London City Lionesses interim head coach Nikita Runnacles spoke to reporters on Thursday [26 January] ahead of the squad’s trip to Tottenham Hotspur in the fourth round of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup.
Here is every word Runnacles said about the departure of former head coach Melissa Phillips and our opponents from the Women’s Super League.
Nikita Runnacles, Interim Head Coach
Question: I just briefly want to touch on Melissa Phillips’ departure – is it a shock and how has it affected the team?
It was always going to be a shock to everyone on Monday and you never really know how it will affect the players individually before you even think about the team environment.
The outpouring of love that you see for Melissa on social media is very much how the day played out: it was all about celebrating her achievements from the last two and a half years and her new role in California.
In terms of the team, their resilience is second to none. They’ve bounced back from everything they’ve faced this year and that’s exactly how they have approached the situation. If anything, it’s added more and more determination for them to get the job done and that has shown in our training sessions – which have been full of high-intensity [play] and lots of discussions about how we will approach the game on Sunday.
I have zero concerns about how we’re going to approach the match and this team moving forward. They are highly motivated to complete the job that Melissa started with us here.
Question: Do previous performances versus Women’s Super League teams give you momentum for this weekend?
We’re always fired up to play against Women’s Super League teams because that’s the ambition of the Club: that’s where we want to be. When we approach these matches, it’s really important that we act as though we are a top-division side. It adds to the determination of the team. We’ve put in really good performances in the Conti Cup [versus Brighton & Hove Albion and West Ham United] and that’s the aim of the week moving forward.
Question: Does the team still have the same momentum and mentality?
How could we not? This is what we do the job for: we look to be consistent in our performances and that starts on the training ground. The consistency that the team has hit proves that we are working towards the goal that we set at the start of the year.
After the postponed match versus Bristol City, the team is itching to be back on the pitch. I’m sure they’re going to be willing and ready to put in a high-quality and intense performance at the weekend.
Question: How are aware of the news were you before Monday and what are your final thoughts on how this important Phillips was to you and the team?
Monday was always going to be really difficult, no matter what the exact timing was. She could have told six months in advance and it still would have been difficult. We just had to react. The timeline was never going to make it easier or harder, it’s just one of those things.
She was here for two and a half years and she brought the London City values, culture, and environment to life. As I mentioned in my statement, I felt valued every single day working with Melissa, and that’s how every member of staff and the players felt while she led the way.
It’s important that we continue that because we’ve helped to build it. We are here to complete the job that Melissa started. We’re halfway through the season and it’s about getting the ball back rolling and continuing on the path that we were on.
Question: What have you seen from the players over the last couple of days?
We stepped straight back on the football pitch following the announcement, and it’s really important to point out that the players made that choice. They wanted to get back out there. They’re professional athletes and had just been told probably one of the biggest shocks they could expect this season. But they still wanted to be on the pitch together as a team and that’s what they’ve shown.
There hasn’t been a moment when we’ve thought ‘how are we going to deal with this?’ because we know how the players have managed it. It’s adding to their emotions. Melissa started this but we will finish this – and that’s the message the players have sent.
Question: Sunday’s match is on the BBC iPlayer, which means many people could be watching London City for the first time. What should they expect to see?
We’re a very creative, quick-playing team who like to apply pressure all over the pitch. We like to have possession of the football and come try to break teams down. We’ll see that again on Sunday, despite playing a side from the WSL. There’s no doubt that they’re going to be tough with their challenges, keep the ball, and exploit Spurs whenever we can.
Question: Is there any team news we should be aware of?
Thankfully, the week without a match means everyone is a little bit fresher. We don’t have any new injuries to deal with, so we’ve just pushed forward as a team this week and the preparation for the match has been fantastic.
Question: It’s obviously a big day for the Club. Are you looking forward to showing that an independent team can compete against these Premier League-backed sides?
We’ve always been in a really privileged position as an independent club because our future is in our hands and we can act accordingly. It’s really special that we can shape the Club how want it to be moving forward.
You need really special people on the board and the staff to be able to do that and I think you can see the hard work has started to pay off on the pitch. It’s a great occasion for us and we’re really looking forward to putting London City on the map with another statement performance. That’s our job.