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Women’s football Russo seals derby victory over Spurs in front of sold-out crowd

Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur
by Bella Katz
at Ashburton Grove

THE sun shone over north London yesterday lunchtime, as 60,050 football fans flocked to Ashburton Grove to witness one of the most hotly anticipated derbies of the season — Arsenal versus Tottenham.

Thousands of women and girls flooded the streets leading up to the ground, and the buzzing atmosphere continued inside the stadium as the home support witnessed a match-winning goal by fan-favourite Alessia Russo in the second half.

The sell-out showdown marked the second-highest attendance in Women’s Super League history, which isn’t surprising considering the top-quality football on offer and the game’s ever-increasing presence and support in Britain.

Jonas Eidevall’s Arsenal dominated possession in the opening minutes of the first half, turning up the pressure on their neighbours and rivals with each attack, but their eventual triumph after 97 minutes was far from a breeze.

Around the 25-minute mark, sixth-place Spurs made a breakthrough with a chance on goal for 23-year-old Jessica Naz, who cut inside from the left and clipped the cross bar. It may have been a missed opportunity, but it gave Robert Vilahamn’s Lilywhites the chance to make it known; they weren’t going to roll over easily.

Gunners captain Kim Little ran one-to-one with goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer in the 33rd minute, but her efforts were to no avail as her cross was missed by her teammates. The flag went up soon after she made her attempt.

Spurs veteran Ashleigh Neville appeared in good form and completed a number of important challenges which helped interrupt the Gunners’ rhythm before she was subbed off in the second half. It was all-square as the referee blew the whistle on 45 minutes played.

Frustrated Arsenal came back with a bang after half-time when Russo made it 1-0 to the delight of fans sporting red and white in the terraces. Beth Mead went down in the box but managed to set up her England team-mate first, who finished it off with a clean strike into the back of the net — her sixth goal for the club this season.

Of course, a derby isn’t really a derby without a bit of grit, and Katie McCabe received a yellow card for almost coming to blows with Spurs keeper Spencer.

It was a strong display from Eidevall’s squad. Spurs had their chances but they were just not clinical enough on the day.

Little said to the BBC post-match: “I think we are happy. We got the three points and that’s what we need. I think there were really sharp moments where we created good opportunities but there were sluggish moments too.

“Sometimes, off the back of an international break, players coming in are all in different places, so I think we managed that well but we definitely weren’t at the top of our game.”

The victory puts third-place Arsenal level with Chelsea on 34 points. The WSL title contenders will now set their sights on travelling to take on Emma Hayes’s Blues on March 15. 

Spurs turn their attention to the FA Women’s Cup, as they face Nils Nielsen’s Manchester City in the quarter-final on Sunday.

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