Few would have predicted Aston Villa to sit at the bottom of the Barclays Women’s Super League table after five games of the 2023/24 season – but that is precisely the predicament that Carla Ward’s side find themselves in.
Their next test will be Sunday’s trip to Ashton Gate, where they’ll clash against a Bristol City side that sit just above them in the league standings following their win against West Ham last weekend. Speaking to the press on Saturday, Lauren Smith insisted that her side have been buoyed by a positive performance against Arsenal in midweek – despite falling to a Conti Cup defeat against the Gunners.
‘We’ve got a busy morning ahead of us,’ explained Smith. ‘It’s been a quick turnaround so a couple of them are being seen this morning but overall, it was a good evening – other than the score, in terms of seeing how we performed with some changes to the team.’
‘I don’t think [momentum] comes with results all the time. As long as our performance is getting better, we’re learning more about how we play against different opposition then for me that’s us with momentum,’ she continued. It’s a narrative that also applies to their next opponents – though they enter this match on a high after recording their first win of the season against Sheffield United in the Conti Cup.Embed from Getty Images
When asked about Villa’s start to the season, Smith offered a diplomatic response. ‘You can see that it’s been tough for them. Once you get on that rollercoaster, especially being a team that’s not expected to have lost all of those games at the start, it’s been tough,’ she told reporters.
‘I think they’re a much better team than their results have said. We’ve looked at them – they’re just not firing on all cylinders yet but they absolutely can and that’s the danger of going into this game thinking that they’re bottom of the table. Realistically they’ve got players, quality and the ability to not be there so we need to make sure our feet are firmly on the ground for this situation.’
‘There is a chance [that Villa are victims of their own success]. We looked at the start of the season that they had an opportunity to create a ‘top five’ and that’s very much gone at this point – it’s still a ‘top four’ for me, so yeah I think maybe complacency can come into it at times. They’ve got quality, they know they have, but I just think they haven’t had the start that they can work with.’
In terms of Bristol City’s team news for Sunday’s clash at Ashton Gate, Smith advised that ‘Tara Murray is going to be sidelined for a bit of time, she’s got a bit of a knee problem so that’s going to be a bit of a longer one. Fran [Bentley] is still out with that knee/leg injury as well.’
‘We’ve got a couple that are being decided upon this morning as well – obviously Abi [Harrison] and Ffion [Morgan] were missing on Thursday but hopefully they’ll be back on the pitch today and ready and available for tomorrow. Jamie-Lee [Napier] wasn’t available, she pulled up a little bit in the warmup against Arsenal so we’re just waiting for the physios to do their thing. Other than that, it’ll still be a full squad and a full bench.’
Smith was also questioned as to the current setup within the wider club, including whether she has had time to sit down and converse with Liam Manning – who was recently appointed as Nigel Pearson’s successor as head coach of the men’s first team.
‘I haven’t yet, and it feels like it’s been a busy week having come off heading to London – and obviously he’s got to deal with his team and his staff. We just haven’t been in the building at the same time but I’d say we’re definitely going to sit down next week if it settles down a little bit, and that’ll be the chance then to have a good chat and I’m sure he’s going to be an ally, if you’d like.’