The last time I visited the fortunes of Hope Powell’s team was after their alarming 3-0 defeat away to bottom of the table Bristol City. A defeat that at the time looked like it could have been terminal for Albion’s WSL status, but what has followed since has been the best run of form for the club since its promotion to the topflight.
In fact, the last time they won four league games in a row was back in the 2015/16 season, when they were in the now defunct Southern Premier League, then the regionalised third tier of the Women’s English football pyramid.
Brighton won four games all season in the WSL in 2018/19 and just three during the truncated 2019/20 season. But one more win from their remaining five games this season will see them double their WSL wins total in the space of a season.
It’s a run that has taken them into the top half of the WSL and all of a sudden a little closer to the club’s stated long-term vision for the Women’s team to become a top-four club.
After a frustrating start, this run of wins has meant this season is beginning to look like a huge jump forward for Hope Powell’s side. The reason? Albion have started to take their chances at a hugely improved rate.
Having scored only 8 goals in their first 13 games, converting 4% of shots, the worst conversion rate in the WSL at that point in the season by some margin, Albion have scored 7 in their last 4, converting 20% of their shots and nearly doubling the conversion rate of the season.
It’s a trend of struggling to score goals and convert chances that has dogged their time in the WSL. In 2019/20 Brighton had a shots to goals conversion rate of 6%, only relegated Liverpool’s was worse. And they accumulated an XG of 15 compared to its total goals tally of just 11. Whilst in 2018/19 Brighton had an XG of 19 compared to a totals goals tally of 16, unfortunately the total shots statistics weren’t available. But it still all point towards an issue in front of goal.
Whilst they still average the worst shot conversion rate in the division at 7% for the current season, it is now far more comparable to the teams around them, most of whom are averaging 8-9%. And if they were to continue at a conversion rate of 20% then they will no doubt continue to rise up the table given only Arsenal have been as efficient in front of goal this season and no one was that efficient last season.
Furthermore the teams XG of 15.6 for and 28.7 against gives further evidence that their total goals scored and conceded of 15 and 30 respectively do reflect the teams overall performance this season and that the improvement in front of goal has been a genuine improvement rather than simply a fortunate run of form.
But while Albion’s goals conceded column looks bad, it’s skewed by nearly half of those goals coming in heavy defeats to Man City and Arsenal. In contrast, scoring goals has been the real issue.
However, prior to the recent good run of form there were signs things were improving in their play but which were not being reflected in the results. In particular the 3-1 defeat to Reading and the stalemate away to Birmingham earlier this season, both of which were games Albion felt they could have won and indeed should have based on XG.
Against Reading with the game tied at 1-1 after Kaagman equalised from the penalty spot, Brighton pressed Reading and had chances to take the lead but didn’t. Instead, somewhat against the run of play, Reading scored at the end of the first half to take a 2-1 lead into half time. And after the second half again saw Albion dominate and not take their chances, Reading made it 3-1 on the break in second half injury time after Brighton had been pushing for a deserved equaliser.
Then the stalemate with Birmingham saw much more huffing and puffing in front of goal from Brighton to no avail. It was a game that really personified their goalscoring issues, 20 shots, 8 on target, an XG of 1.7, all whilst managing to score no goals.
Across those two games the team managed to have 36 shots, 10 of which were on target, but scoring just once from the penalty spot. In comparison Albion’s last four victories saw them accumulate the same number of shots, 36, 14 of which were on target, whilst scoring 7 goals. A huge contrast in fortunes.
In particular the improvement falls on the shoulders of both Aileen Whelan and Inessa Kaagman, who between them scored six of those seven goals.
But most strikingly is Aileen Whelan’s turnaround who had struggled for goals this season prior to this recent run of win. She accumulated 17 shots prior to this run, only 4 of which were on target and only 1 led to a goal. But in the last four victories she has accumulated 7 shots, 3 of which were on target, leading to 3 goals. An improvement in her shot conversion rate by a factor or nearly eight.
Before their win at Aston Villa, Hope Powell said: “Aileen would continue running if she had a broken leg. She does the scrappy jobs & more importantly, she scores goals.” And her goal that night which opened the scoring and helped to secure the teams fourth victory in a row personified that. Whelan sprinted and lunged to win the ball ahead of a sprawling Villa goalkeeper who had parried the ball into the six yard box. Unsurprisingly Whelan got to the ball first and poked it home to give Albion a 1-0 lead.
Kaagman then made it 2-0 with her third in two games and sixth of the season, which took Albion’s total scored this season to 15, one off its goals scored total from the 2018/19 season having played three games less.
The last four matches may look to be simply a good run of form, but the stats show that this team, which is notoriously stingy at the back, is beginning to find the sharpness up front it requires to progress. A combination which if it persists, could see this good form become more permanent progress and see Albion continue to climb the table.