West Ham Ladies manager Mark Saunderson is in confident mood after his side’s promising start to the season, racking up seven points in their first four games of the league campaign.
Saunderson, having been appointed the Hammers first team manager earlier this summer, has done much to stamp his own mark upon the club. “I tend not to say too much to the team before the game as I believe that this is the time where the players will go through their own rituals to ensure that are physically & mentally ready for the game ahead,” he said.
“The majority of the information that the players require for the game will have been communicated in the squad briefing during the last training session and the players will have worked on this aspects during the session. “I may reinforce some of information points from the briefing prior to the game but I tend to leave the squad to prepare themselves which usually involves some slightly dodgy music choices and ear shattering volume levels!”
Reflecting on preseason and the campaign so far, he continued: “I have been impressed by the way in which the squad has embraced the direction and objectives that the management team have set. “The squad and coaching staff undertook an off-season and pre-season schedule that focused on ensuring that each individual was at their optimum performance level going into the opening fixture.
“The coaching staff also focused on the detail and when combined with the squad’s work ethic and eagerness to learn, has resulted in the progress that we have collectively made. “The pre-season friendly schedule was designed to pose different scenarios and questions to the squad whilst providing a platform to progressively improve team performance and the squad have overcome each challenge with confidence.
“The squad have over achieved the pre-season objectives set for them but without losing focus or drive on the task in hand.” Last season, West Ham Ladies didn’t reach their full potential and failed in their bid to win the league title. Since taking the job, Saunderson is determined to improve the squad, identifying four key areas.
“The squad has focused on the four main areas of performance: technical, tactical, fitness and psychological,” he continued. “I have seen major improvements, both on individual and collective levels, in each of the elements. From a management perspective, we have refocused on the detail and brought in the right people to support the players both on and off the pitch whilst providing the right environment for the players to excel within.
“I also believe that we have captured players during the summer that have enhanced the playing squad in all areas whilst increasing the squad depth. I have also been impressed by the progress of players in the development squad and this is providing a valuable competitive element in training. “I am expecting several players from the development squad to progress into the first team fold over the course of the season and strongly believe that we have the foundations of an extremely competitive team.”
Over the summer, women’s football has gone through a restructuring stage which has pitted West Ham up against several higher placed teams this season, but Saunderson thinks that their league opposition shouldn’t underestimate his team. “Because of the league restructuring this season, we will be coming up against teams that believe that they have greater resources at their disposal then us, whether it be players or financial due to their involvement in the national league last year.
“For me, this has the added pressure of increasing expectations of players, managers and supporters alike whilst they will come up against teams who will naturally raise their game for these fixtures. “I also believe that the league restructuring has also impacted upon player movement in our league as players are looking to secure moves to teams involved in the Super Leagues.
“I feel that we were sensible to secure the services of the majority of squad from last season from day one whilst conducting the majority of our transfer business early. “We have introduced the right support functions for the squad in the background and when combined with the other factors, I am confident that we will be competitive this season.” Earlier this month, Saunderson announced that Bex Merritt will take over as the club’s new first team captain from defender Rosey Sullivan, believing that Merritt can take his mind-set on onto the pitch.
He added: “Firstly, I have to recognise the performance of Rosey Sullivan whilst in the role of first team captain over the last few seasons. “For someone of such a young age, she has displayed great leadership qualities and has represented the club in the true spirit of West Ham United. “I did, however, feel that Rosey, whilst undertaking the role of captaincy and looking after other player interests, sometimes neglected her own to a certain extent and it was impacting upon her development as a player.
“The captaincy of any team should be used by the manager to be an extension of themselves upon the pitch. “The captain should understand the playing philosophy, the game plan and the objectives of the team and be able to inspire those players around her to achieve these elements without distracting from their own individual performance. “They should also shape and drive the team spirit, work ethic and mentality of the squad whilst embodying the spirit of the club and represent the club with the class that it deserves.
“Finally, they should be able to balance and enhance the unity of the playing squad by their leadership style regardless if the individual player is a senior player or a member of the junior teams. “I considered several individuals over the course of preseason and took my time with the decision. Upon reflection, Becky Merritt demonstrated all of these elements and I am confident that she will excel in this role because of the support of not only the management team but the playing squad.” West Ham Ladies take on Keynsham Town in the League Cup tomorrow. The game kicks off at 2pm at Thurrock FC. The postcode for the stadium is RM19 1YN.