It has been almost a month since Vicky Jepson left Liverpool FC Women by mutual consent. This shock departure has since correlated with the Reds’ poor run of form over the last month, with many questioning whether this change has derailed the Reds season.
Since the appointment of Amber Whiteley as interim manager, she has overseen back-to-back defeats with the Reds now sitting in fourth – a distant ten points behind leaders Leicester. This has left the Foxes rightly labelled as favourites to win the Championship and seal promotion to the WSL, whilst the Merseysiders continue their slump and tension builds within the side.
The announcement of Jepson’s exit midway through January sent shockwaves amongst supporters and players alike, especially given that she had signed a new contract in the summer, and no immediate replacement was lined up to take over. Applications for the vacant manager’s job only closed recently, and an already long-drawn-out process will seemingly rumble on for another few weeks as Liverpool conduct a thorough assessment of their candidates.
Prior to Jepson’s announcement, Liverpool had suffered a damaging 2-0 defeat to fellow championship rivals Durham. Despite defeat, they were still firmly in the mix for promotion, but recent results have only seen their title challenge tail off and promotion dreams fade.
The timing of her sacking also left a lot to be desired, coming just five days before their crunch meeting with Leicester – a season defining game even before it was played, and one the Reds subsequently lost 2-1.
Many believe that, whilst Liverpool have had their struggles this season, Jepson was still the best person to lead the 2014 WSL winners back into the top flight at the first time of asking. A popular figure at the club, the former FA coach spent over a decade on Merseyside in a variety of roles before becoming manager in 2018.
She can be credited for developing a number of first-team players, including the likes of Missy Bo Kearns and Rinsola Babajide as well as convincing Rachel Furness to join the club last January, and renew her stay at the Reds to spearhead their promotion push this term.
With the departure of Jepson still lingering over the team, the build up to the Charlton game was further disrupted by Babajide’s request to leave the club late in the window, with the recent removal of the manager proving a catalyst for the winger to take action on her future. This, along with the English international’s desire to return to the WSL in order to force herself back into the national team picture, appears to be the main reason why the 22-year-old asked for a move. Her request has since been rejected by the club and she remains on Merseyside, at least until the summer.Embed from Getty Images
It is easy to see the excellent job that Jepson was doing at Liverpool and why players within the club held her in such high regard. Unfortunately, Whiteley is now finding how difficult the role can truly be.
In the early stages of Whiteley’s tenure, her managerial storyline has been dominated by the absent Babajide. Having missed several training sessions and the subsequent fixture against Charlton, the forward was being prepared for a return to the side to face Coventry, but the game was postponed for a frozen pitch. With this reintegration back into the team for Babajide, it will be interesting to see how Liverpool’s interim leader manages her want-away star for the remainder of the season.
Overall, the writing appears to be on the wall with the Reds stuck in the Championship for a second successive season, whilst they’re hold on last year’s Player of the Year beyond the summer looks increasingly unlikely by the day. With seven games left in the season, Whiteley will be hoping to finish the campaign strongly to convince players that Liverpool is the place to be, whilst staking her own claim at retaining the role on a permanent basis.
Liverpool has a huge rebuilding job on their hands if they want to launch another promotion tilt for next season. Parting ways with the well-respected Jepson now looks a desperately disappointing decision, a woman who had already done so much to stabilise the underfunded side. Now with the backs seemingly against the wall, someone needs to stand up and deliver before they stagnate in the division.
Liverpool FC Women next game is the rearranged fixture against London Bees at Prenton Park on Sunday, February 28.
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