Megan Finnigan says Everton Ladies’ meticulous defensive work on the training pitches at USM Finch Farm is starting to bear fruit in matches.
The Blue Girls’ resilience at the back has been evident in recent performances against Brighton and reigning WSL champions Chelsea.
After the 0-0 draw on the south coast against Brighton, the Toffees again showed a stubbornness to concede in their FA Women’s Cup tie against the Londoners.
Against a side who had comfortably beaten them 3-0 a month previously, Everton were only undone by a slick counter-attacking move, before Chelsea added a second in added time as the Toffees pressed for an equaliser.
Finnigan insists the improvement is down to the hard work and attention to detail brought by manager Willie Kirk and assistant Chris Roberts since their arrival in December.
“Since Willie and Chris came in, the defending principles are really the first thing that we have tried to sort out within the team,” she said. “They are the basics – if you defend well and keep a clean sheet then you don’t lose games.
“That’s been a big focus of ours and it is starting to show in games. We haven’t managed to get the results recently to match that but defensively we have shown that we are difficult to break down and that is a positive for us.
“We have been working a lot on one-v-ones, which are a fundamental part of a solid defence, and that has been everyone from centre-forward to centre-back. It helps make us hard to play through.
“We have also done a lot of positional work as well to make sure we cement the shape that we need. It’ll be breaking it down into each position, so you know what is expected of you. Then it all comes together as a team.
“If all 11 individuals defend well, then, collectively, we defend well as a team. If we want to be hard to break down, everyone has to do a job and put a shift in for it to work.”
It has perhaps been slightly harder for 20-year-old Finnigan, who has also found herself studying an unfamiliar position since Kirk's arrival. Well used to operating as both a centre-back and holding midfielder since breaking into the first team in 2015, she was deployed at right-back in the new manager's first match in charge – a 2-1 win over Liverpool in December.
“I think it was a temporary move and I’m sure we won’t be seeing it again!” she joked. “I was as shocked as anyone when Willie told me I would be playing there but it is another position that I can say that I have had a go at. I have always said that as long as I am doing a job for the team, I don’t really mind where I am.
“It does mean I have to have an understanding of the requirements for a number of different roles and long term it is going to help me.
“Of course, ideally, I would like to play in the same position every game, like anyone would. But the building up of detail in each position helps your understanding of the game – if I am playing centre back, I can talk to my full-back about what I need from them.”
Another adaption for Finnigan has been getting used to operating alongside Emma Brownlie, the player who has come in to take up that right-back role on a more permanent basis.
The January signing from Scottish side Hibs made her debut against Chelsea in the FA Cup and caught the eye of her teammate.
“Talk about being thrown in at the deep end playing Chelsea on your debut!” added Finnigan. “Emma deserves massive credit for what she has done so far.
“She is doing really well. In the Chelsea game, I was playing alongside her and you wouldn’t have thought it was her debut. You can sense the maturity that she brings. She’s 25 and you can tell by little things, like the way she speaks to you, that she has a mature head, and that is what we have needed.
“She is a good player as well and has the technical ability to adapt to English football really quickly. Watching her, you wouldn’t know she has just come down from part-time football in Scotland.”