Manchester City’s Laura Coombs finishes off Brighton for easy WSL win | Women’s Super League

Goals were easy to come by for Manchester City as they continued their eye-catching home form against Brighton. Chloe Kelly played a starring role as Gareth Taylor’s side cruised to victory and deepened Brighton’s troubles near the bottom of the table.

An early own goal from Veatriki Sarri sent City on their way before Julie Blakstad and Laura Coombs added to the tally. Brighton pulled one back late on through Lee Guem-min.

“It was a good win,” Taylor, the City manager, said. “I think we looked a bit slow in the first five minutes, but the goal settled us. Our set-play delivery was really good today and then after that we scored two excellent goals.

“I would say the second half was a bit too loose from us in possession … I’m just disappointed that we’ve not added more goals to our performance. But it keeps us right in touch and that’s the really pleasing thing.”

Taylor’s side have been somewhat flying under the radar this season, but their form has been noteworthy. Plenty of turnover in the summer and injury issues led to disruption early on but his side are unbeaten since September and evidently heading in the right direction. With the league’s joint top scorer in Bunny Shaw spearheading their attack they have made the Academy Stadium a fortress, winning the past eight at home.

City were clear favourites with the weight of history and Brighton’s inconsistent form on their side. They have won all but one of their previous league encounters against the Seagulls, scoring 34 goals and conceding just three. Amy Merricks’ side have been scoring more recently but are predictably leaky at the back.

This trend continued in the first half with City dominant throughout. Kelly ran Brighton’s defensive line ragged with her dancing feet and driving offensive play. The England forward is still searching for her first domestic goal of the season and seemed determined to break that run. It appeared she had in the 11th minute as her dipping corner ended up in the back of the net only for it later to be marked as an own goal against Sarri, who had got a touch at the near post.

Kelly continued to be City’s main attacking outlet and was the instigator of their second goal. With another driving run down the right she beat both Poppy Pattinson and Lee before setting up Blakstad for a diving header. It was the 21-year-old’s fifth goal of the season as she continues to make an impact.

Brighton’s Jorja Fox and Manchester City’s Julie Blakstad (right) battle for the ball
Brighton’s Jorja Fox and Manchester City’s Julie Blakstad (right) battle for the ball. Photograph: Peter Powell/PA

With less than half an hour on the clock, City were three up and in cruise control. Coombs, known as a strong box-to-box midfielder, produced a sublime top‑corner finish that flew past the outstretched Megan Walsh.

With a comfortable lead, City could afford to take their foot off the gas in the second half. Taylor was also able to give minutes to his bench, with Kelly brought off, among others.

Brighton proved a sterner opposition in the second, with Danielle Carter coming close to pulling one back for her side. They got their consolation at the death when Lee poked home in the 93rd minute. For her part, Merricks was impressed by the improvements her side made in the game, providing them with a platform to build on.

“I think in the first half there were some key areas that we needed to improve on,” Brighton’s interim manager said. “I think we did that at half-time and came out better in the second. The players really applied themselves and were committed to the idea of what we wanted to do … Obviously, they’re going to have opportunities. I think we limited that, and we created [opportunities]. We can hold our heads up high today in terms of how we showcased ourselves.”

Despite this consolation, it was a comfortable victory for City as they closed the gap on the top of the table. Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium await them next weekend, an occasion that will prove a real test of their title credentials.

Hope Powell steps down as Brighton manager after 8-0 defeat by Spurs | Football

Hope Powell has stepped down as manager of Brighton Women after Sunday’s 8-0 home defeat by Tottenham. The former England Women manager joined the club in July 2017 and led them to their best Women’s Super League finish of sixth in 2021.

The hammering by Spurs left Brighton second-bottom with one win and four defeats from their opening five league games. Powell’s team had faced each of the top three – Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea – in the opening weeks.

“We’ve had a very challenging start to the new season with many changes to our squad and results not going as we had all hoped,” Powell said in farewell comments to the club’s website. “Sunday’s heavy loss at home to Tottenham was particularly disappointing.

“As a club, we’ve made a lot of progress in the past five years, but I feel now is the right time to step aside and allow a new coach to take the team forward with plenty of Super League football still to play this season.”

Brighton said Amy Merricks, the assistant manager, would take charge at West Ham on Sunday, supported by Alex Penny and Perry Northeast.

Michelle Walder, chair of the women’s and girls’ football club board, said: “Hope’s contribution to the development of women’s and girls’ football at our club, and for the women’s game in this country, cannot be underestimated.

“Hope has established Brighton & Hove Albion in the Women’s Super League, has overseen the opening of a new state-of-the-art women’s and girls’ teams training facility at our club, and has undoubtedly inspired further generations of young girls to play football. We wish her well for the future.”

Brighton also finished ninth twice and seventh last season under Powell, who managed England from 1998 to 2013.

Brighton’s Victoria Williams: ‘I remember we’d kick off and I just couldn’t breathe’ | Football

For the Brighton captain, Victoria Williams, overcoming her struggle with, in her own words, “a lack of self-confidence”, has been one of the biggest hurdles in her playing career. In fact, it is one of the reasons she wants to talk today, when we meet in a function room at her club’s training complex. “I think there’s probably quite a lot of people in the same position, where you feel like you don’t fit in,” she says. “And I just want to say: you do. You just have to find the right environment for yourself.”

Growing up in Doncaster, a predominantly white town in Yorkshire, Williams recalls how her experiences, including of racism, affected her. “I had to move schools when I was in infant school, actually because of racism,” she says. “I don’t really know how to frame that properly about how that made me feel at the time.” She adds: “I think growing up, kind of being the odd one out, and you just want to blend in, I think you can underestimate how much that can affect you as a person.”

Victoria Williams tries to find a way past Faye Bryson during Brighton’s WSL game at home to Reading last month
Victoria Williams tries to find a way past Faye Bryson during Brighton’s WSL game at home to Reading last month. Photograph: Micah Crook/PPAUK/Shutterstock

Williams, 32, is a linchpin in Albion’s defence, having joined from Sunderland in 2018 for the club’s first season in the Women’s Super League. This year she was appointed captain, her proudest achievement at the club so far. “It’s just an honour to lead the team out and live the values that we’ve created over the last four years, and demonstrate those and be proud too,” she says.

It has been a long journey to get to this point, says Williams. As a young player, she “really struggled with pressure”, her stresses physically manifesting on the pitch. “I basically used to choke quite a lot in games; this started in my early teens. I remember in games, we’d kick off and I just couldn’t breathe.”

Williams’ career began in the school playground, playing football with the boys, before a successful trial for Doncaster Belles’ under-10s. The Belles were then a celebrated club in the women’s game, their senior side winning the top-flight WFA National League in 1992 in its first season. At about the age of 14 she played for Leeds United at youth level, and she remains a Leeds fan. (“For my sins,” she jokes.)

She stresses, during Black History Month, the importance of having diverse representation in the women’s game. She was in part inspired to join Leeds by Jessica Clarke, one of the few non-white players at the club. “I remember at the time – it seems silly to say now – but a big reason I wanted to go there, they had a young Jess Clarke, who at the time was a real breakthrough player,” she says. “It was kind of like: ‘They’ve got players that look like me, and they’re doing well’ … I think we as players sometimes underestimate the impact you can have just by being a bit more visible.”

Victoria Williams at Brighton’s training ground
Victoria Williams says: ‘I’ve developed so much as a person’ since signing for Brighton in 2018. Photograph: Peter Flude/The Guardian

Williams also spent two years at Arsenal’s academy, training under Emma Hayes and Kelly Smith. She later played for Doncaster Belles at senior level and had a stint at Chelsea.

It took years for Williams to overcome her mental struggles, only really from her mid-20s. But it is something she is proud of and wants to emphasise. “I don’t really have any major trophies to talk about or anything like that but it’s possible to appreciate how far you’ve come in that sense, because that was a real sort of stumbling block for me: self-confidence and how that rolls into sport performance,” she says. “Now, it’s the great thing about the game becoming professional because you have these proper support networks now in clubs for things like that.”

She credits Brighton with boosting her confidence, explaining: “Since signing, I’ve developed so much as a person.” Of being coached by Hope Powell, a former England women’s manager and an instrumental figure in the game, she says: “It’s brilliant, she’s a very meticulous coach.”

Outside football, Williams describes herself as an “outdoorsy person”. “I’ve got a few spaniels and a whippet – I just love to get out with them really,” she says. Among the people who have shaped her, she cites her family and especially her parents who, despite divorcing when she was young, have supported her. “My mum has sacrificed everything for me to do this,” she says. “My dad, despite the divorce and that, he’s always been around.”

Williams acknowledges that some people view her as “heading towards the back end of my career”. Although she has no plans for after her retirement, she is not daunted by this either. She leans back in her chair, explaining how she is “grateful” for what the game has given her.

“It’s been just probably a crazy mental journey for me more than anything else,” she says. “So that’s what’s quite cool about it, really. Because now I sit here and I’m still a bit quiet, but I’m a confident person and I’m happy with who I am. I’m happy with what I look like. I feel valued. I see the value in myself.”

Get to know the players in England’s top flight better with our WSL player in focus series. Read all our interviews here.