Everton Ladies manager Willie Kirk is challenging his side to complete a "special" treble success over Liverpool in Saturday's WSL Merseyside derby (12.30pm kick-off).
Victory for Everton at Prenton Park could potentially propel Kirk’s team above ninth-placed Brighton & Hove Albion on the campaign's final day – and would represent successive wins for the first time this season.
The incentive for Kirk to extend his flawless derby record, then, is threefold. His first game in charge was the reverse fixture back on December 2 which Everton won 2-1.
And when the sides locked horns in a Continental Cup tie two weeks later, Everton scored three goals inside the opening 20 minutes for a 3-1 victory.
“To make it three in a row would be quite special,” Kirk told evertonfc.com.
“After going four-and-a-half years without winning a derby, to win three in five months would be a good way to finish the season.
“We can move up one place in the table and be directly behind Liverpool, which would be something to build on.
“Liverpool will be competing in the same market as us this summer but if we can show we are developing something significant here, that might help us with recruitment.”
Everton had slipped to the foot of the table when Kirk was appointed boss on December 1.
The Scot, previously manager of Hibernian and Bristol City, promptly inspired an upturn in performances and results.
A victory at FA Cup finalists West Ham United in March and last month’s meeting with Arsenal, when Everton ran the champions exceptionally close in defeat, have offered glimpses of the team’s potential.
They made good on some of that promise with a 3-2 win over Reading last time out.
And Kirk is challenging his players to further ramp up standards before the campaign concludes this weekend.
“There has been a drive every day to improve performances and the past two games have reflected that,” said Kirk.
“We have spoken to the players for four months about setting standards to provide a foundation for next season.
“At the start of this week, we said, ‘We have one more chance to push those standards higher’.
“That is the task we have set the players, in terms of their intent and application in training and the game on Saturday.
“We really focussed on our play in the final third and being clinical for a few weeks.
“The results weren’t immediate but we saw the benefits of that hard work against Reading and want to continue it.
“We’ve not had successive wins since we came in. And ninth would be the highest we’ve reached in the table.
“Even when people were talking about Yeovil potentially catching us, we never looked over our shoulders. We concentrated on the team above us which was Brighton.
“We feel we should be above them by now and have one final chance to do that.
“Our target for this season when we came in was to break into the top 10 and that is a big incentive.”
Everton will face a Liverpool side beaten 2-0 at Birmingham City a fortnight ago – but which thumped West Ham 5-2 in its most recent home fixture.
Kirk is anticipating a stern examination from “a really good team” with some “outstanding” individuals.
And he hopes the Merseyside rivalry will intensify in forthcoming campaigns.
Next season’s WSL will benefit from increased sponsorship revenue and enhanced media coverage.
Promoted duo Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur will add spice in the shape of fresh derby encounters, with all-Manchester and north London affairs joining the Merseyside duel on the calendar.
“I think the women’s game needs those rivalries,” added Kirk, who was United assistant prior to his Everton appointment. “We’ll have north London and Manchester derbies next season and we have ours.
“You feel this rivalry in terms of its history… but the teams have typically been at different ends of the table.
“When Everton were successful, Liverpool barely had a team. And when Liverpool started investing and were at the top end, Everton were not doing so well.
“It would be good to strengthen that rivalry. We want people talking about the derbies and for these games to be a big factor in WSL.”