Sheehan: It's Been Amazing
Sunday, 16th Feb 2020 19:13 by Ali Rampling
Ipswich manager Joe Sheehan reflected on an “amazing” cup run, as Ipswich Town Women’s FA Cup journey was brought to an end by Manchester City.
Town’s team of teenagers had recorded three successive giant killings to earn themselves a glamour tie with the FA Cup holders and current Women’s Super League leaders, but could not pull off a fourth shock as they produced a brave display but lost 10-0.
Speaking at full-time, Sheehan said: “It’s been amazing. It’s been incredible. It’s been a great experience for staff, players and the football club.
“I think we’re a football club that are on the up. We’re two years into something that is going to be really bright. We’ve still got a long way to go and today was the first sort of test, being out there and showcasing what we’re about.
“When you’ve got so many young players in your team, being able to showcase what you’re really capable of is challenging. When you’ve got a 16-year-old centre forward [Maddie Biggs] playing against the England captain [Steph Houghton] it’s really difficult.
“We think they’ll all have bright futures and today was a bonus for them. It was a game we tried to come into with a bit of confidence but a great experience and one we hope they’ve enjoyed.”
Looking back on the game against City, Sheehan conceded it was a tough day at the office for his young side, but one that will be a real learning curve.
“When you come up against some of the best footballers in the world with a team of teenagers, it can be really tough. We knew what we were up against, we knew the enormity of the task.
“The gulf between the two sides is absolutely huge. We had to believe and we had to come into this game with confidence because if we don’t we might as well just stay at home.
“We’ve won six games to get here, so when you get out there there’s no hiding, you’ve got to compete, you’ve got to try and stick to what you believe in. Tough day for us but we’ve relished the challenge and it’s been a great experience.
“For us and our your players who want to play at the top level and have got bright futures we can look at what the world class players do and maybe take bits from them.
“That’s what we’ll learn and take away; what world class looks like. We can try and put ourselves in the position where we can help support the players to develop and achieve that one day.”
Big scores are not uncommon in the women’s game, with Arsenal beating fellow WSL side Bristol City 11-1 earlier in the season, so Town - a side three divisions below Manchester City - did not disgrace themselves with the hefty scoreline.
The Blues frustrated City during the opening 20 minutes, with the hosts only breaking the deadlock on the counter-attack following a Town corner. Sheehan was pleased with how his side started the game, but admitted conceding in the manner that they did was tough to take.
“The first 15 minutes were key. We said inside that it was key that we stayed in the game for 15 minutes. We knew that it would be tough to be a bit more aggressive because the calibre of player they’ve got is crazy.
“First 20 minutes I was quite pleased, we knew we’d sacrifice possession and we knew there’d be areas where they would have the ball and we had to try and deal with those situations as best we can, and at times we did.
“It just happens that we get a corner and the first time we’re out of shape they end up scoring. Bit of a sucker punch but it could have been a different story if we’d got that first goal.”
Sheehan cited Town’s victory over Norwich in front of over 700 fans earlier in the season as the reason his side were able to cope with the occasion of playing Huddersfield in front of over 1,000 fans at the John Smith’s Stadium in round four.
Despite playing teams from the division above in the previous three rounds, Sheehan said Sunday’s game was the first time his side had gone into a game as underdogs.
“That game against Norwich showed the journey we were on as a football club and the vision we have in place. It was a night where not a lot of people had seen us before and we’d sort of started to make a really big movement in the last year where Town have got on board.
“That was a night where there was a it of expectation because we want to be taken seriously, we want to make sure that we’ve got people who are really supporting us long term and we had to perform that night.
“There was an element of pressure on us particularly for the young players with it being against the club’s arch rivals, so what we did know was that we’d never be in a position where we felt that that pressure and expectation would be on us again.
“I think today was probably the first time since I’ve been in charge where we’ve not been the favourites to win a game of football.
“We’ve been the underdogs today for the first time in well over a year so it’s allowed us to take the pressure off a little bit and whatever mindset we’d have been in we knew it was going to be a really tough day for us.”
Following their cup exit, Town’s attention will switch to the league, with promotion to the Southern Premier Division in their own hands. Sheehan has his sights set on three promotions so that the Blues ultimately end up in the professional Women’s Super League.
“Getting out of tier four now would be the toughest bit. The margins are so small in tier four because one goes up and if you drop one or two games you can finish second and that’s it. If they can get promoted this year I believe they’ll go again in tier three. With all of the young players I think they’ll go again.
“I think we’ll then look to recruit players playing at a higher level. I think the only one that will be challenging will be getting out of the Championship into the Super League but I think we can with the resources we have at our football club and the contact we have with our players.
“I think the continuity over two-three years is key. Seven or eight of those who played today could still be playing in two years' time [in the Championship]. I think the cohesion and that continuity will carry it really well.”
The Tractor Girls have enjoyed a huge transformation in recent years, as the club’s ambition and professionalism has increased and this has led to Town challenging for promotion and aiming to one day end up in England's top tier.
The club’s improvement is a result of the WSL Academy set up that Town now have. One reason for this coming about was when Lauren Hemp - who played for Manchester City against Town on Sunday - left Norwich at 16 for Bristol City in order to pursue a career in professional women’s football. This led to the FA realising the need for infrastructure to support talented female players in East Anglia.
“Lauren Hemp who was the example of someone who had to move away from Norfolk to go and play elite football at Bristol City,” said Sheehan, when asked about the reason for Town’s vast recent improvement.
“The FA recognised that there were elite players in the region that didn’t have the opportunity once they left school so the FA launched a new initiative, the club were awarded a partnership and I was tasked with developing an academy structure with the investment from the Super League and the FA.
“We’ve managed to recruit some really bright England youth internationals that have come into the programme at the age of 16 and they’ve competed against all the clubs that are in the WSL academy league and done really well. What we’ve started to do this year is drip feed them into the senior team.”
Town boss Paul Lambert was in attendance at the Academy Stadium, along with over 400 travelling fans Sheehan praised the role of Lambert, the club and the fans in supporting the Tractor Girls' progress.
“Paul Lambert was here again today, he’s watched us countless times already this season and he recognises that we’ve got some really bright players that are good football players.
“They’ve got bright futures and once we showcase what we’re capable of and what we want to do long term that’s when there was a movement and the club have been so supportive, the supporters have got on board with us.
"They’ve supported us home and away throughout our league. Probably a different experience for us as well because they’ve only ever seen us win. They’ve watched Man City do to us what we usually do to everybody else.
“The support’s been magnificent from the club, the supporters and the community, and they’re with us on this journey. Their support has been fantastic. Today they were great and I think it will be the start of something special and I think that will continue to grow.
“We’ve got some fantastic support staff that have been on this journey with us and that’s been the foundation of it. We’ve performed well in our senior league and the young ones have stepped up.
“The results help as well, when you’re performing well and winning games people are enjoying their Sundays because of what the team are putting together that helps the growth. We’re hoping that’s the start of something really special.”
And how about another cup run next year? “I don’t see why not! I think this team at our level are capable of beating teams in tier four and three and with time we can start to get to the latter stages like we did this year and there’s no reason we can’t be in this position again next year with the same team.”
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