Season in review 2021-22 | Swansea City Ladies
Champions … again! Having claimed the league title for the previous two seasons, the odds were stacked against Swansea City Ladies with the introduction of a new league format and the addition of long-term absences for key players. But, come the end of the season, they were lifting the title for an impressive third time in a row.
The Swans had started their campaign earlier than their rivals as they turned in two commendable performances in the Champions League, including pushing professional side CSKA Moscow all the way to extra-time.
Swansea had been dominant champions in 2021, but this term was always likely to prove more difficult, and so it proved.
They suffered their first league defeat in more than three years and, despite registering an unprecedented 17-0 win over Coed Duon Women in the first round, the Ladies bowed out at the quarter-final stage of the Welsh Cup, losing out on penalties to Cardiff Met and missing out on the chance to complete the double.
But the season’s ups and downs just made lifting the league trophy all the sweeter for Chris Church's Swans.
The season began with a new name and a new format for the competition. Now being played under the banner of the Genero Adran Premier Division, the league was to be played in two phases.
Eight sides began the season, with the teams who placed first to fourth after all teams had met twice set to play the rest of the competition in the Championship Conference mini league to compete for the title, while teams finishing fifth to eighth would compete in the Plate Conference and look to stave off relegation.
Points and goal difference were carried from the eight-team phase one into each four-team phase two.
"With the change in the format of the league, you technically had to go and win it twice," said coach Church.
"You had to get the points in the first half of the season to set you up in the second half of the season, so I think it was a lot more difficult to win it this time around.
“I think that makes it sweeter, because we’ve had to do it a harder way than in previous seasons."
Swans were flawless in winning their first 11 matches of the season including seeing off closest rivals Cardiff Met 3-0 thanks to a Stacey John-Davies hat-trick in November, and claiming a 4-0 victory over a strong Cardiff City side.
Their only stumble in phase one came on December 5, when they faced a stubborn and resolute Aberystwyth Town.
It was a mammoth defensive effort from Town who became the only side to keep the attacking threats of the Swans at bay for a full 90 minutes all season when they played out a goalless draw. Well-drilled, and disciplined, Town held on for a point to seal their place in the Championship Conference with one match of phase one left to be played.
When Christmas came, the Swans were top of the phase one table and would carry 40 points and +40 goal difference into phase two of the competition.
On December 22, and in response to the Welsh Government’s announcement that sports would be limited to 50 spectators due to rising number of cases of the omicron variant of Covid-19, the FAW National League Board took the decision suspend domestic football in Wales.
Swans returned to action on February 20, with six games of the season remaining and all against tough opposition.
The magnitude of the challenge was underlined when they suffered their first defeat in more than three years when they travelled to Cardiff City on the opening day of phase two.
The Bluebirds raced into a commanding lead and goals from Amy Williams, Zoe Atkins and Catherine Walsh put them in a comfortable position at half time. The Swans mounted a comeback in the second half and Karmyn Carter’s brace set up an enthralling final few minutes, but Church's side were unable to find an equaliser.
"We have a target on our backs because of how successful we’ve been," said the Swansea coach.
“You only have to look at Cardiff City when they beat us to end our three and half year unbeaten run and how much it meant to them because it had taken so long for a team to beat us.
"Even in that game, we weren’t far away from getting a draw."
The result also galvanised the Swans team and they bounced back in emphatic fashion to see off Aberystwyth Town with a commanding 5-2 victory.
What followed were vital wins against the two sides from Cardiff.
An early goal by Chloe Chivers set them on their way in victory over Cardiff Met, while John-Davis’ second-half finish sealed the points. Met did get one back but they were unable to take any points from the contest.
Eleven days later, the Swans sealed one of their most impressive victories of the season. Putting their earlier defeat well and truly behind them, they hit four past the Bluebirds to seal a standout three points.
Carter got the opener from close range before John-Davis finished a lovely-left footed effort from outside the box. Danielle Green got one back before half-time, but that only served to make the Swans come out fighting even harder in the second half and they created plenty of chances before a sensational Chivers effort from distance flew in – her standout goal of the 20 she hit over the season.
John-Davis rounded off an excellent individual and team performance when she took the ball around the challenges of a number of defenders and slotted under the keeper to make it four.
Both John-Davis and Chivers received personal accolades for that game with the former taking the title of Adran Premier Star of the Week while Chivers’ fine finish made the Sgorio goal of the month shortlist.
Chivers said: "I just hit it to be honest. I saw the sight of goal and hit it, but to beat Cardiff at home 4-1 and to get that goal was brilliant. That's probably the one [that stands out to me]."
Swans could have sealed the title on April 3 and it would have rounded off an excellent weekend for the city had the Ladies lifted the trophy for a historic third time in succession the day after the men had sealed the first south Wales derby double.
Unfortunately, football rarely follows the script.
Once again, Church’s side were frustrated by a fierce defensive display from Aberystwyth Town as they were held to a draw at Llandarcy Park.
The hosts – despite having most of the possession and nearly all of the chances – somehow found themselves behind with an hour played when the visitors scored on a rare foray into the Swans half. But they showed resilience and Carter headed in from John-Davis’ cross 15 minutes later to rescue an important point.
Swans were confirmed as champions a week later without kicking a ball. Met failed to get the three points they needed at the Cardiff City Stadium in order to take the title race to the final day, making for a very happy Easter Weekend.
Church admitted: “I wasn’t going to look at the game, but I found myself in the second half keeping tabs on Twitter to see what was going on.
"Then for the last 10 minutes, I had to go and make a shopping list just so I was thinking about that to keep my mind off the game. There was disappointment on the previous Sunday, because we came so close to doing it at home but I think for us, to win it three times in a row, you’ve just got to hold your hands up and congratulate the players."
The league’s top two met on the final day of the season and played out a 1-1 draw, leaving Swans to lift the trophy and spray champagne for the third year in a row.
Church added: “We talked about it at the end of last season that teams would up their level and we’d see better coaches come in and challenge us in different ways. We’ve had to find different ways at times and maybe once or twice it hasn’t been pretty, but there are times when the Swansea Way has shone through.
"After this season, we couldn’t wait to lift the trophy."