The second tier beckons.
After beating Wolves in the FA Women’s National League Championship Play-Off final in May, Saints are set to join the second tier of women’s football for the first time in the club’s history. Ahead of their debut season, we have a look at the make-up of the Barclays Women’s Championship and what to expect across the board in a two-part feature.
With the Barclays Women's Championship fast approaching, we run through the half of the sides that Southampton FC Women will be facing in their debut season in the women's second tier.
Home ground: St Andrew’s
Birmingham City will be looking to make a quick return to the Women’s Super League after being relegated at the end of the 2021/22 season. With a newly appointed head coach in Darren Carter, and retired WSL star Jo Potter joining the side as assistant coach in the off season, the Blues aren’t slowing up ahead of the new season.
A founding member of the Barclays Women's Super League, this season will be the first season outside the top tier for Birmingham City since 2011. Having qualified for the UEFA Women’s Champions League twice during that time - once in 2012/13 and then in 2013/14 - they will be stiff competition for Saints.
Home ground: Sir Tom Finney Stadium
A relatively recent addition to the Championship, Blackburn Rovers were promoted alongside Coventry United at the end of the 2018/19 season.
A young side like Saints, Rovers were at the tail end of the table as the 2021/22 season concluded, conceding the second most goals after relegated Watford - 42 - and netting the least in the league - 17.
Manager Gemma Donnelly has been a mainstay at the club, with 18 seasons at Rovers and nine in charge of the senior women’s side. Having won plenty of silverware during her time at the club, including five consecutive Lancashire Challenge Cups, three consecutive league titles as well as League Cups, Donnelly will be looking for a more fruitful 2022/23 season in the Championship.
Home Ground: Robins High Performance Centre
One of the eight founding Women’s Super League teams in 2011, Bristol City have plenty of history in the top echelons of women’s football. They were relegated from the WSL at the end of the 2020/21 season to the Championship, and despite a strong finish to the 2021/22 season, they finished 3rd, behind Champions Liverpool and London City Lionesses.
Saints welcomed Bristol City to St Mary’s this season in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup, and despite facing an in-form league top goalscorer Abi Harrison, Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s team pushed the Robins into extra-time before Ella Morris broke the deadlock, sending Saints into the next round.
With their WSL experience and a settled Head Coach in Lauren Smith after a turbulent 2020/21 season, Bristol City look to be one of the challenging teams for promotion this coming season.
Home ground: The Oakwood
The Addicks have been part of the Championship since 2018/19, following promotion from the FA Women’s National League after beating Blackburn Rovers in the Play-Off final.
Their debut season in the Championship saw them secure their best finish to date, coming third behind Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Since then, they’ve finished 11th (but were not relegated due to COVID halting the season), eighth and fifth most recently.
The Addicks moved to a full-time model ahead of the 2021/22 season, helping to attract some new players; Welsh international and former Evertonian Elise Hughes made the move ahead of the season, and became the main threat in front of goal, scoring six of the 25 goals from the campaign.
Home ground: Hayes Lane
Another team who ended the most recent Championship season in the top half of the table, just behind Bristol City in fourth, Crystal Palace were one of the founding teams of the league.
Their fourth place finish came courtesy of a strong, consistent season. Former Durham forward Molly Sharpe became the Eagles top goalscorer during most recent season, scoring seven across league and cup campaigns, with Coral Jade-Haines providing the most assists for her teammates.
Manager Dean Davenport has been with Palace for over 18 years, and seen the exponential rise of Palace Women. Following the success of the season just gone, Davenport was full of praise for his side, and will be hoping for a similarly successful season in 2022/23.
Dean davenportwhat an achievement to finish in the top four. all the players and staff deserve the utmost respect for breaking all kinds of club records along the way. this team is by far the best palace side i've managed in my 18 years here.
crystal palace fc women manager
Home ground: Butts Park Arena
Holding on by a thread to stay in the Championship, Coventry United will have a point to prove in the coming season. Mollie Green was the saviour for United, thrashing an unstoppable free-kick into the back of the net in the 97th minute at Vicarage Road to save her side and send opponents Watford down.
Saints have faced Coventry United before at St Mary’s, during the 2019/20 Women’s FA Cup. Rachel Panting scored a late consolation goal in front of the home fans, as United made the gap in league level known, putting four past Kayla Rendell. A strengthened Saints team will hope for a better result in the coming season.