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Bristol City Women v Sunderland Ladies - Barclays FA Women’s Championship

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Women’s Championship Ramble: A Sunday afternoon spent refreshing twitter, + some shock results!

Sunderland Women’s narrow loss to Bristol City will go down as a mere footnote in a dramatic weekend across the pyramid - Rich gives his take on the big stories

Photo by Ryan Hiscott - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

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The Lasses narrowly lost a hard-fought game against probably the best side in the league down in Bristol on Sunday, but we only got to watch any of the actual game on Tuesday lunchtime.

Penny pinching at the FA meant we Sunderland Women supporters who were not able to make the nine hour round trip to the Robins High Performance Centre were left refreshing Twitter to follow our team’s progress on Sunday afternoon.

Every game in the league is recorded and there’s no conceivable reason why the governing body they couldn’t provide a live stream for all the BWC games in the same way they do for the WSL.

Indeed, I have it on good authority that, for something akin to the price of a monthly bonus for a single Barclay’s banker, they could pay for commentators to be at every match this season and the many thousands of supporters of the 12 Championship teams around the world could follow every minute of action on the FA Player platform.

Bristol City Women v Sunderland Ladies - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Ryan Hiscott - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

It’s a shame, because last time round Bristol City provided really good live in-house coverage of all their home games, but in a step reminiscent of the football authorities attitudes towards TV coverage in the 1970s, I’m told that they’ve judged that streaming the game via their YouTube channel might negatively impact their matchday attendances.

I’d personally love to see the evidence that lies behind this decision, and who knows, it might same dataset that has caused Sunderland to halt the experiment that saw our home game against the Robins streamed live at the end of last season. As far as I can tell, the academic work on this topic is pretty much non-existent, so please do post any relevant links in the comments and I’ll check them out.

But if it is in fact the economics of providing coverage that’s the big issue for individual clubs, surely the FA and Barclay’s can step in to ensure that as many people as possible can watch their teams in action live.

Alas, instead we had to wait for the poor old Twitter admins at both sides to provide us with a flavour of the action. There was a certain retro, “National League during Covid” kind of feel to it, and at least there was a few couple great games on the telly to keep fans everywhere entertained.

Bristol City Women v Sunderland Ladies - Barclays FA Women’s Championship
The cameras were there... but we couldn’t watch live
Photo by Ryan Hiscott - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

At lunchtime I opted for the game between Aston Villa and Manchester City on Sky over the Durham versus Blackburn game on the FA Player. There was a ghoulish fascination on my part, watching City without Lucy Bronze, Georgia Stanway, and most importantly, Kiera Walsh, struggle to play out from the back against the wonderfully energetic forward line led by Rachel Daly.

What unfolded was a seven goal thriller that will go down as a WSL classic, perhaps even one of those “changing of the guard” moments. A 4-3 win for the home side has many asking whether there’s something rotten at the City Academy Stadium? We’ll have to wait and see, but the top flight certainly got off to a bang.

It was also nice to see Jill Scott on the telly, gold medal still in hand, loving life in the stands at Villa Park and receiving a special award from both her most recent former clubs, but thoughts of what possibly could have been were stirred when Farrah Williams on co-comms mused about the fact that the Mackem legend could still have done a job for someone this season.

I totally get that she wanted to go out in a blaze of glory right at the top rather than as a damp squib following some injury or other, but if in a couple of months time Crouchy is left longing for the weekly cut and thrust of competition, I’m damned sure Mel could still find a space for her in the Sunderland squad.

However, if I had chosen the Durham game on the FA Player, I wouldn’t have missed out on goalscoring action. The Wildcats were far too good for Rovers Ladies and scored a couple of absolute screamers to give our local rivals their first win of the season. We do gently rib them, but they’ve got some class players down at Maiden Castle and getting a crowd of over 850 when Newcastle were also at home is bloody great going. Hats off to them.

Durham Women v Blackburn Ladies- Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Elsewhere in the Championship, the standout result is surely the 8-0 thrashing handed out by Sheffield United to poor old Coventry United. But the big story coming out of that game wasn’t the shed-load of goals but the serious injury suffered by Coventry’s on-loan Man United ‘keeper, who - from what I can see on the highlights - jumped into the elbow of a Sheffield United and was knocked out cold.

The referee didn’t spot any infringement and the Blades bundled the ball home for the opener. The bottom side then lost their heads completely, shaken to their core by the sight of a severely injured colleague being stretchered off the park, and shipped a further seven goals.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Sheffield players also suffered a physical backlash that literally left their mark, with several pretty nasty challenges meted out by the visitors of the kind that Graeme Souness would surely approve.

The Godivas’ owner, Lewis Taylor, who rescued the club from near liquidation in January before their Holywoodesque great escape from relegation, inadvisably took to social media after the match to bemoan the “assaults” suffered by players.

As much as it's good to see an employer being so concerned for the welfare of his workers, it does leave the impression that Mr Taylor doesn’t quit get the fact that this is, indeed, high level contact sport played by hardened competitors where injury is an ever present risk.

The momentum that might have been maintained following that 97th minute winner over Watford on the final day of last season has all but dissipated, and I’m left wondering where they will pick up any points this season as the rest of the division seem to be accelerating away while they’re stuck in first gear.

Elsewhere, our second favourite side Lewes held off loaded crypto-club London City Lionesses to gain a point and Sunderland’s next opposition, Charlton Athletic, sent Birmingham back up the M40 pointless with a 3-0 win.

It was a result that sent the Addicks ahead of their South London neighbours and pre-season favourites Crystal Palace, whose defensive frailties of last season reemerged as the league’s news girls from Southampton went up to Selhurst Park and left with all three points.

Crystal Palace Women v Southampton F.C. Women - Barclays FA Women’s Championship
No pushovers, Southampton shocked the Championship on Sunday
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

It all underlines the fact that, though it's still early doors, this 12 team league is wide open and any side that puts a decent run of wins together is going to be right up there. It also suggests that a 1-0 loss away at Bristol City is not something for Sunderland to worry about, and that - with one exception - anyone can beat anyone in the Women’s Championship this season.

With a view on the other sides in our region, tier four is looking tasty as ‘Boro won their derby with York City 2-3 and Newcastle were held to a one-all draw at Kingston Park by their fellow Magpies, Chorley FC, in front of well over 2,000 spectators. Norton & Stockton’s fantastic start continued with a 3-1 win over Leeds United, and the county Durham side now sit third only one point behind Newcastle.

Barnsley are three points clear at the top but, after five games, only six points separate the top seven teams. It’s no doubt going to be a bunfight down there right to the end of the season once again.

The final word for this week has go to former Lasses players Lawsy and Furney and their teammates at Liverpool.

It’s almost a cliche to bang on about the ever-widening gap between the Championship and the WSL, but their dramatic win over Chelsea in concluding game of the weekend was heart-warming for the neutral.

Liverpool FC v Chelsea FC - Barclays Women’s Super League
Stengel strikes
Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Liverpool’s shock win means they join Sunderland in being the only side to come straight into the league and get the better of the WSL title holders. Indeed, in 2015 it was Liverpool themselves who were on the receiving end of a 2-1 loss in our first ever WSL fixture, Beth Mead memorably scoring a header from a beautiful Keira Ramshaw cross before Brooke Chaplain scored a second half penalty.

Yes, Sunday afternoon was a dramatic one. Next Sunday the women’s game will have a monopoly on domestic football audiences, and it’s mint that Sunderland have made the Lasses game at Eppleton free to attend.

It all bodes well for an exciting season across all four levels of women’s football. Bigger crowds, better coverage, more stories, increased prize money... We just want to ride this wave and see where it takes us - but to do that, it helps fans if they’re able to actually see (or at the very least hear) the games live as they happen.

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