Manchester United manager Casey Stoney said that she demanded a ‘Champions League standard’ performance from her side in the second half of yesterday’s Barclays FA Women’s Super League fixture against West Ham United.
United’s women’s team played their first-ever match against The Hammers at Old Trafford but the two teams went into the interval deadlocked.
Stoney’s side eventually ran out 2-0 victors thanks to second half goals from Lauren James, who became the first female player to score at the stadium for the club, and Christen Press.
Speaking in the pre-match press conference in which FAWSL Full-Time were present, United boss Stoney said that she demanded much better standards from her players in the second half.
“We were poor in the first half, much better the second half,” she said. “I wasn’t happy at half-time, my players knew that. I think in the first half we played the occasion not the game.
“We needed to be a lot better and you can’t take 45 minutes to get going. I probably can’t repeat what I said word for word (at half-time). Players know when they’re not good enough but I just said ‘if you want to qualify for the Champions League you need to play at a Champions League standard’.
“If there was a crowd in here, they’d have been disappointed in the first half so just as well that there wasn’t one. Second half, they would’ve been really pleased with the team and the response.”
Stoney had stated in the lead up to the match that she viewed the game as a ‘dress rehearsal’, an opportunity for players to get over the big game nerves before the fans return. So does that therefore mean that there are already plans in place for Stoney and her players to return to ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ in the not too distant future?
“The club offered us this one and I took it,” said Stoney. “If we take one next season, it’ll definitely be with a crowd. I’ve still not changed my view on the fact that I want to consistently get crowds in at Leigh.
“To have an exhibition game here and if we can do it properly with fans, would be great.”
One player who certainly relished the opportunity to perform on the big stage was 19-year-old attacker James who looked a constant threat throughout the game and was rewarded with her goal in the 49th minute. James joined The Red Devils at the age of just 16 and in her short professional career, has etched her name into United folklore. If it wasn’t for injuries, she would probably be a consistent fixture of the England set up. Stoney didn’t want to take any of the plaudits for James’ success, believing that it is all down to the player.
She said “I probably wouldn’t take any credit for her journey, it’s her journey. I’ve supported her, I’ve challenged her and she knows that she’s going to get that challenge from me.
“I think I’ve seen a huge maturity from her and I’ve learnt an awful lot from her I have to say. I’m 38 years of age and I’ve learnt from her what she’s experienced and she’s educated me in terms of what she has to face day in, day out.
“We need to keep making sure we’re supporting her though and not forgetting that she’s been through some horrendous stuff over the last month.”
With the injuries to the likes of Tobin Heath and Leah Galton, a huge amount of responsibility has rested on the shoulders of the young Lioness, but rather than shy away from it, James has impressed massively in her starring role. With just four games remaining, James could prove to be the difference between qualifying for the UEFA Women’s Champions League or not come the end of the season.