After the ‘21/22 FA Women’s Championship season, Sunderland Women secured another year in the second tier of women’s football after finishing in ninth place.
So ahead of the ‘22/23 season, we at Roker Report wanted to learn more about the two new teams heading into the division. We looked at Birmingham City, who were relegated from the Women’s Super League in the first part, and now we turn to Southampton who were promoted from the Women’s National League.
I’ve been analysing their style of play, statistics, players to watch, and what we can perhaps expect from each side in preparation for the new season. And I also wanted to speak to people who know these sides the best - the fans!
Southampton FC Women
2021/2022 Season Recap
It was a fantastic season for Southampton FC Women, in what has been another year of incredible achievements for a club which is still so young. The Saints started off their 21/22 season with a true statement of intent - a dangerous attacking team and one which would push for the title and earn promotion.
Southampton played 26 games over the course of the year, winning 22, drawing three and only losing one, a 2-0 defeat to Ipswich. That loss seemed to kicked the Saints into gear, as they then went on to dominate FA Women’s National League Premier South with some resounding victories, including an 8-0 win over Chichester and Selsey Ladies, 9-0 wins over Gillingham and Hounslow, 9-0 and 9-1 wins over Keynsham, and 6-1 win over Plymouth Argyle. It is no wonder that they finished the season in the first place, nine points ahead of Oxford and boasting an almost ludicrous +86 goal difference, with their 99 goals scored and 13 conceded.
Young players Lucia Kendall and Ella Pusey scored 45 goals between them, with what an all-around brilliant team performance from all players in terms of attacking prowess. All of them contributed greatly to what was a prodigious and magnificent season for the Saints.
It was unsurprising that Southampton went in as favourites in the promotion playoff match against Northern opposition Wolves Women last week. It was the Saints who came away as victors in a 1-0 victory at Stockport, securing yet another promotion for the club, seeing them rise from Tier 7 of the Women’s Football league to Tier 2 in the space of five years.
"Promoted to the FA Women's Championship at the first time of asking!" ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/Y6FrT5Dwkp— Saints are going UP (@SaintsFCWomen) May 21, 2022
Unfortunately with Southampton FC Women being a relatively newly founded team and just joining from the FA Women’s National League (tier 3), there is no data or statistics available from Wyscout to look at and analyse. However, I have spent some time in recent weeks, locating highlight footage of their games to study their playing style and their strengths and weaknesses.
From this footage, it appears that Southampton mainly adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation, however, they have also used a 4-3-3-3 and a 4-2-2-2.
The Saints boast tremendous attacking tenacity and attributes, with a plethora of players getting on the scoresheet for the club last season. As evidenced by scoring 99 goals in 26 games, with 22-year-old Ella Pusey and 18-year-old Lucia Kendall getting 24 and 21 goals respectively.
The clips of Southampton that I have watched confirm that they like to play a passing game, with a great attacking impetus and urge for their wing backs to get involved in the play. A lot of Southampton’s game is played on the wings, rather than through the middle, opting to utilise the width of the field to allow open play, long balls and threats from the wide areas.
Numerous goals that I watched came from the wings, usually in the form of a Southampton player taking the ball to the by-line before either cutting it back for an attacking player to run onto or to cross the ball into the box.
A large proportion of Southampton’s goals have come from this position and generally come in the form of aerial goals and headers. Whilst not the tallest side, the Saints have great movement in the box to move away from their marker, giving themselves the space to attack the ball and offer a goal-scoring opportunity.
Southampton are relentless in their attack, opting to play with a high defensive line, ask their wingbacks to get involved and love to play in through balls behind the defensive line. Usually out towards the wing for a player to run onto and cut back or cross into the box. They are also incredibly fast on the counter and transition, getting forward in numbers when attacking and offering various avenues for the ball to be taken forward and received.
The Saints can be guilty of playing the passing game too much and trying to be too cute at the back. Instead of trying to clear the danger with a lofted ball up the field, they can try to play it out from the back whilst under pressure, which has led to goals being directly scored from these errors.
Whilst they did only concede 13 goals last season, from the footage I watched, the majority of goals they conceded were from lapses in defensive judgement and mistakes from the back. Usually leading to them being dispossessed just outside of their own box or having a poor pass cut out by an opposition player.
Fortunately for them, in some circumstances, the side were bailed out by some brave goalkeeping from Kayla Rendell who was quick off her line to either close down the shot or dive onto the ball.
It would be well worth the Sunderland forwards using their pace and tenacity to close the defenders down on the ball to try and force a mistake given these defensive lapses, particularly with Southampton playing with a high defensive line.
At times they are guilty of playing too high up and getting caught out, especially on a quick transition or counter. Southampton have come from a league in which they have been able to be ruthless in attack and have had no need to sit deep and play patiently as they look to build up the pitch. However, they may well have to adapt and readjust their tactics and style of play once they begin playing in the Championship.
From some of the clips I have observed, their defenders like to get forward and involved in the play, allowing for alternative options and avenues. However, this has led to large gaps opening up in between the backline which would be perfect for pacey players from Sunderland such as Emily Scarr, Grace Ede and Maria Farrugia to exploit and run into.
Their defence appear quite slow to get back once they have committed themselves forward, so if Sunderland can time their counters or long/through balls up the pitch, they may well find themselves in a situation where it is a 3 v 2 against their goalkeeper and single defender.
The Saints also don’t appear to be the most physical or aggressive team, not in terms of their desire to get forward and press, but in closing down the opposition and putting in a tackle. They stand back off their opponents, allowing themselves to fall deeper and deeper into their own half as the opposition players continue to press and wait for other options to become available.
Their hesitancy to tackle and close players down can play into the opposition's hands and therefore allows for some intricate passing play between players which will take the defender out of the game and leave behind the gap which they have left.
One(s) to watch
It is hard to ignore just how prolific and efficient the likes of 22-year-old Ella Pusey and 18-year-old Lucia Kendall were for the side. With 24 goals and 21 goals respectively, the two young guns paved the way for The Saints to win the title with their goal-scoring contributions, but it didn’t just stop there.
Not only were they clinical in front of goal, but the two of them were tenacious, energetic, determined and heavily involved in all aspects of the pitch, providing an option for teammates and dropping deep when required. They linked up well with the likes of Sophia Pharoah who had 12 goals for this season, forming part of a spectacular attacking trio.
Goodnight, Saints fans pic.twitter.com/I0DFsNk5oz— Saints are going UP (@SaintsFCWomen) May 21, 2022
However, it cannot be understated the plethora of talent that the Saints have. Whilst their main starting 11 is strong as it is, they also boast a great amount of depth and players they can call on from the bench who will absolutely contribute to the game in various regard.
It is something that Sunderland Women should be wary of, especially as they have announced they will be turning professional this season.
What the fans say
Following on from Southampton’s 1-0 win over Wolves in the promotion playoff final. We spoke to Southampton FC Women’s fans, Shannon Stephen and Chris Walker who run the @SouthamptonFCW1 and @sfcwomenfans fan pages respectively on Twitter.
Roker Report: Thank you for taking the time out to speak to us! Firstly, how would you say the season has gone for your team?
Shannon Stephen & Chris Walker: Our season went amazingly, we achieved so much this season being the league, the league cup and now promotion it’s just an unreal moment to gain promotion the first time asking!
We kept 16 clean sheets, 17 if you include the promotion final today, 730 average attendance with our highest club attendance being 5,145 against Portsmouth at St Marys which is where we lifted the league trophy, unreal!
So incredibly proud of every single one of the girls, Marieanne and the staff!
RR: What would you say are the expectations for this season?
SS & CW: We were hoping that we would be near the top end of the league but as the season went on we pushed on and on. We lost to Ipswich at home back in November and I think that’s what gave us the lift to push and fight hard to win the league and go for promotion.
RR: Which areas would you say the team needs to improve/strengthen?
SS & CW: Where do you start. To be honest I don’t think we really need a full overhaul of the squad as we have a cracking team now maybe a few additions but not too much required.
RR: Who is a player/ who are some players to watch?
SS & CW: We have a few players to watch or keep an eye on and those are Ella Morris, Laura Rafferty, Lucia Kendall and Leeta Rutherford. All are incredible players and truly put everything into each match.
RR: Lastly, we acknowledge it can be hard to do so, but where do you predict they will finish and how will their season go?
SS & CW: So we’ve gone from Tier 7 all the way to now Tier 2 and the team was only formed in 2017/18 and that’s incredible. I think in the championship though, mid-table would be whereabouts we will finish. Cannot wait to get behind the team next season!