Brighton & Hove Albion manager Hope Powell reflects on Albion’s debut season in the Women’s Super League, where the target of staying up was achieved.
How would you assess the season overall, Hope?
“It’s been tough but in an enjoyable way. It’s been challenging for the players, but I think they’ve risen to that challenge and taken it head on.
“The jump from what’s now called the Championship to the Women’s Super League has been a bit of a shock for them. They’ve worked through it though, and I’d argue they’ve punched above their weight and really exceeded some of their own expectations.”
What was the most significant game of the season?
“I would say our win against Birmingham [2-1]. To beat a team that was fourth in the league at the time, with the players they have, was brilliant.
“We executed the game plan exceptionally well and it turned out to be a very big win. The turning point was after Christmas; the players got their heads around the demands and really came back stronger.”
What do you put that improvement after Christmas down to?
“We drilled into the players that we must do the basics well and push ourselves on. That message of striving to be better has sunk in and a lot of the detail I try to put into the players, to make them one per cent better, has allowed them to improve.
“Everybody has improved, and they are prepared to work really hard.”
How do we bridge the gap between ourselves and the top teams in the league?
“Firstly, we have to recognise that this is the first time the players have been in a full-time professional environment. They are more robust now compared to when I started. We’ve had to demand more from them, and to bridge that gap we’re going to have to demand even more.
“We’ll have to increase the intensity of the training, and we will need to recruit better players. That’s no disrespect to anyone here, as they’ve all been fantastic, but we need more depth in the squad to reach the next level.”
A number of new players were brought in at the start of the season, so how pleased have you been with the way they’ve settled in?
“Kayleigh Green has been brilliant, she gives 100 per cent and her passion comes to light on the pitch. She’s an older player with lots of experience and has been a real asset to the team. Ellie Brazil is growing and has got lots more to offer. Victoria Williams offers us good experience and has all the right attributes.
“All of the players that have been brought in have all added value to the squad. We’ve now got to add some more.”
Megan Connolly came midway through the season. How would you assess her progress?
“Megan has been a real find at our level, she’s done really well since arriving in January, and is a player that can contribute a lot more.
“She wants to develop and has got some fantastic attributes. We need to bring more of those out in her game.”
Alex Penny arrived as the new goalkeeping coach during the season too, so what has he offered to the squad?
“It’s been challenging for him, living away from home with two young kids. He’s just starting to settle, but he knows his stuff as a goalkeeping coach and has worked very well with the goalkeepers.
“We will need more from all the staff next season because we want to build on what we’ve done this season. I believe that next season will be even tougher.”
What would you like to achieve next season?
“To stay in the league again. If I looked at this season, I always knew it would be tough. We’re at where I thought we would be in the league. Next season the league will be tougher with the introduction of Man United and Tottenham too.
“The primary aim will be to stay in the league and try to build on what we’ve achieved. We want to consolidate our position and get off to a better start than this season.”
Finally, what were your thoughts on the recent Arsenal match at the Amex?
“It was great for the players and staff. The pleasing thing was the crowd and the support we had to break the [WSL attendance] record. Playing against [champions] Arsenal was tough, and we wanted to showcase ourselves more, but credit to them, they’re far superior to us and it proved to be the case on the day.
“We did well in patches, but they dictated and dominated the game. We have to accept that. I was proud to be out there on that occasion but for us, it’s about the lessons we’ve learned.”