confidence was crushed quickly as they raced into a 3-0 lead, and ultimately beat us 4-0, as we never got in the game and struggled to get the ball out of the back.
The following week a poor first half at home to Lewes saw us 1-0, but a superb second half display gave us a 3-1 win. We had hoped we had got the stutter out of our system, but a 4-0 loss at Bristol City which saw us fail to even get a shot on target, and then a 5-1 loss to London City last week has certainly knocked us. We have gone from having just two narrow losses in 11 games, to 3 drubbings in 4 games. Although the score flattered London City, who should have conceded a penalty and scored against the run of play more than once.
It has been a tough run, but the league has become two halves, with the full-time teams now occupying the top half and the part time teams occupying the bottom. We do wonder whether tiredness, having pushed so hard the first half the season, has caught up with us a little.
RR: Everyone was really impressed when you beat Durham away, what happened in that last game against Bristol City? It seemed a bit of a shock scoreline looking in from afar…
MC: Bristol was an awful performance, there is no hiding from that. Durham saw us peak, and we have found life tough since. We looked nervous against Liverpool, played ourselves into trouble and got punished, more than once. That was the first time we had no answers and were really put to the sword. I think we have struggled to settle since then. We beat Lewes at home, but could have easily been 3-0 by half-time, and then travelled to Bristol and made them look great.
Abi Harrison is a striker in form of course, but i felt Bristol at times looked poor, but we didn’t punish them when they gave the ball away and they kept punishing us. The weather didn’t help, but both teams had to deal with that. City are a team on the rise and I think they will be the Champions next season. The game against us looks like them finding their feet, and they will push on. Since then, we have also lost 5-1, despite a much better performance.
RR: Defence appears to have been a bit of an issue for you this season, with over two goals conceded a game. Why do you think that is?
MC: Defence has been a problem for us every season. Since our last-minute promotion to the Championship, we have found keeping it tight at the back difficult. Our first two seasons saw us shipping goals and struggling to score many. The last two seasons, we have found the formula going forward, I believe we are third highest scorers this season. However, at the back, we just haven’t found an answer.
Last year, only relegated London Bees and second bottom Coventry United conceded more than us. This season, we have conceded more than all teams in the league. We just don’t keep clean sheets. For me, we are in desperate need of a commanding centre back, a real blood and guts, dominant in the air bully.
Our best defender currently is Lizzie Waldie, who at times is used on the left of a back three, otherwise she is our left back. In terms of CB, we have tried a few options over the years, but haven’t found the solution.
We are very vulnerable to set pieces, high balls into the air, and it needs someone in there to take control and dominate the attackers. We also need to take into account that our defenders work full time jobs and then on top of that train four nights a week, and then come up against full time attackers who do nothing but train.
It enhances their fitness, sharpness and ability which makes life harder for us. Some of them are internationals too. I could possibly add the need of a strong defensive midfielder to cut out some of the attacks getting through. It’s all easier said than done though of course!
RR: Millie Farrow is clearly a top performer for your side this year, but who else has impressed you this year?
We all love Millie Farrow, she is by far our best striker and when she plays, we are a much different prospect to when she doesn’t. Aside from Millie, we have had a few great performers, but recent weeks have been tough for them.
Emily Orman in goal, at only 19, has been outstanding for a lot of this season, but the last few games since getting player of the week, she has struggled and will admit herself that she could have been stronger on some of the goals.
Kirsty Barton is another who has been excellent for the majority of the season, scoring 4 and thriving in the middle, but has found the last few weeks tough going, and the same goes for Lizze Waldie. Two that have kept on going however, are Coral Haines and Shiv Wilson.
Coral is top of the Championship assists table with 5 and has scored 3. She makes us tick in the middle going forward and is always looking for that killer pass. When Coral is on form, we score goals, it’s that simple.
As for Shiv, what a season she has had. She has established herself as one of our biggest threats, she causes defences all sorts of problems and is joint top scorer on 5. Even in our recent struggles, Shiv has been a shining light and can rip through any defence on her day.
RR: Palace fans seem pretty fanatical. Do you think we’ll see any travelling support at Eppleton on Sunday?
MC: I know we will have a couple there who are local and had attended the postponed game. I don’t know of anyone travelling up, it’s quite a long journey on a weekend where weather conditions could play havoc with travel. I will be at work, so will not be able to attend myself.
RR: Our usual score predictions question - what do you think the result will be in this game?
MC: As I mentioned on my pod the other day, I think we will win this 3-2. It’s been a tough run for us, but we have played the best four teams, all full-time, and now have them out of the way. Our run in is more favourable, and we need to start this Sunday against the Lasses. It won’t be easy, because you are a very organised team that is hard to beat, and you will no doubt have analysed our defensive frailties of recent weeks and formulated a plan to expose them.
But the scoreline against London City flattered them. 4 of their goals were our errors, we should have had a penalty at 2-0, and their keeper made two key one on one saves from Millie in the first half. We need to take the positives from that game and build on them, having had a week with no game to refresh and reset. This match could really define the path our season takes, and I think we will get the job done. Coral will score, and Millie will bag a brace.