Women's League Cup: Aston Villa stay in competition despite fielding ineligible player

Carla Ward
Aston Villa manager Carla Ward admitted that fielding Noelle Maritz in the League Cup match was a "horrible mistake"

Aston Villa will remain in the Women's League Cup despite fielding an ineligible player, progressing at the expense of Manchester United.

Villa won their final Group A match 7-0 over Sunderland, but cup-tied defender Noelle Maritz played in the win.

Sunderland are awarded the win and go through as group winners - while Villa progress as one of the best runners-up.

United, who had been one of the best second-placed sides, are out as their goal difference is worse than Villa's.

Swiss defender Maritz came on at half-time in Villa's thrashing of Sunderland on 24 January, with her side leading 3-0.

Maritz had made three appearances for Arsenal earlier in the competition before joining Villa on loan in January, leaving her cup-tied and sparking an FA investigation.

An FA statement read: "An independent tribunal have deducted three points from Aston Villa for fielding an ineligible player during their 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."

No scoreline has been given for the game, with Sunderland simply awarded three points for Villa's forfeit.

Villa's win in the original tie had meant they topped Group A, ahead of Sunderland in second.

But with the north-east side awarded the victory, they move to the top of the table on 10 points with Villa on nine in second.

The five League Cup group winners progress to the knockout quarter-final stage, alongside the best two second-placed sides decided on a points-per-game basis.

Manchester United
Aston Villa's reprieve pushes Manchester United - who had qualified for the League Cup quarter-finals - out of the competition

Manchester United finished second in Group D with nine points, and their 2.25 points per game looked to have qualified them for the knockout stage, only bettered by Tottenham's 2.5.

But after Villa's result was awarded to Sunderland, and with them not expelled from the tournament, they are level on points-per-game with United but have a better goal difference - plus-16 compared to plus-nine - thus knocking the Red Devils out of the competition.

BBC Sport understands Manchester United consulted their legal team last week to get a better understanding of the club's rights and involvement in the matter.

United said they are "very disappointed" and are considering their options following the decision.

A Manchester United spokesperson told BBC Sport: "We are very disappointed with this outcome and do not understand its rationale.

"We feel that it undermines the integrity of the competition and of the women's game. We are considering our options in response."

In a similar case, Reading were removed from the 2014 League Cup and fined £50 after fielding Bonnie Horwood who had made three appearances for Watford earlier in the competition.

Villa manager Carla Ward admitted fielding Maritz for the game was a "horrible mistake"..

"We need to take collective responsibility for how it's happened," said Ward.

"First and foremost, as a club we understand there's been a horrible mistake quite honestly and there's been some internal conversations and investigations on how it's happened.

"We have to ensure we get the right processes in place so this doesn't happen again."

The quarter-final draw was due to be conducted live on the BBC on Friday but was postponed until Monday, 29 January while the investigation was conducted.

Asked about the impact on Manchester United and his thoughts on the situation, manager Marc Skinner said on Friday: "All I understand so far is that things have gone to a tribunal to see the result. I think that's all we know.

"I actually don't think we have a say in it even though it can directly affect us. I will just reiterate what I said the other night in that I hope the right decision is made and it's not to the detriment of Manchester United.

"We did everything we could to qualify from the most difficult group and I feel hopefully the right decision is made and (it) doesn't scold Manchester United."