It’s derby day in the Second City this afternoon as Birmingham City take on Aston Villa in the Women’s Super League at St Andrew’s Stadium. It is the second season that this fierce rivalry takes place in the top flight and all eyes will be on Villa boss Carla Ward, who makes her first return to her old club since her summer switch to their bitter rivals.
Ward will be hungry to get one over her previous employers after the poor handling of the women’s team by the club drove her away. Under the watch of ex-CEO Xuandong Ren, the women’s side received horrific treatment last year in terms of facilities, travel, and their budget. The situation got so bad that the players wrote a letter to the board raising the key issues. And with what was an already limited budget, then-Blues boss Ward had to juggle preparing her players for WSL matches in substandard conditions while mediating with the club about sorting out the problems that the team were facing.
It was a horrible situation that no coach should have to face alongside the gargantuan task of keeping a side in the division. Despite all the chaos in the background, Ward guided her side to safety in the WSL – and she was rightly nominated for WSL Manager of the Year. However, the nightmare experience in that one season with the Blues was too much for her and she handed in her resignation in May, before being announced as the new Villa boss the same month.
She will have her first opportunity for revenge against her former club, even though Ren, the perpetrator behind the poor conditions the women had to work in, is no longer employed by Birmingham. The Isle of Wight-born coach has so far orchestrated two wins and one draw in her first six games having crossed the city divide, while her former team are still searching for their first win of the season under new boss Scott Booth. The fixture is set to be a thrilling clash between two sides desperate to maintain their place in the WSL.
Ward will be looking to top scorer Remi Allen, who has two already this season to inspire her side to victory and possibly leap-frog struggling Manchester City as well as give her side more breathing space from the bottom of the table. That would increase the pressure on Booth, who has not had the best start to life in the West Midlands compared to his counterpart.
Ward showed last year how much of a promising coach she is and she already looks to be having a positive impact on Villa. The 37-year-old could rub salt into the wound of her old club at St Andrew’s and she could show them exactly what they are missing. Their loss is their rival’s gain.