The Lionesses are back at Princes Park for the first time in 2022, when they take on Sunderland A.F.C Ladies once again in the FA Women’s Championship.
Due to the postponement of last Sunday’s league clash against Watford, the Lionesses are yet to play in 2022.
Yet as frustrating as the postponement was for players and staff alike, for manager Melissa Phillips, it’s always important to look for the silver linings in these situations.
“I couldn't have been prouder of the way that the group prepared,” said Phillips, “because despite injuries, Covid circumstances, uncertainties with the weather, and the pitch, we continued to add to our game prepare for the match ahead as normal.
“We just finished our pre-match Zoom call in preparation to head out to Watford, then we got right back on the call and told everyone it was off. But there’s nothing we can do about that, it's in the past now, and we keep moving forward together.”
Indeed, for Mollie Rouse and the rest of the players it’s clear that, despite the lack of games over the last month, silver linings are there to be found.
“It's been a while since we’ve been on the pitch together,” said Rouse, “but, we've had more time on the pitch putting in the strategies and working together and finding our identity in all different areas.
“You can never complain about training and preparing as much as we have. So, there are positives and negatives and we’re just raring to go as a team and ready to push on and get a game under our belts.”
For Phillips, facing Sunderland for the second time, brings back memories of what was a tough test away on the road, yet one that resulted in a strong 2-0 victory.
Yet even so, lessons from the game can certainly be applied to this next clash with the northeast side.
“It's probably the most transitional game that we’ve played,” remarked Phillips, “so there actually is an opportunity for a little bit more to create within that chaos than it is when you have to really break down a team that sits in numbers behind the ball on us, that we faced as well in the first half.
“We scored on two set pieces last time, one from a corner and then a second phase ball from set piece. Those aren't easy to come by, so we know we’ll have to be sharp.”
Such is the competitive nature of the Championship, that Phillips and Rouse both know that a tough test awaits them on Sunday, but for the latter, that’s just what she loves about the competition.
“From bottom to top, there's such small margins and every game is super competitive, no matter who you face, and that's one of the most exciting things about it.
“As a player, you know what you're going in each game and you're being challenged and pushed on to be the best and that's what you want, as a footballer, you want to be challenged so you can try and become the best.”
For Rouse, the competitive environment is just what she wants, heading into a year where she is looking to grow as much as possible.
“As a footballer you always prioritise that growth and improvement and I think that's what I'm really focusing on, on and off the pitch.
“As you get older you want to push on more and more and just help the team as much as possible. So just taking it day by day but improving and growing alongside my teammates.”
These improvements are going to come all the quicker to Rouse once she and the rest of her teammates get back to playing in front of the fans at Princes Park. For Phillips, she knows just how important the supporters have been this season.
“The fans have been brilliant at Princess Park,” remarked Phillips, “our last home game, the cup tie against Birmingham which went to penalties, was a fantastic atmosphere.
“So can't give enough credit to the youth players in our Academy and their families, and all of our fans and supporters that came out, because it was a really good atmosphere for the girls to play in.
That night we put in a performance deserving of the result. So, we’re looking forward to getting back on our home field and in front of everyone at Prince's Park again.”