The Vixens kick-off their pre-season campaign this Sunday with a trip to Sheffield United Ladies.
Oliver Coultas recently sat down with manager Glen Preston ahead of his sides trip to South Yorkshire.
The squad have had several months off to celebrate winning the league. The player must now be relishing the opportunity of performing in the FAWPL?
“Yeah, we are really up for this. We are where we feel we belong as a club in relation to the quality and infrastructure we have.
“I think for some of our more long-term players there is a score to settle this season and they will be wanting to put right the wrongs of two years ago so there are many different motives for us to do well this season.
“It’s an interesting challenge and one where we get to pit our wits against some of the best teams in the country and so it doesn’t get much better than that.”
How has pre-season gone and can you update us on any in’s and outs at the club?
“It’s probably been the toughest pre-season I’ve had as a coach to be honest, straight from the off we lost our co-manager Kyle O’Reilly who was a great guy and coach. He’s moved on to bigger and better things and two of our most influential players and top goal scorers also left which really hit us hard. Replacing players of that quality is just not easy but we’ve dusted ourselves down, we haven’t sulked or had time to feel sorry for ourselves we’ve all just worked even harder and slowly things have started to fall into place for us.
“Behind the scenes, we’ve added quite a few highly qualified and experienced coaches. Our trial process was the best I’ve been part of so far and from that, we took in a fair few RTC (Regional Talent Centre) graduates with one or two of whom we feel might be close to first team action already.
“Then in terms of recruitment for the first team, we are absolutely delighted with what we’ve added so far. Nikki Berko for me was an ambitious one as from the off we weren’t sure we could pull it off as she had offers from other clubs of a bigger stature than ourselves so it was amazing to get that one over the line. She is just a sensational player having had experience with both Everton and Manchester City and so we are all really excited by her arrival.
“Equally the signing ex-England youth international Fiona Worts means we now have depth up top for the first time as this was an area of need for us last season as we only really had Danica Roberts up top. Worts is a very exciting young prospect who’s been playing out in Australia for the last year so we have high hopes for her.
“In terms of other additions we’ve added high-end Premier League to Super League standard players in Emma Rankin (Blackburn), Beth Stanfield (Fylde), Beth Davies (Donny Belles) and Jess Heald (Sheffield FC) and we are hopeful of announcing one or two more players with both of them being a current international player but given nothing is confirmed on either of them just yet we will just have to wait and see.”
It’s the first game of pre-season, how have the squad looked since returning to training?
“We’ve only had a couple of sessions so far but the players have been put through their paces on a physical and technical level. This week they have just been doing testing with our strength and conditioning team but as you might expect there’s been lots of new faces. We still have players either on holiday or out through injury so for now, it’s just been about brushing off cobwebs and players getting to know each other and starting the gelling process.”
Your first preseason outing is against Sheffield United who gained promotion last season winning the East Midlands Women’s Regional Football League. How much of a test for you will this be and will we see any new signings feature?
“As a Sheffield United fan, I was delighted to see them do so well last season winning the East Midlands Prem in such style. The club’s had some tough times over recent years and so I’m chuffed for them and the job Dan O’Hearne has done, they deserve the success.
“In terms of the game, it’s the perfect match to start our pre-season campaign. It’s a game against a side on a massive upwards curve who will be wanting to push for the Premier League and follow in our footsteps. Although we will place no emphasis on winning the match itself as this is not important to us at this stage, we can be sure that our players are going to be worked over and so I think the intensity will be good for us to get some quality minutes under our belts and on top I hope we see a great game.
“In terms of new signings, I think we can expect two or three to feature but not all of them. Worts has only just arrived back from Oz, one or two are representing their region in a futsal tournament and others are on holiday so several will have to wait until next week when we face either Barnsley or Sheffield FC to make their debuts. Stanners, Heald and Ranks should all feature, but this weekend is more about looking at some of the talented youngsters we have along with a couple of trialists to see if we can unearth any hidden gems within our ranks.”
Photo: Alex Daniel
Words: Oliver Coultas