Sarah Wiltshire may have to leave Manchester City

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Another weekend passes with Manchester City failing to earn maximum points in the WSL, most recently due to a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at home. Having come back from a goal down to level the scores, City were on top and pushing for a winner when manager Nick Cushing looked to his bench.

To influence the game further into his team's favour, he opted to bring on defender/midfielder Abbie McManus and attacker Natasha Flint. McManus had a solid game at centre-back a few weeks ago against Liverpool and was somewhat unfairly dropped in favour of the returning Steph Houghton given the performance of Kathleen Radtke that night, but given her natural position she was hardly a fantastic substitute to make when in search of a winner.

Flint, on the other hand, has featured as a substitute on a regular basis this season but done little other than collect yellow cards for some rather cynical play. Also on the bench that night was Krystle Johnston, who has been in and out of the side but seeing regular action, back-up 'keeper Alex Brooks, young defender Georgia Brougham, another defender in Emma Lipman, and a certain Sarah Wiltshire.

Wiltshire earned herself a move to the ambitious Manchester City during the off-season following a superb 2014 in WSL 2 with Yeovil, where she scored 10 goals in a short spell spanning just 11 games.

She was the third highest scorer in the league last year, netting the same amount of goals as Doncaster Belles' Sue Smith and Reading's Lauren Bruton, all of whom trailed behind only Beth Mead of Sunderland (13) and Fran Kirby of Reading (24).

When speaking on the signing of Wiltshire, Cushing also referenced her performance for Wales against England in their World Cup qualifier last summer. He described the desire and energy she exhibited that day, giving everything until the end despite her side being 4-0 down at the break.

This display perfectly encapsulated just the type of player Wiltshire is; a hard-worker, a nuisance for defenders and a creative player who gets herself into the positions where chances occur. She reads the game well, has plenty of skill and an eye for goal. These qualities were picked up by City and, in turn, so was Wiltshire.

Things started well for the Welsh international as she started City's first game of the new season back in mid-March in the FA Cup against WSL 2 side, Doncaster Belles. The Belles finished second in the league in 2014, just missing out on promotion, and are one of the favourites to go up this year so were not to be an easy side to face.

However, the WSL 1 side came out on top with a 3-1 victory, and Wiltshire was lively throughout, creating several chances from a wide position as she made up a front three alongside Nikita Parris and Krystle Johnston before being subbed off after 68 minutes for Toni Duggan. Yet, despite her bright start to life with City, this is as good as it has got for the forward in her first two months at the club.

The following week, Wiltshire started on the bench for the Sky Blues as they faced Birmingham in the first game of their WSL season. The game was goalless at the break and Cushing was forced into a change five minutes after the restart due to an injury, Keira Walsh leaving the pitch for Kathleen Radtke.

Natasha Harding was thrown on for Natasha Flint with twenty minutes to play to swing the game in the favour of his side, but this had little impact. He chose not to use his third and final substitute and the game finished 0-0.

Just a few days later, City were back in action in a league fixture against Sunderland and Wiltshire started once more with the squad rotated a little due to games coming thick and fast. Again, she was deployed out wide as part of a front three and again she shone in an energetic performance in which she created plenty using her pace, trickery and good crossing ability.

With the score at 1-0 in favour of City, she was withdrawn after 67 minutes as Harding entered the fray, and it is likely that she would be disappointed again having done little wrong and plenty right.

Since that start, City have played five games and Wiltshire has played no minutes. She was not in the squad as they beat Birmingham 3-1 in an FA Cup quarter final in their next game, nor was she included a week later as they lost 1-0 to Arsenal in the league.

In City's 2-1 loss to Liverpool, Wiltshire was on the bench but did not get on, then she was left out of the squad in the cup defeat to Chelsea and did not get off the bench when they played the Blues again at the weekend in a 1-1 draw.

What must be frustrating for the Welsh forward though is watching other players on the fringes of the side failing to capitalise on opportunities that she would love to be given. Compatriot Natasha Harding is one of these players who has been granted her fair share of starts, as well as substitute appearances when not in the first eleven.

However, the former Bristol Academy winger has failed to take advantage of her minutes, proving to be largely ineffective compared to her form in 2014 that helped her previous side to the Champions League semi-finals.

Natasha Flint is another player who has failed to justify her constant inclusion ahead of Wiltshire, with some cynical fouls and a severe lack of attacking involvement all she has shown on the pitch really this year. Finally, Krystle Johnston has also struggled on the pitch, given a few opportunities to start through the middle but failing to take advantage and not really getting involved.

Each of these players have struggled to get involved up top because they lack one thing: movement. Their play off the ball has not been good enough and this means they have not been able to get into positions to receive a pass and get into the game.

This is something Wiltshire excels at doing, on the other hand, and for Cushing not to have noticed this yet is strange given his quality as a coach. With the mid-season break now underway in WSL 1, it is perfectly understandable that Wiltshire could be looking for opportunities elsewhere at a club where she will get the minutes she deserves.

So, what options may arise for her? One plausible possibility is a move to Bristol Academy. Currently bottom of WSL 1 without a win in their first six games, the club have just appointed a new manager and now have two months ahead of them to gel and transform with no players travelling to the summer's World Cup.

Having lost plenty of key players during the off-season, Bristol have struggled for goals so far this season and a move for Wiltshire would make perfect sense. She would fit in seamlessly given the fact that the club possesses countless of her fellow Welsh teammates, and she would surely be motivated to get in and amongst the goals again to prove a point to Cushing and co.

Another possibility is a move back down to WSL 2, especially with their mid-season break not coming for another month yet. Reading is a good shout as they are to lose Fran Kirby for some key games as she travels to Canada as part of England's World Cup squad, and signing a reliable goal-scorer like Wiltshire would help fill the void she will leave.

Whilst the Royals have players like Lauren Bruton and Emma Follis who are more than capable of hitting the back of the net in Kirby's absence, adding one more attacker would be a safe and smart move for the promotion hopefuls to make.

The third and final chance of a move away from City I will speculate is one which sees Wiltshire return to one of her former clubs in WSL 2; Yeovil or Watford. With the former, she enjoyed an incredibly fruitful spell, almost registering a goal every game before the season ended.

The Glovers may be doing fine for goals at the moment and are in great form, sat in third in the league, but that is not to say that they would not be happy to see her return and help them push for an unlikely top two finish even more.

As for Watford, they will perhaps look more deeply into acquiring Wiltshire's services again given that they only recorded their first win of the season in their most recent game with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa. They are struggling to really get going this year and the presence and talent of a player like City's out-of-favour forward could inspire them to change this.

Of course, these are all hypothetical suggestions and there is no evidence to suggest that any of them will happen, or that Wiltshire is even looking to leave Manchester City. Still only 23-years-old, she may want to wait until the end of the season before re-assessing her situation, hoping to put in some good work over the summer and push for some more minutes when the WSL resumes in July.

However, a player of her standard deserves to be playing football week in week out, even if this does mean taking a step backwards by dropping down a division to help her take steps forward again.

A loan move for a month to WSL 2 could even be a possibility, just to give her some game time and get her confidence back up. Personally, if I was in Wiltshire's situation, I would be looking for a way out, but what do you think? Should she stay, or should she go?

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Manchester City
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