Casey Stoney says Manchester United wasn’t at their best as her side clinched a Continental Cup semifinal spot in their first season with a 2-0 win against West Ham at Leigh Sports Village.
An own goal from Kate Longhurst and Jess Sigsworth’s second-half strike saw United beat an FA WSL side for the third time during their cup run and Stoney praised the togetherness of her group after the match.
“I don’t think it was our best performance,” she admitted. “I can’t single out a player out there tonight though. Without the 21 out there training every day we don’t get that performance because the intensity in training brings us to the levels we need in games.”
Stoney’s side sit top of the FA Women’s Championship and have lost just once in their first season so far, plus a Continental Cup defeat to Reading.
Despite the cup run being a relatively short one despite progress to the semifinals, Stoney believes she’s learned more about her team for the tests they’ve had along the way.
“It’s been the best thing for us,” she said. “Other teams didn’t like starting with the cup but we did because it gave us that intensity to our game straight away and we learnt where we needed to be.
“We now know what we need for next season and the levels we need to get to. We’re in the semifinals now and it’s been brilliant. The tests are brilliant, Brighton in the FA Cup away was one of the tougher draws but we want to play the teams that test the players and give different challenges for me as a manager.”
Despite a successful start to her managerial career, Stoney is putting the majority of the credit for United’s run to the final four down to her players, praising their attitude and commitment both in training and games.
“It’s massive, it’s huge. They do it. We give them the game plan but they execute it. They’re a fantastic group to work with, they apply themselves and because they’ve got the right attitude, they get the results they deserve.”
Against a side managed by her former coach and mentor Matt Beard, Stoney’s team was up against a side filled with international experience but one ravaged by injury, with Beard only able to name three substitutes coming off the back of a tough game against Arsenal on Sunday.
While the hosts controlled large parts of the game and could have added to their two goals, the Hammers hit the post twice and forced a superb save out of Siobhan Chamberlain in the first half with the score at 1-0.
“Sio makes a massive save at 1-0. If we go in at 1-1 it’s a different game because it would have mentally tested us. We’ve not been behind or even level in many games. We switched off a little bit but that’s why I signed her because she can pull those moments off. West Ham were unlucky at times and credit to them because they played well.”
The games now come thick and fast for Stoney and United with a trip to promotion-chasing Charlton on Sunday and upcoming FA Cup and Continental Cup matches against Tier 1 opposition.
But Stoney is relishing the opportunity and says there are too many breaks in the league, so is happy to have the issue of three games in a week.
“We have a tough game on Sunday but you want that,” she said. “We have too many spells in this league without games. It’s not a great pitch down there so whether we can play our game or not I don’t know and we don’t have much turnaround time but that’s why I have 21 players, so I can utilize my squad.
“There are no easy games now. Arsenal are a fantastic football team and so are Chelsea and Manchester City. Brighton, too, can go there tomorrow and produce a performance. We won’t be expected to beat any of them but it’s fantastic for the players. I can’t wait because it will give us a true barometer of where we’re at and we got that tonight. West Ham are a good team, they pushed Arsenal but I don’t think in terms of strength and depth they’re where Matt would want.”
Stoney, meanwhile, has few injury concerns and unlike Beard says she won’t be delving into the transfer market before the deadline in a few weeks, with Ebony Salmon’s loan to Sheffield United likely concluding their business.
“I’m quite happy with where I’m at right now. I don’t want to unsettle a very together group and a very steady ship. We know we need to strengthen for next year but that will be done in the summer.”