General View of signage at the Trevor Brown Memorial Ground, home of Aston Villa Women Aston Villa Ladies v London City Lionesses, Women’s Championship football match, Trevor Brown Memorial Ground, Sutton Coldfield, UK - 15 Dec 2019 Photo: Richard Martin-Roberts for The FA

PREVIEW: Aston Villa v Charlton Athletic

The FA Women’s Championship returns this weekend and league leaders Aston Villa will be hoping to keep their unbeaten record intact as they play host to bottom of the table Charlton Athletic on Sunday.

Aston Villa will be looking to record their 12th league win of the season, having only drawn once and not lost any games so far. They are on a six-game winning streak in the league and will be eager to grab their seventh against a Charlton Athletic side that have certainly faced a difficult season so far.

Villa are currently three points ahead of closest rivals Sheffield United with a game in hand, putting them firmly in the driving seat in the hunt for promotion as we approach the latter stages of the season. Their recent 1-0 victory against The Blades started off the New Year right where they left off and was a massive three points against a side that has pushed them all the way so far this season.

It is quite a different story for Charlton Athletic, who have not yet won a game this season, tallying six draws and four losses to leave them propping up the FA Women’s Championship table, three points below Lewes, Coventry United and Crystal Palace. They have only played 10 games, however, so they do have games in hand over many of the teams close to them in the table, in some cases two or three. In their last FA Women’s Championship outing, Riteesh Mishra’s side lost out narrowly to Blackburn Rovers, who returned home with all three points despite The Addicks taking an early lead through loanee Charlie Estcourt.

The last time the two teams met was earlier this season at The Valley, with Aston Villa running out 4-0 winners. Melissa Johnson opened the scoring early on and two further goals for her as well as a stunning free kick from Emma Follis sealed the win for Villa, as well as a hat-trick for Johnson, her third in five league games. It was a largely one-sided affair that showcased Villa at their absolute best, so Charlton Athletic will certainly need to work hard to suppress their opponents’ many attacking threats if they are to take anything from this one.

Villa boss Gemma Davies has almost a full squad available to her for Sunday’s game, after Alice Hassall made her long awaited return from injury last weekend. Full-back Ella Franklin-Fraiture is the only player unavailable due to a long-term ankle injury that has kept her out since October.

For Charlton Athletic, new signing Ciara Watling should be available after making her debut against Blackburn Rovers a fortnight ago. However, The Addicks saw both of their loan signings from Reading, Charlie Estcourt and Lily Woodham, come off injured in their Women’s FA Cup fourth round tie against Chelsea last Sunday, so there is a chance that they be unavailable going into this weekend’s fixture. If this is the case, it will be a big blow for The Addicks who have already lost prolific goalscorer Charlie Devlin in the January transfer window after she signed a permanent deal with Leicester City.

Villa come into this game off the back of a narrow 3-2 loss in the Women’s FA Cup fourth round against FA Women’s Super League side Brighton & Hove Albion. A late, determined fight back from The Villains gave the fans some hope but ultimately they were unable to make up the deficit after Brighton & Hove Albion scored three goals in the first half.

When speaking to FAWSL Full-Time after the game, Davies emphasised that it was a “game of two halves” with the second half a marked improvement on the first. She told us, “The second half demonstrated who we were, we had intensity and purpose, we had an added edge to what we did.

“I think the first half we lacked that. We couldn’t get close enough to Brighton and we were a little bit slow and sluggish.”

She also praised Brighton & Hove Albion’s defensive performance, by saying “They made us work hard, they shut off spaces we wanted to play into.

“We just lacked that little bit of quality, that final pass, that final touch in areas that mattered most.”

However, despite the loss, Davies was certainly proud of her side, highlighting that “there were loads of positives and it’s important that we take those into Charlton next week.”

Aston Villa’s fixture against Charlton Athletic kicks-off at 3pm at the Trevor Brown Memorial Ground, home of Boldmere St Michaels FC.

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