Andy Spence has called on the experienced players within his Everton Ladies squad to help guide his side through their upcoming FA Women’s Cup semi-final against Arsenal.
Within the Toffees’ ranks, there are those who have featured in similarly high-pressure games, with the likes of Dan Turner and Gabby George playing pivotal roles as the Blue Girls reached the final in 2014.
Courtney Sweetman-Kirk was on the bench for Notts County as Everton booked their place in the final that year, while Angharad James was involved for Bristol Academy when they lost to Arsenal in the 2013 showpiece.
Given the Gunners were recently crowned Continental Cup champions last month after a 1-0 win over Manchester City, Spence recognises that any know-how he can extract from his players in coping with such a big game will be invaluable ahead of the clash at Marine on Sunday 15 April.
“We have got a few players who have been in this position before, whether with ourselves or at other clubs,” he said. “Dan and Gabby were part of that run in 2014 so they are aware that as you progress through the rounds there is that increased expectation. Courtney was on the bench for Notts County in our semi-final back then so she knows what the pressure is like as well. She obviously channelled that and scored a hat-trick against Durham in the last round.
“Angharad, too, has plenty of big games under her belt. She’s been involved with Wales, featured in the Champions League for Bristol and reached the FA Women’s Cup final as well in 2013. I’m looking for those experienced players to lead the way.
“With the younger ones, there will always be nerves flying about but they get excited by these occasions. It’s down to myself and the staff to manage and then utilise that excitement as a weapon that we can use on the day. We want to embrace the occasion and that is what we will be looking to ensure we do over this coming week.”
Arsenal and Everton represent two of the most successful sides in the competition, with the Blue Girls lifting the coveted trophy twice and reaching a further three finals. The Gunners, though, have played in 15 finals, going on to win the competition a record 14 times.
With Manchester City and Chelsea contesting the other semi-final, Spence is proud to be in the final four of the tournament and wants to show his side belong with such company.
“Historically, ourselves and Arsenal have met regularly in cup finals but the levels are such that you see different teams competing each year," he added.
“Certainly, it is testament to how well we have done when you look at the last four teams in the competition. We want to show that we can compete and emulate the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea.
“I look at this as an opportunity. Like any cup run, you need a little bit of luck. I feel we have had a little bit already but we may need some more in the semi-final and hopefully the final.
“You never want to quell the excitement of a potential Wembley final because we would be lying if we said we weren’t thinking about it. It is a case of managing and focusing that excitement into training and the preparations we will make.
“In the cup runs we have had this season, we have been able to do that and its case of looking at what we have already done in our cup games so far and replicating that.”