The Lionesses are looking to bounce back after a narrow defeat against Liverpool last weekend, travelling north to face a tough Sheffield United side.
The two sides last met in September, the first game of the season at Princes Park, with Sheffield United coming away with the 3 points in a 4-1 victory.
There’s always opportunities to learn from a defeat like the weekend’s Liverpool game and so the squad are focused on what they need to do to improve and get a positive result against Sheffield.
Head Coach Mel Phillips responded “We have a chance to bounce back quickly from the defeat last weekend. Sheffield's going to be another strong side. And, we have to respond to tough results from them earlier in the season. So, we always look at the finer details and the little margins of the game whether that be set pieces or attacking creation or just areas that we want to build on our identity in general. But ultimately, it's always going to be about our mindset and looking forward and preparing ourselves."
Sheffield United’s home form as been poor recently compared with their season start with a loss to Durham and 3 all draw with Blackburn Rovers and the Lionesses will be looking to see how they can capitalise on this.
“I think it's a testament to how tough our league is and how you have to be prepared every given matchday, but we will always focus on ourselves and our own preparation and confidence leading into the match. We just make sure that we do the right things each day in training this week and we prepare accordingly, and it'll be a great opportunity for us to go see how much growth we've had from the start of the season to now and really give them a good fight” Phillips replied.
Reaching the half-way point in the season, Phillips is pleased with the team’s development to date.
She said “I've been tremendously pleased with the growth of the team throughout the first half of the season. I think from all facets, whether it's our style of play or building identity and belief in the things that we're doing and starting to come together as a unit. I think there have been so many positives to draw and we just keep pushing forward”.
Reflecting on the game against Liverpool on Sunday, Phillips said “The Liverpool game was a tough one to take for me. We all walked away feeling like we wish we would have gotten at least a point out of it. But loads of lessons as with any game. I think I was really impressed with the way that we managed different ebbs and flows and momentum throughout the game and then able to even turn it back into our favour in the second half. We competed at a high level, executed a lot of things within our game plan and then we just look at the small margins of the game to improve”.
So with that in mind the Lionesses' are approaching the Sheffield United game with a focus on excellent preparation and a positive mindset.
“We all want that Sheffield game back at the beginning of the year, but we're also confident in how much we've grown from that opening match to now. So, I think we're eager to get up there on Sunday and really prove ourselves and we never really define ourselves by the result but by the performance and the preparation that goes into it. So, we'll make sure that we focus on those things and put ourselves in the best situation for success on the weekend” responded Phillips.
The 4-1 defeat at the start of the season against Sheffield United is certainly providing an incentive to win in this match and ending the year with a positive result is the aim.
Phillips explains “Yeah, absolutely. I think we still have a lot to prove for ourselves in the League this year and we continue to chip away, and we continue to improve and challenge ourselves and grow in the areas that we need to. But we definitely have a lot to prove in the league."
“It's important to end the year and reflect on all the different challenges and adversity and adaptations that we've had to make to get to where we are. And that's where real personal growth comes from for each player, to help fuel us in the new year to continue to strive towards the goals that we want to achieve. I think that'll be the most important thing that we focus on in our preparation. We focus on our performance and we take the positives from those to continue building momentum”.
Defender Grace Neville has become a key player for the Lionesses this season. On a personal level, how is she finding this season so far?
“I think in each game I'm growing as a player and as a person and I think the six months has really been crucial for me. I just kind of hit the ground running and I kind of knew I wanted to play every minute this season. I always want to improve, and I pick apart my game a little bit."
“Every game I'm going into with an open mind, sticking to the game plan and just do my role as best as I can” Neville replied.
What kind of game is Neville expecting against Sheffield United?
Neville said “It’s going to be a tough game. We've obviously played them at the start of the season, but I think we've come on leaps and bounds from there. As a team collectively and individually, we've come on so much in the six months or a couple of months. We know that they are a well-organized team, but we just need to be hard to break down. We prepared really well. So yeah, it's just about executing the game plan and I think this is going to be a good game to watch”.
"The mood in the squad is really positive with a real togetherness but you also need a competitive edge in training so everyone is pushing each other and raising the bar."
“The mood in camps really really good, always a really positive atmosphere. Obviously, it was a hard one to swallow last week in the narrow loss against Liverpool but moving on from that I think if anything that's made us more hungry and more eager. and the work rate in training has been so good,” highlights Neville.
“Yeah, there's definitely that kind of competitiveness in training to even start the game. So yeah, we're all really excited”.
“I think a massive thing for me as a fullback is just winning my 1v1 battles out wide. If I do that well, it makes a difference, and my defenders have an easier game almost. If I stop the crosses and things like that, so defensively a massive thing for me. And then just going forward being a positive outlet person in attack and create the backline some problems” .
What does Neville make of the development and journey the Lionesses are on?
“I think this club has so many ambitions to be at the top and it comes from all across the staff and then right down to the players. We're all pulling in the right direction and we all have such high hopes for this club. It's only going upwards and upwards. As players, we want to prove that on the pitch and make the club proud”.
You can follow the build-up to Sunday's game at 2 pm along with live match updates via the London City Lionesses Twitter feed.