Sheffield United: Why an opening day defeat in the FA Women's Championship did not tell the whole story for Carla Ward's side
At first glance, it looked like a disappointment and yes, Carla Ward admitted, the result still sticks in her craw.
But peer behind the scoreline and Sheffield United Women, despite surrendering a two goal lead at Aston Villa last weekend, can enter their first home match of the new FA Championship campaign encouraged by their showing in the West Midlands.
"I told the girls nobody expected us to go there and get anything," Carla Ward, United's manager, said as she reflected upon the game. "So to put ourselves in that position, where we actually should have done, gives us plenty to build on. Admittedly, there were areas where weren't good enough and can do better. But the fact we felt we didn't get what we warranted is also a positive."
Villa are expected to be one of the teams to beat in this term's competition after spending heavily in recent months. Christian Purslow, the club's chief executive, confirmed it was their ambition to achieve Super League status having intimated Gemma Davies' budget would increase significantly eight weeks ago. Sources within the game told The Star yesterday that has allowed her to buy players out of their contracts with rival clubs and build a squad considerably stronger than the one which finished a place and eight points behind United in the table last season.
Despite coming a more than creditable fifth, United also overhauled their staff ahead of the trip to Boldmere St Michaels as Ward sought more experience. Two of those to arrive - Olivia Fergusson and Katie Wilkinson - were on target at Villa before a Melissa Johnson hat-trick turned the fixture on its head. Both are expected to feature against Leicester City on Sunday but Sam Tierney, one of United's most gifted youngsters, has been ruled-out through injury.
"The response of the girls in training has been brilliant," Ward said. "That's been great to see, we didn't even have to tell them we felt we should have taken something away from Villa with us."
"We've been able to see that reaction in training," she added. "It's been so whole-hearted and intense."
Unfortunately for United, whose meeting with City is being staged at the Olympic Legacy Park (kick-off 2pm), a knock Tierney sustained during one of those sessions means she will miss the fixture.
"It's a real blow for us because Sam has been brilliant," Ward said. "She's really nailed down that position in the centre of midfield and has been superb all the way through pre-season. I'm delighted with her, not only performance-wise but also with her approach. I'm really disappointed to lose her for this one."
City could also be without a key player, as goalkeeper Demi Lambourne continues to receive treatment for a wrist complaint.
"For me, this is all about the three points," Ward said. "I'm not bothered how we get them. That's all I want."