Sheffield United: The moment Carla Ward’s knew her squad has got what it takes
Twenty-four hours before last Sunday's victory over Tottenham Hotspur, Carla Ward realised her team had the bit between its teeth.
As a forgettable week approached an awkward conclusion, the players and coaching staff of Sheffield United Women gathered to discuss their impending visit to the FA Championship leaders.
If the fixture itself was not difficult enough - Karen Hills' side were leading the table - the backdrop to the fixture made things even more troublesome. Three days earlier, despite vehemently protesting her innocence, forward Sophie Jones had retired from the game after being found guilty of racially abusing an opponent when the two clubs met at the Olympic Legacy Park in January.
Ward, who was also preparing for the game without her captain and several other key performers, could have been forgiven for fearing the worst. But after spending an hour in the company of United's injury hit squad, she boarded the coach to Hertfordshire feeling quietly confident.
Ward's faith in their ability was not misplaced, with goals from Ebony Salmon and Jade Pennock securing what even the club's own website described as a "huge" three points. The former England and Great Britain youth international is hoping for a similarly gutsy display when United return to action against Leicester City on Sunday afternoon.
"We always knew playing Spurs was going to be tough," Ward said. "But we wanted to give it a real go, attack the game and try to pose a really good side problems rather than the other way around.
"You could see the players were of the same mind when we sat down to discuss our plans. They really bought into the idea and that tells you a lot about them. It was great to see."
United's victory at Cheshunt Stadium was made even more impressive by the fact they had fallen behind early in the second-half. But after Salmon had cancelled-out Jessica Naz's opener, Pennock completed the comeback by turning home Bex Rayner's free-kick during the closing stages. The result means Ward's side travel to the Midlands in seventh, a place and a point behind their latest opponents with two matches in hand.
If United prevail, it will complete a hat-trick of victories over City this term. Rayner's late strike proved enough to settle November's league meeting before goals from Jones, Chloe Dixon and Dan Cox sealed a 3-1 Continental Cup success a month later.
Although City enter the fixture hoping to avert a sixth successive defeat, United travel south searching for a third straight win after dispatching Crystal Palace 2-1 nearly three weeks ago.