Rogers: We are heading in the right direction

Scott Rogers insists the future remains bright for his young, developing Liverpool Ladies side after an encouraging Spring Series campaign.

Despite defeats in their final two games to big-spending Chelsea and Manchester City, displays against the likes of Arsenal and Sunderland showed that the team are well equipped to make a strong challenge when the Women’s Super League returns in September.

With five players set for action for their countries in the Women’s European Championship in July, the majority of the squad will go on their holidays.

Before taking a deserved break himself, Rogers sat down with to reflect on the first part of 2017...

Scott, the season started early for you with the Women’s FA Cup and the small matter of a derby with Everton – a pleasing outcome in the end…

From our point of view, our pre-season didn’t quite go to plan. We only played two games because a couple of teams dropped out on us, so the FA Cup tie was always going to be tough with it being a Merseyside derby and Andy Spence has developed a really good young team at Everton. We managed to get through it and it’s always a positive when you a win a derby. We won it in extra-time, which gave the girls some more minutes and it put us in a good stead for the rest of the Spring Series.

You gave a debut to Ali Johnson and she came up trumps with the assist for Shanice van de Sanden’s winner…

She did and Ali has done really well for us. Whether she is ready to start regularly at this level yet is something we have to work with her on. We’ve got to educate her on this is a step up from playing development league football, but technically her left foot is very special and we have got a few of them at the club. Ali is a great prospect and what a great cross it was for Shanice to put us in the next round.

After suffering semi-final heartbreak by being edged out 1-0 to eventual winners Manchester City, preparations turned to the Spring Series, so what were your expectations and hopes?

We didn’t equip ourselves very well at City, it wasn’t us and we didn’t get going. Offensively we didn’t do enough. What I love about this group is we sat down and reflected on what we have done well, what we haven’t done so well and then got back on the training pitch. The girls worked very hard and we started the Spring Series really well.

You were also parading a new signing in the experienced Casey Stoney – how big a capture was that for you?

It has been massive because I felt last year we were a little bit inexperienced so I went from one extreme to the other. To bring someone in with Casey’s experience, because she has played in many games at the top level and won many trophies and medals, she brought a calming influence to the dressing room. She also has that little bit of know-how when we are up against teams who have proved to be tricky in the past.

You also managed to get Laura Coombs back on a permanent deal after her successful loan spell last year…

We were delighted to bring her back. She has been brilliant in the Spring Series for us and it’s important we keep developing this group and pushing them on.

You also managed to get a new No.9 in with the arrival of Jess Clarke – another exciting signing for the team…

I was looking for a new No.9 and I almost fell upon one because I put Natasha Harding up there and she has been fantastic in the Spring Series with her movement and some of her link-up play has been different class. Getting Jess in was a big boost for us and what I like about the forward line we have is the ability to change it and the ability to interchange. With players like Natasha, Jess, Shanice van de Sanden and Niamh Charles we have some very good forwards at this football club now.

After seeing off the challenge of Yeovil it was a proud moment then for Liverpool Ladies against Reading when you wore the Avon-sponsored shirts for the first time, and it brought you luck, four goals again…

It did and you could see from the start of the season our attacking play was frightening. We have a lot of speed in this team as well as a lot of intelligent players, and when you couple the two together it’s a dangerous proposition for other opponents. We are very happy with the way that is going.

How special is it to have Avon on board as it gives Liverpool Ladies their own unique identity?

It’s massive. We are the first club to really do it properly and we’ve got a shirt sponsor that matches the look of the men’s team. We have such a massive company in Avon backing us and it’s a big achievement for the club off the pitch.

You then followed that up with a thriller at the Hive in the incredible 4-4 draw at Arsenal – as a coach on the touchline did you go through every emotion that night?

Yes! We were 3-1 up at half-time and we were comfortable. That’s not being disrespectful to Arsenal but we were the better team. You always know Arsenal are a top-class team with top-class players and they came out in the second half and they really took the game to us. I had to take Casey Stoney off and in that period we were caught cold and they took advantage of that. Dan Carter is a top forward and she took advantage. We were then 4-3 down with seven or eight minutes to go and then we got the point. When you look back on it you think a point away at Arsenal is not such a bad result, so in the end we were happy with the point. On the positive side, it’s a good thing that we were a little bit disappointed we didn’t take all three.

From going 3-1 up you then came back from 4-3 down when Gemma Bonner scored again, your skipper was becoming prolific in the opposing penalty area at this point…

She was but it’s lucky my forwards were scoring as well because she would have been asking me to play at No.9! Gemma has been a danger in all of the games from set plays and it’s something we’ve said to her, because she is a tall girl with a great physique about her for a centre-half and we asked her to be more imposing from set plays. To be fair, she has stood up to that challenge and been dangerous from them, which is pleasing.

Jess Clarke then got her first goal in a red shirt away at Birmingham – always a tough away game but that was a terrific win…

It’s not an easy place to go and credit to their manager, Marc Skinner, who is changing their style gradually. He is a very good coach and they have got some very good young players. We were happy to get the three points and it kept us ticking on.

Your side then produced a magnificent display to beat Sunderland with Caroline Weir catching the eye with a stunning strike…

Caroline did the same last year and she did it again for us. Caz is a special player and we have quite a few of them, and against Sunderland they all turned up. We scored four goals but we could have got double that if I’m being honest. They were very lucky it was only four and the way this group is developing I’m so pleased with it.

This team is very much an attack-orientated side, full of pace and full of goals…

It is and sometimes we have to look at the defensive side of our game. When I became manager of Liverpool Ladies I looked at the attacking side of our game and felt that with the players I recruited we could be more adventurous, use the ball better and cause teams problems. I think that is showing. Yes, defensively we have been a little bit up and down but I think that’s through a lack of consistency more than anything else. We haven’t been able to field the same defence throughout the Spring Series season. In our final game against Manchester City we had six defenders in the squad not available so we only had one defender on the pitch. When the Women’s Super League returns in September we will get our defenders back and I feel we will be in a very good place.

After the away draw with Bristol, a bad day at the office against Chelsea – I know you labelled it as a freak result in many ways…

Against Bristol maybe we were starting to tire and playing a number of games in a short space of time was catching up with us. The Bristol draw we were disappointed with because we dominated the game, had about 20 corners and so many strikes on goal. It’s a game we should have won, but the Chelsea game as a collective and I include myself in that as well, we were not good enough. It doesn’t happen very often and I really do believe that was a freak result. It’s one we hope will never happen again.

You asked for a response against Manchester City and I think you got that, as the 3-1 scoreline was very harsh…

I thought it was harsh considering if you look at all the facts. We had one defender in the squad in our captain Gemma Bonner and we had six defenders out. Satara Murray is in America, Alex Greenwood, Casey Stoney, Martha Harris and Ellie Fletcher were injured and Amy Turner is not ready to play yet. City scored two goals from set-pieces and when you have got no defenders on the pitch you become vulnerable to that. We should have defended them better but overall I felt we were the better team. Maybe I’m slightly biased and I probably am but I thought we controlled possession, our pressing game was good and we created chances. We were just missing that final piece, that execution and little bit of luck in the final third. I asked for a response from the girls more so than the result because I’m more about the performance. More often than not you get the result if you put in the performance, but the performance itself was spot-on. The girls deserve their break now and we will reflect on everything and analyse everything.

Niamh Charles was a revelation for you against City playing out of position at left-back…

Niamh’s displays have probably been one of the major highlights of our Spring Series campaign because we didn’t know whether Niamh could consistently play at this level. She’s not a left-back and she won’t be a left-back for us but she is a very intelligent young player who is technically very good, quick and strong. She also reads the game really well. She deserves a lot of credit for the way she played against City and also credit to Sophie Ingle who did a really good job in guiding her through the game.

Video: The Liverpool Ladies Show

It was also a proud day for Liverpool Ladies as you wore the brand new 2017-18 strip for the first time…

It was a very proud moment. I have to say, I love the kit. I think the colour stands out, it’s almost retro and having the backing of Avon it gives us that personal touch. It was also special to play on the day of the club’s 125th birthday. This is a fantastic football club, massive. Until you work in it I don’t think people quite realise how big this football club is. With the men, the Academy and the Ladies team this club is in a very strong position.

So we are now at the end of the Spring Series Scott, looking back on the matches you have played how do you reflect back on it?

We are happy as a football club at the minute. First of all I have to thank a very talented group of staff. I can’t thank them enough because it has been a good Spring Series for us but that doesn’t happen without them behind the scenes. They are working extremely hard to make sure the players are fit and ready. They do a lot of work in the background that is sometimes forgotten but not by me. I also have to praise our fans, who have been fantastic once again and they have followed us home and away. I have been really pleased with the Spring Series because it has done what we wanted. We have continued to develop on the pitch, we have definitely developed off the pitch with Avon which is a game-changer. We have given exposure to the young players to see where they are at, to see who is ready and who isn’t yet. It has been a positive Spring Series and we can’t wait for September now.

A lot of your players will now go away to the European Championship with their respective countries – a huge honour for them…

It’s the highest honour in football to play for your country and represent them in a massive tournament in the Euros. An ideal situation for me is an England v Holland or Scotland final. An England win would be good because it develops the women’s game, it helps us grow the game.

We saw the impact England Women’s performances at the World Cup had on the women’s game as a whole – do you think we could get a similar impact this time around?

It’s vital but it’s not for me to put any added pressure on Mark Sampson and the team. I just wish Mark and the players all the best and am sure they will do the country proud. I would urge supporters who haven’t maybe watched women’s football before to watch the games. It’s a good family sport and it’s growing. I think the perception of women’s football has changed a lot during the last four years and the standard of it now is really good.

For the rest of your squad not involved in summer football, what’s the plan for them?

They get a holiday so we all get a bit of a break now. They need it because we are back in September. The girls who are at the Euros will get a holiday when they return as well. You need a break to take your mind off football for a bit, go and chill out and enjoy themselves, and then once we are all back in it will be all systems go.

Then it’s all about preparing for the start of the Women’s Super League again in late September. Are you already excited by the challenge?

We are and we will have Satara Murray back from the USA, Amy Turner will be ready to make her debut and Martha Harris will hopefully be back in action. We took a risk in the Spring Series and we went with a small squad to give the kids an opportunity, and some of them have done really well. I can’t wait for September.

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