WSL needs to grow soon - Bristol manager Smith

Lauren Smith in the dugout at Ashton GateImage source, Getty Images
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Lauren Smith took over at Bristol City as head coach in July 2021

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Bristol City manager Lauren Smith has joined calls for the Women's Super League to be expanded due to the gap between the top and bottom teams.

The WSL currently consists of 12 clubs, with only one relegated and one promoted from the Championship each campaign.

The Robins have just been relegated after one season in the top flight, having only won one of their 22 games.

"I think that the WSL will need to grow soon because it's creating a huge gap between top three, middle group and then the Championship," Smith told BBC Radio Bristol.

"I think that there's going to be so much strength and resource in the Championship that the WSL will be missing out on it if it doesn't expand in the next few years."

Departing Chelsea manager Emma Hayes earlier this season said the league should be increased to 18 teams in order to boost "unpredictability".

This season the bottom five teams won almost as many games collectively - 19 - as the top two, Chelsea and Manchester City, who each won 18.

Only seven points separated the top four teams in the Championship this season, with Crystal Palace the only side to win promotion.

Smith said expansion had to be done in the "right way".

"You can't just make it huge straight away because you don't want to lose the quality of it," Smith added.

"It's the one league in the world that everyone wants to be in right now, so that has to stay whilst making it bigger over a number of seasons in the right way."

Smith said growth also had to come off the pitch.

Bristol City averaged 7,000 fans per game this campaign and will continue playing at Ashton Gate next season despite their return to the second tier.

"If you look at some of the top teams, they need new stadiums now because they've outgrown them," Smith said.

"The game has grown so fast in such a short amount of time that the teams that are catching up and forcing to be up deserve to have a go at it - and that needs to open up a bit."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Bristol City will continue playing at Ashton Gate in 2024-25 despite their return to the second tier

Smith said the WSL was "clinical" and "brutal" and that the step up from the Championship was huge in terms of tactics and the technical ability of players.

She also pointed to the number of injuries the squad faced throughout the campaign as a massive factor in the team's results, but admitted her team were "not good enough" to stay up.

"If we go back to the WSL in the short term, we know that we need to be more robust, fill the team with our strongest 11 week in, week out, which we haven't been able to do this season," she said.