Brighton & Hove Albion’s women team are making impressive strides in the Women’s Super League after they achieved a record-extending fourth consecutive victory with a 2-0 win over Aston Villa on March 17.
A poacher’s finish from Aileen Whelan and Inessa Kaagman’s penalty was enough to take all three points away from the Banks’s Stadium and move the team up to sixth.
Brighton & Hove Albion’s Women Progressing Well in the Women’s Super League
A Remarkable Turnaround for Brighton in the Women’s Super League
The win at Villa followed on from victories over Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United, which came following that stunning 2-1 defeat of reigning champions Chelsea.
Those results culminated in Hope Powell winning the Manager of the Month award for February, which further highlighted an impressive turnaround in form.
But rewind to January 30 and there was a very different narrative hanging over Powell’s side – a 3-0 defeat to bottom club Bristol City saw the team sitting precariously in ninth with nine points from 13 games, having played at least one more match than the three sides sitting below them in the table.
Relegation concerns had deepened with that defeat to the Vixens, which was the sixth loss in their previous seven games.
Powell admitted that the Bristol defeat made her feel as low as when she lost her job as England women’s team manager and prompted a reset to essentially start again from scratch.
There are plenty of surprises in football, but few could have anticipated the outcome of Brighton’s clash with Chelsea at Kingsmeadow.
The league leaders were unbeaten in 33 league games before facing the Seagulls and hadn’t tasted defeat in the competition for over two years.
Sam Kerr put the Blues ahead in what looked like being a routine victory for the west Londoners, but goals from Whelan and Megan Connolly stunned Emma Hayes’ side to claim arguably Brighton’s most impressive Women’s Super League result since winning promotion to the division in 2018.
The following 1-0 win over West Ham was just as important, putting one of Brighton’s survival rivals to the sword and further easing any concerns of relegation.
Kaagman proved to be the difference in that aforementioned 2-0 victory against Tottenham, as her two sweetly-struck volleys – one with each foot – settled an otherwise cagey contest that continued the positive momentum on the south coast.
Making Gradual and Sustainable Progress
It seems that the club are now reaping the rewards from seeking to make progress gradually and sustainably.
That can be seen in the shrewd recruitment process, with the likes of Ellie Brazil, Victoria Williams, Kayleigh Green and Connolly arriving in the two transfer windows across the 2018/19 season – all have since become key figures in Powell’s squad.
Whelan is another crucial cog in the team after joining in 2017 with the club playing in the second tier at the time, and has gone on to be one of the side’s most consistent performers in what is now her fourth season on the south coast.
The Appointment of a Dedicated Head of Women’s Recruitment
The club further highlighted their emphasis on continuing this excellent track record of acquisitions, with the appointment of their first dedicated head of women’s recruitment, Ron Thompson.
Thompson worked with Powell during the latter’s time as England manager and allowed Brighton to search in more detail for talent to bolster their squad.
More eye-catching arrivals came in the summer of 2020 under Thompson’s watch, with Kaagamn and Nora Heroum joining on permanent deals, while Lee Geum-min joined on a season-long loan deal from Manchester City.
There was also a nod to the future with the recruitment of Katie Robinson and Katy Startup, and Albion are seemingly getting good value for money from their purchases on a relatively tight budget.
Kaagman has been the stand-out signing for Albion so far, often in a deeper holding midfield role alongside Connolly, but is still contributing at the attacking end of the pitch with six goals so far this season.
The Netherlands international is a creative influence at the heart of Brighton’s midfield and the nature of her two strikes against Tottenham has seemingly given Powell’s team that clinical edge that was missing in previous years.
Rebecca Stott was another player that arrived at Brighton with an impressive pedigree, after earning more than 70 caps for New Zealand and boasting a club career that includes teams in Australia, Norway, Germany and the United States.
Stott managed just seven appearances for the team after being diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma, but ‘Stotty’s’ impact on the squad was clear to see with the team paying tribute to the popular defender by holding her shirt aloft in celebrating that 2-0 win over Tottenham.
The Future Looks Bright for Brighton & Hove Albion’s Women
But looking away from the first team, the future is also looking bright in bringing through the next generation of young players.
Brighton’s Regional Talent Club (RTC), essentially the female equivalent to a boys’ academy, is one of only 13 in England to hold the highest Tier 1 status and strives to provide an elite pathway through to the first team.
Alongside that is a thriving Dual Career Academy side, which allows talented players under the age of 20 to combine their education alongside pursuing a career in the game.
Beth Roe and Maya Le Tissier are two players within the first-team squad to have benefitted from the programme, with both going onto represent England at youth-team level.
Libby Bance is another homegrown player to have been handed her league debut this season in a 1-0 win away at West Ham in November.
More infrastructure to aid this continued pathway is being put in place at Brighton’s state-of-the-art American Express Elite Football Performance Centre training ground, with an exclusive facility being built for the women’s and girls’ side of the club.
What’s more, chairman Tony Bloom’s stressed his own commitment to women’s football and wants to ensure the team becomes a regular finisher within the top-four of the Women’s Super League.
With the way things are going, one would not bet against Brighton from reaching those lofty heights.