ColumnMatt Beard: We're in good form - let's finish 2021 on a high
In his final column of 2021, Liverpool FC Women manager Matt Beard looks forward to tonight's game away at Sunderland and talks about the impact the fantastic supporters have on his team.
It goes without saying it’s disappointing that we can’t finish the calendar year in front of our fantastic supporters, with our home game against Charlton Athletic being postponed on Sunday.
We have put ourselves in a great position and no matter what happens in the other games on Sunday, we are guaranteed top spot over Christmas. Everyone has worked incredibly hard for us to be there and I have said many times we still have plenty of work to do, but we are in a good place.
We now play our final game of 2021 away to Sunderland in the final group game in the Continental League Cup on Wednesday night and it would be nice to continue our run.
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It’s been a stop-start last few months because of the international breaks, which has meant us playing a lot of games in quick succession. Everyone has stepped up the plate and the squad has been fantastic.
We want to continue in the form that we are in and continue on the journey that we are on. A point or a win on Wednesday night guarantees us qualification into the next round of the Continental Cup – which was one of our targets at the start of the season. So if we could tick that off with three points and top the group, that would be a great first half of the season from us.
It was great to keep up our winning momentum when we beat Burnley 4-0 in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup third round but it was a game of two halves really.
We controlled the first half but we didn’t use the ball well enough and get enough crosses into their box. I was frustrated with our first-half performance because it was our first game in three weeks as well, so I thought we were a bit rusty and in fairness the pitch was challenging with all the rain we’ve had throughout the week.
I made some changes for the second half because I wasn’t happy with certain decision-making and stuff like that. We were much better and I thought Charlotte Wardlaw and Missy Bo Kearns had a good effect on the game. So that’s two young players coming on for us and doing really well, which is pleasing.
It was fantastic to give Megan Campbell her debut at Burnley. I’m really pleased for her. Our sports therapist Chris Underwood has done a fantastic job with her. If you look at Meg’s injury history at Manchester City, this is the fittest and strongest I’ve ever seen her. Chris has done a brilliant job and Meg would tell you the same.
I’m just pleased for her to get back on the pitch. She has been in full training for three weeks now and she’s in a good shape. The great thing for me is it now gives us more options in that backline and gives Taylor Hinds competition in that left wing-back position.
Now we’ve got players back and competition for places, I’ve said to the players they all have to be on their game not only in training but on a matchday.
Highlights: Burnley 0-4 LFC Women
I must have a word for our fantastic supporters. The atmosphere they created on Sunday made it feel like a home game for us. I love the songs for the players! It’s great.
When I came back into this job, I said the one thing you could guarantee from us is that we will be committed and do all we can to win football matches. You are not going to win every game – it’s just not possible in football anymore – but our fans have been great. They have supported us throughout, even when we had a tough start at home when we lost to London City Lionesses and then drew with Bristol City at Prenton Park.
We couldn’t quite find that first home win and goal to start off with but they stuck by us. Hopefully they are enjoying the run we are on at the moment but we know we’ve got plenty of work to do and we are so grateful to their support and enjoying this ride with them. The players are coming in after games singing each other’s songs and it’s having a really positive effect on everyone and we are so grateful for your support.
I want to say congratulations to Taylor Hinds, who has won the Standard Chartered Women’s Player of the Month award for November.
Taylor is a fantastically gifted football player and I love working with her. She has such a nice personality and she is such a good football player. I’ve just given her the freedom to be herself and let her go and play and do what she can do.
Taylor can play off both feet and she is unpredictable and the great thing for me is she has added goals and assists to her game this season. We have a bit of a joke together because I always sing to her, ‘She scores when she wants!’
We do see that from Taylor every week, so I’m not surprised at her form. The fact that she’s only 22 makes for an exciting prospect.
During the international break we saw our very own Rachel Furness become a record-breaker when she broke the Northern Ireland all-time scoring record. That is just absolutely fantastic.
I met Furney for a coffee when she came back from international duty and I asked if she felt under pressure. She said yes, because she didn’t want it to be about her – and that’s Furney’s character. It’s not about her and she is all about the team.
It’s been an amazing year for Furney with Northern Ireland reaching the Euros next year and then breaking the record. What a great season it would be if we could top that off with promotion back to the Women’s Super League. I’m really pleased for her because she had a tough start to the season coming back from an injury and we managed her minutes.
With this being my final column of the year, I would like to wish our supporters a very merry Christmas and have a wonderful Christmas with your family and friends. Stay safe with obviously COVID as well. Thanks so much for your support as always and we look forward to seeing you in the New Year.