Andy Spence says Everton Ladies are “moving in the right direction” and determined to seal an “elusive” first win over WSL 1 opposition this season in tonight’s Continental Cup clash with Birmingham City.
Spence’s team were handed a devilish set of fixtures to open their league campaign, with the Blue Girls’ first four matches all against teams that finished inside last-term’s top five.
Nevertheless, manager Spence has identified plenty of cause for optimism in Everton’s performances during narrow defeats by powerhouse quartet, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester City and Arsenal.
And he senses an opportunity to secure a valuable cup victory when his side renew hostilities with the Midlands club at the Select Security Stadium tonight (7pm) – one month after being defeated 2-1 by the same opposition in a tightly-contested league encounter.
“We are looking for that elusive first win against one of the WSL 1 sides,” Spence told evertonfc.com.
“But myself and the players are drawing a lot of confidence from the fact there has not been one game in which we have not competed.
“We are disappointed we have not picked up five or six points, given our performances. But those are the fine margins at this level.
“We want to test ourselves against the best and it gives us a lot of confidence to know we have competed with those teams.
“The players understand we are moving in the right direction, albeit we are desperate to pick up that positive result.
“But we know it will come if we continue performing as we have been.”
Everton were two goals down after 32 minutes on their visit to Birmingham early in October. But following Chloe Kelly’s strike immediately after the break, Spence’s side spent the second-half hammering at their hosts' door, without quite being able to barge their way through.
Their swift opportunity to avenge that defeat comes in a league cup that has reintroduced an initial group stage this season.
The Blue Girls have already beaten WSL 2 team Doncaster Belles in the competiton and following Birmingham’s visit face holders Manchester City away on Sunday.
They wrap up their group matches with a game against Doncaster’s divisional counterparts Oxford United later this month – with the top two teams progressing to the quarter finals.
“One of the staff showed me the other groups and said, ‘Andy, I think we have the toughest group and the toughest start to a season in the history of WSL football’,” laughed Spence.
“But I would never complain about that, because this is exactly what we want.
“I would rather be playing these types of fixtures because this is where we will truly test ourselves and it is how our players will learn.
“Having the group stage is a good idea. The players and myself want to play more matches. It will enhance our ability to come together as a team, especially after we made so many changes in the summer.
“The players’ development will be helped by having more game-time, with points at stake. The lack of games at this level can slow players’ development.
“We let Birmingham get on top of us in the first half of the league game, but in the second half we were outstanding and had three or four good chances to score. We took one and had Birmingham on the back foot in the second half – and actually came away disappointed not to have won the game.”
Spence says he will make changes from the team beaten 2-0 by Arsenal in WSL 1 on Sunday – but insists there is no chance of the Blue Girls taking their foot off the pedal with the focus off league matters.
“There are no excuses about there being too many games and no need to prioritise competitions,” added Spence.
“Whatever game we play, we view it as an opportunity for us to show what a good side we are.
“Tonight’s game will be important in determining who will go through from the group. The players and myself believe we can win the game and that is what we will be aiming to do.
“The good thing is, I am seeing a group of players who – although disappointed not to have won against one those WSL 1 sides yet – know we are not far off. And I am sure that win is going to come sooner rather than later.”