Promoted clubs that have made most impact in the WSL

Making an impact in a new league as a promoted team is never an easy task.

There was no initially no promotion and relegation in the earliest years of the WSL, allowing the eight original clubs time to get to grips with things.

That changed for the first time between 2013 and 2014 as Doncaster finished bottom but were actually already relegated on financial grounds in favour of Manchester City following their successful application to join an expanded two-tier WSL.

With WSL 2 (now the Women’s Championship) in place, promotion and relegation between the divisions became the standard from then on.

Liverpool are the latest newcomers to the WSL, promoted from the Championship at the end of last season and determined to re-establish themselves in the top flight, having previously been back-to-back champions in 2013 and 2014.

Here’s a look at five newly promoted clubs that have made the biggest impact.

Steph HoughtonSteph Houghton

Man City went big in the transfer market ahead of their WSL debut / Bryn Lennon/GettyImages

Manchester City applied to join the WSL ahead of the 2014 season when the league was being expanded and split into two tiers. Rather controversially, they were immediately handed a place in the top flight at Doncaster’s expense.

It was clear from the start that City were ambitious, recruiting England internationals Jill Scott, Steph Houghton and Karen Bardsley. The club managed to finish fifth of eight in their debut WSL season, only seven points off the top, and twice broke the WSL attendance record.

Beth Mead was a star for Sunderland long before she joined ArsenalBeth Mead was a star for Sunderland long before she joined Arsenal

Beth Mead was a star for Sunderland long before she joined Arsenal / Graham Hughes/GettyImages

Sunderland entered WSL 2 in 2014 and topped the league straightway to earn promotion to the top flight. Inspired by a young Beth Mead, the Black Cats showed immediately that they were right at home in the WSL and surged into the top half of the table.

A fourth place finish, with 12 goals for Mead and the Golden Boot. The 20-year-old was named Player of the Year at the FA Women’s Football Awards and has actually never matched her 2015 WSL tally for Sunderland in six years and counting as an Arsenal player.

Alisha LehmannAlisha Lehmann

West Ham made it to the FA Cup final in their first season in the WSL / Naomi Baker/GettyImages

West Ham jumped straight from the Women’s National League to the WSL in 2018, bypassing the Women’s Championship altogether. The club then made a statement by hiring former two-time WSL winning manager Matt Beard and landed a number of experienced players.

The club’s maiden top flight season was even captured by BBC cameras for the reality series Squad Goals: Britain’s Youngest Football Boss, which focused on Jack Sullivan’s role as managing director. On the pitch, the Hammers comfortably survived in the WSL and were even battling more established clubs like Reading and Bristol City for a top half finish. They even made it all the way to Wembley for the 2019 FA Cup final.

Aoife Mannion; Ella TooneAoife Mannion; Ella Toone

Man Utd immediately wanted to challenge the WSL elite / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

Manchester United infamously didn’t operate a women’s first-team for 13 years, ceasing operations in 2005 and eventually starting up again in 2018 in the Championship. But assembling a squad full of WSL calibre talent, they made light work of the second tier.

United’s ambition was to regularly challenge the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City for silverware. In the opening three months of the 2019/20 WSL season, they lost to all three by just a single goal and beat all others during that period without conceding, eventually finishing fourth.

Katie Stengel; Erin CuthbertKatie Stengel; Erin Cuthbert

Liverpool stunned the WSL on their return / Lewis Storey/GettyImages

Liverpool returned to the WSL in 2022 after two years out of the top flight, relegated in somewhat controversial circumstances in 2020 when the season was abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the final standings were decided on points per game.

Nobody gave the Reds a chance when their opening fixture was a visit from the back-to-back-to-back reigning champions, especially when Chelsea took an early lead. But two second half penalties from an ice cold Katie Stengel won it for Liverpool. They went on to struggle in the autumn but have enjoyed a much more positive winter and spring, giving them breathing room above the relegation zone and in with a strong chance of leading the bottom half when all is said and done.

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