With all eyes on the FA Women’s Super League derbies taking place at The Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge, there is another opening day derby that has almost slipped under the radar.
London Bees opened their FA Women’s Championship campaign by welcoming their new city neighbours London City Lionesses to The Hive. The City Lionesses, formally known as Millwall Lionesses, were looking for a fresh start after severing ties with the South London club and they are hoping to improve on their bottom of the table finish from last season.
There were concerns that all wouldn’t go to plan for the City Lionesses when Lauren Pickett was clean through early on for the home side, testing oncoming City keeper Lucy Thomas.
Fortunes quickly changed for Chris Phillips’ side. Despite the partially blue and sunny skies, a terrantial downpour earlier in the day meant the ball zipped along the pitch at The Hive. This allowed London City Lionesses to quickly work the ball down the left hand channel before a deflected shot allowed Grace Neville to head in the opener. This marked a goal on her London City Lionesses debut after her summer move from Tottenham Hotspur.
The leading side, not happy with the single goal, continued to push forward. A short pass from new Bees captain Megan Alexander allowed Liz Ejupi to beat the keeper to the ball but the Albanian international was unable to generate the power necessary for a convincing shot at goal and the defence easily cleared.
The Lionesses remained on top in the first half and some neat footwork from full-back Leanne Cowan gave her the space to whip in a decent cross. Sadly, all her good work came to nothing as Ejupi’s wayward header never troubled The Bees’ goal.
The Lionesses did have the ball in the back of the net for a second time in the first half but combative midfielder Freda Ayisi was adjudged to have fouled centre-back Georgia Robert in the build up.
In one of the rare moments that Thomas was tested in the City Lionesses’ goal saw midfielder Bonnie Horwood let rip with an effort from just outside the area that looked for all the world that it was heading for the top corner. That was until the outstretched right hand of Thomas clawed it away for a corner kick just before half-time.
The Bees started the second half just as they did the first with Pickett breaking forward and getting in behind. Unfortunately, after turning her defender inside-out on the edge of the area, her left footed effort was lifted narrowly over.
Sadly for The Bees, the similarities between the two halves continued and the City Lionesses soon found their second goal through Lucy Fitzgerald, making her the second teenager to score for in this game. After a scramble in the area, the City Lionesses number 17 was allowed to toe poke the ball into the back of the net with her outstretched leg.
Despite the two-goal deficit, the home side did improve after the interval with Pickett having three good chances of her own. That being said, the forward seemed like the only player likely to score for The Bees and manager Lee Burch must have feared for the worst as the ball was turned into his side’s own net by one of his defenders. However, much to the relief of everyone in orange, Fitzgerald was flagged offside after the initial shot, so the goal was ruled out.
The Bees continued to try and grab a consolation but were unable to create anything clear cut and resorted to long balls over the top in their desperation. This was in stark contrast to the London City Lionesses who even in the dying minutes, were still forcing Sarah Quantrill into some very good saves to keep her team in the game.
One would imagine that as referee Aaron Farmer blew for full-time, Bees boss Burch would have little to no complaints regarding the 2-0 defeat. There were glimpses of quality going forward from Pickett and Rosie Kmita that will give the former Yeovil manager hope for the season ahead.
Nevertheless, Burch’s side were still second best today as players like Freda Ayisi displayed composure in the middle of the park that The Bees could not match. The remit today for the Lionesses was to play like a team reborn and they certainly achieved that. The high intensity and confidence displayed was a far cry from the minnows who limped to an 11th place finish out of 11 last season. As such, London City Lionesses will feel vindicated in their decision to reject the apparent safety and the security that being part of a pack like Millwall FC would afford them. It was a big risk going it alone but Chris Phillips and his team will hope today demonstrated that they can not only survive on their own but possibly even thrive.
By Ryan Lee Gregory (@ryanleegregory)