Manchester City go into Thursday night’s match against Danish side Fortuna Hjørring with the knowledge they hold a 1-0 lead from last week’s first leg thanks to Carli Lloyd’s first goal for the club.
A positive result at the CFA on Thursday will ensure they are the first English side to progress to the semifinals since Birmingham City in 2014. The game finishes off a grueling 11-day schedule of four matches which saw Nick Cushing’s side progressing through two rounds of the SSE Women’s FA Cup thanks to two last-minute winners on either side of their trip to Denmark last week.
With Cushing confirming only center back duo Jennifer Beattie and Megan Campbell as unavailable for the return leg, the manager is looking forward to sending his troops out to complete the job on Thursday night.
“We expect Fortuna to put us under pressure, but we expect to put them under even more pressure because it’s our own stadium,” said Cushing, who was also pleased with the professionalism on show in last week’s 1-0 win.
“Our aim was to bring the tie home, that was the bare minimum, so to win 1-0 and have it in our hands does make it one of the most pleasing performances in my time here.
“It probably wasn’t our best in terms of goals and free-flowing football that people look to from us but it was the most professional we’ve produced. We’ve only ever traveled twice before for a European match so to go there, control, and dominate a team like Fortuna was really pleasing.”
Goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was also pleased with how the team approached last week’s game and says she is “excited” to get back on the pitch to try to finish the tie off.
A clean sheet last week means it’s now four clean sheets from five Champions League games for the England international but Bardsley isn’t surprised by her side’s progress.
“The intensity of the training, the certainty we have going into every game to just focus on how we’re going to play kind of stops us from the feeling the pressure, we’re just really excited to play in this competition, and knowing how hard we’ve worked means we’re just looking forward to the game.”
The 32-year-old was rarely troubled during last week’s encounter but she’s under no illusions that Fortuna will have to come out a bit more on Thursday but hopes their work in training will ensure they finish off the tie.
“We realize every single team will come out and make it difficult for us to score. We have to be patient and apply ourselves for 90 minutes because scoring goals is getting harder; we have to trust in the way we play and what we do in training to create those opportunities.”
She added, “We feel very self-assured in our performances and we know goals are going to come. Defensively we’re so solid so we need to keep doing that but really knuckle down in the final third. We know it’s going to come, that’s the mentality we’re trying to build.”
Despite a positive result in Denmark one week ago, Cushing expressed his surprise at how Fortuna approached the match after watching “seven or eight” of their games in the buildup to the encounter.
But one player who helped City stamp their authority on the match was Mel Lawley, the winger making her first European appearance for the FA WSL champions.
Lawley joined City before Christmas and was a part of the Birmingham side that played in the semifinals back in 2014 and her new boss is pleased with her impact so far.
“Her enthusiasm to enjoy the training sessions and come in with a smile on her face every day means it doesn’t surprise me she’s hit the ground running, she has the assets for what we want in a winger,” said Cushing.
“She wasn’t picked against Bristol City but she was still smiling and gave 100 percent in training; when you train at that intensity and you stay happy you perform well. Mel’s doing that and she’ll be a top player for England, I’ve no doubt she’ll be a senior international soon if she continues progressing.”
Transfer Strategy Remains Intact
Although Cushing’s only other winter recruit was 34-year-old world star Carli Lloyd, Cushing says his transfer strategy hasn’t — and won’t — change as the team progress toward their aims.
He said, “Carli Lloyd is the best player in the world and to bring her here was a great opportunity for both her and us.
“But we can’t go away from our strategy because it’s there for all to see. We’ve always gone out and signed the best, young English players and to develop them into a team that can be the best in Europe. Mel was someone we highlighted early on in 2016, someone I said all season would be a very good player for us as either a right winger or left winger.”
Another player who has caught the headlines over the past 12 months is teenager Georgia Stanway. The attacker scored a hat trick in the league last season at just 17 and was a pivotal part of the England squad that went to the U-17 World Cup last year.
While predominantly used as an attacking midfielder or a winger, Cushing has started Stanway in the No. 9 position in both FA Cup games but doesn’t yet know what kind of attacker the teenager will turn into.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with my staff about Georgia,” he said. “She’s 18, she’s playing for the champions, and she’s an offensive player. What type of offensive player she’ll develop into we don’t know but for young players to play as an offensive midfielder in big games carries a lot of responsibility both with and without the ball.
“So we’ve played her up front to free her up, it frees her up to be an attacker and she can develop that understanding of a midfield role over time. Right now we’re using Carli Lloyd and Jill Scott as our offensive midfielders because they have that experience and Georgia will develop that.
“We’ll work with her and time will tell what kind of attacker she becomes but she’s a top player. She’s another one with a great character and at the end of the day, she’s a goal scorer, that’s her main strength so right now we’re giving her a chance to show that.”