An independent tribunal has deducted three points from Aston Villa as punishment for bringing on cup-tied January signing Noelle Maritz during their 7-0 win over Sunderland, but with that result expunged and with Sunderland now the winners of Group A instead of Villa, that has had ramifications for the ranking of the best runners-up in the group stages.
The cup’s format dictates that the two best runners-up after the group stage - calculated on an average points-per-game basis - progress to the quarter-finals, and Manchester United had originally looked set to be one of those two sides after last Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Manchester City left United second in Group B, with a superior points-per-game to Group A’s original runners-up Sunderland.
Villa, who admitted the charge of fielding an ineligible player, had appeared at risk of being thrown out of the cup altogether, but with merely their victory over Sunderland expunged, Villa will now progress as one of the two best runners-up at the expense of Manchester United.
“We are very disappointed with this outcome, and do not understand its rationale,” a statement from Manchester United read.
“We feel that it undermines the integrity of the competition, and of the women’s game.”
It is understood Manchester United are unable to appeal against Monday’s verdict because the competition’s rules do not permit them to do so. The draw for the quarter-finals proceeded without them on Monday evening, with Aston Villa draw away at Brighton.
The Football Association said in a statement, relating to the case surrounding Villa: “An independent tribunal has deducted three points from Aston Villa for fielding an ineligible player during their FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup group stage fixture against Sunderland on Wednesday 24 January 2024.
“The FA alleged that the player was ineligible for this game, as she had previously featured in the competition for her former club, which constitutes a breach of Cup Rule 8.19.
“Aston Villa admitted this charge and acknowledged the breach had occurred. The independent tribunal ordered that the points deducted from Aston Villa be awarded to their opponents Sunderland, while the 7-0 scoreline is to be expunged from the record.
“As a result, Sunderland will finish as Group A Winners, with Aston Villa progressing to the quarter finals as one of the two best-placed runners-up alongside Tottenham Hotspur.”
Speaking on Friday, when asked about how Villa had ended up wrongly bringing on Maritz as a substitute despite her having already played for Arsenal in the same cup earlier this season, Villa manager Carla Ward had described the incident as a “horrible moment, a horrible mistake”, before adding that Villa had investigated internally and saying: “We’ve got to take a collective responsibility. We have to ensure we get the right processes in place so this doesn’t happen again.”
The Continental Tyres League Cup involves only the 24 sides from the top two divisions in England, the Women’s Super League and the Championship. WSL champions Chelsea were handed a bye straight to the quarter-finals because of their participation in the group stages of the Women’s Champions League in Europe. Therefore the remaining seven spots in the quarter-finals were fought for during a round-robin group stage with a mix of different-sized groups.
WSL sides Arsenal, Brighton, and Manchester City progressed as group winners, along with Championship side London City Lionesses, plus Sunderland who have now topped Group A following the outcome of the tribunal regarding their loss against Villa. Tottenham and Villa are the two sides in the best runner-up spots.
The quarter-final ties will be played on either Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th February, as the road to Sunday 31st March’s final at Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Molineux stadium continues.