Manager Marc Nurse has heaped praise on his young squad for their attitude and enthusiasm following a difficult first half of the campaign. The Hammers currently sit eighth in the FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division and are in their own mini-league in the bottom half of the table with Lewes, QPR and C&K Basildon.
Defeats home and away to struggling Forest Green Rovers, hammerings at the hands of Coventry City, Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth, and the departure of six senior players in October have been the standout difficult moments to date. But a draw against Brighton & Hove Albion in November followed by a narrow defeat against the table-toppers soon after, picking up six points from rock-bottom Plymouth and a cup quarter final in January, have given the Ladies manager hope for a better second half of the campaign.
‘We are on target to achieve my goal for this season which is to finish mid-table but how this has all come about hasn’t been the best,’ Nurse told Blowing Bubbles in an exclusive interview. ‘We’ve lost a few senior players but the squad has adapted very well. They have stepped up and are handling the pressures of being at this level excellently
‘The squad we now have is quite young but they have been very positive and you can see the impact their attitude has had on some of our results like Brighton and Plymouth. But then we let ourselves down by being completely battered by Portsmouth 7-0. ‘We need to have a bit more consistency going forward and I keep scratching my head trying to explain why we did so well against a side topping the table and then get well and truly hammered by a side in fourth.’
The Ladies had a difficult December on the road with the aforementioned defeat away at Portsmouth followed by a 3-1 loss to fellow strugglers QPR but the Hammers finished 2015 on a high with a 4-2 win at home to Plymouth. Victory over the Pilgrims moved West Ham above Lewes and QPR, and seven points clear of second from bottom Forest Green Rovers and 10 points better off than Plymouth, but they are still five points adrift from seventh place C&K Basildon – a team which former West Ham Ladies players Stacey Little, Kerry-Anne Stimson and Lily Mellors now play for following their departure in October.
‘The players who left a few months ago were a bit of a problem. They wanted their friends to play and didn’t want to include the new players into the group,’ Nurse continued. ‘The players called a team meeting and I thought the issues had been addressed there but there was still a divide. ‘It’s difficult for any club to go through a situation like this but the players who stayed on have impressed me with their outstanding attitude and they have even performed better than we did with the other players at the start.
January sees the Ladies kick start their FA Cup campaign against Crystal Palace – a side the Hammers beat 3-0 back in August. They will then take on rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the quarter final of the Capital One Cup before resuming their FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division campaign against high-flying Charlton Athletic and Cardiff City. ‘Crystal Palace was a very good draw for us in the FA Cup,’ Nurse explained. ‘Hopefully it will give us a bit of a confidence boost if we can go through and I’m confident that we can.
‘Spurs at home in the Capital One Cup is going to be a decent game too and one that we can certainly win. Both teams are evenly matched but we’re at home so we’ve got that advantage heading into the game. ‘Our aim is to reach a cup final and have that experience so if we can beat Spurs we are only one game away from reaching a final which is fantastic. ‘As for our games against Charlton and Cardiff, I’ll be asking the girls to replicate the performance we did against Brighton. It is, however, going to be a tough month so if we can take three points from our three league games in January, I’ll be happy.’ As for the rest of the season and next season, Nurse is remaining very positive about what his side can achieve.
‘Hopefully we can find a bit of form in the last couple of months of the season and make sure we pick up as many points as possible as well as getting to a cup final,’ he said. ‘Then next season I’m looking to see if we can train three days a week. By doing this, it will help to bridge the gap with the teams in the league above who are already doing this. I also want us to start pre-season earlier next year.’