Foxes defy the odds to remain in the WSL

When the majority of fans think about Leicester City, they cast their minds back to the club’s stunning Premier League title in 2015/16. Some will remember the ‘great escape’ from the prior season, as the Foxes managed to climb out of the relegation zone against all odds – and the women’s side have just pulled off a feat that is equally impressive.

Just four months after signing a new two-year deal, Lydia Bedford was relieved of her duties as head coach in November 2022. The Foxes had lost all of their opening six games, and sat at the bottom of the FA Women’s Super League table as a result.

Bedford was replaced by Willie Kirk, who had enjoyed a stint as Casey Stoney’s assistant manager at Manchester United before leaving to take on the Everton job in 2018. It looked as if Kirk’s appointment at the King Power Stadium wouldn’t have the desired effect though, as the club lost the first three games under his management.

Fortunes began to change in mid-January though, as the Foxes picked up their first points of the season with a win at home against Brighton. In that game, Kirk’s side scored with every shot on target – managing to put three past the Seagulls and kickstart their bid to remain in the top-flight.

They lost next time out though, as they hosted Manchester City at the King Power Stadium. Picking up even a point would have been a great achievement, but it wasn’t to be – and the Foxes would look forward to a trip to Merseyside to face Liverpool.

A shock result at Prenton Park saw the Foxes pick up their second win of the season – and with six points now on the board, a comeback looked increasingly likely. Under Kirk, the club had begun to build an identity, with the winter loan signings of Janina Leitzig and Ruby Mace becoming instrumental to the club’s upturn in form.

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The Foxes stuttered at Leigh Sports Village though against Manchester United, with Marc Skinner’s side imposing a dominant 5-1 scoreline against their Midlands opponents. As Willie Kirk welcomed his former Everton side to the King Power Stadium next time out, both sides had to settle for a point in a goalless draw – and it looked as though any hopes of pulling off the great escape may be drying up.

Losses against Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa seemed to confirm that – with the Foxes remaining on a measly seven points with just six games left to play. A 2-1 win over Reading put Leicester City back on track, as they picked up all three points in a fixture dubbed as a ‘relegation six-pointer’.

That was then backed up with a resounding 4-0 win over Liverpool, putting two goals past the Reds in each half to round off a dominant performance that deservedly earned them a crucial three points. Unfortunately though, that would be the Foxes’ last win for a while – as a narrow loss to Arsenal courtesy of a Frida Maanum stunner was followed by a six-goal demolition at the hands of Chelsea.

Ruby Mace was dismissed in the Foxes’ penultimate match, as Willie Kirk’s side tripped up at home against West Ham to miss out on more crucial points. However, safety looked to be wrapped up at this points and simply had to be mathematically confirmed – Tottenham’s 4-1 win over Reading ensured that the Royals would need to defeat league leaders Chelsea, and hope that the Foxes lost against Brighton.

With the relegation battle continuing until the final day, Leicester City fans would be ecstatic as news of Chelsea’s opener at Reading broke around the ground. Emma Hayes’ side were two goals ahead by half-time at the Select Car Leasing Stadium – and that result would be good enough to win Chelsea the league title and ensure the Foxes remained in the top-flight for another season.

Ava Baker’s 73rd minute strike eliminated any remaining doubts, and sure enough, as the final whistle rang out across all six simultaneous games, Leicester’s WSL status was confirmed. The Foxes will be hoping that the men’s side can replicate the same feat, as they face West Ham at 4:30pm on the final day. Dean Smith’s side need to win their game against West Ham and rely on other fixtures going in their favour.

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