Pre-season has been a challenge for Brentford WFC’s First Team. The coaching staff took the decision to play teams two or three divisions higher than themselves to be tested against better quality opposition. Having achieved promotion in last season’s campaign, they have been preparing for life in the sixth tier of English football. Despite entering a new league First Team head coach Karleigh Osborne is relishing the task ahead.
Osborne said: “I think the step up will be a good one. I think it will be tough but I believe we’ll be ready for it. We’ve added some good players and the squad we had originally was good, we have trimmed it down and rotated a little bit. But I think we’ll be in a good place come the start of the campaign. I’m looking forward to the challenge and so are the girls.”
To encourage continuity throughout the club, Brentford WFC B Team also decided to play against teams in higher divisions throughout pre-season. They also tasted promotion last year after going the whole season unbeaten. However, despite their efforts there was doubt surrounding the promotion due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
B Team Head Coach Will Blithing explained: “Due to Covid there was talk of scrapping promotion and relegation completely. When it went to league meetings and the paperwork side of things, we were awaiting a decision and we got the announcement last Monday that we had been handed promotion. Next year we will be playing in Division 1 North instead of Division 2.”
The First Team have had one draw and two losses in pre-season. In the first game against Leyton Orient the team suffered a heavy 6-0 loss. The following fixture resulted in a 0-0 draw; this was against Ascot United. Finally, they faced off against Luton Town and unfortunately came away with a 2-0 loss.
Osborne said: “It’s been a tough pre-season for the girls we have played teams that are a lot higher than us to try and test them and get them ready for the league. In all fairness performances have been decent but the results haven’t quite matched up.”
He added: “We have had lapses in concentration but I’m happy with where we are heading in terms of our performances. Now we must focus on the season as we are only a week away after Sunday from the season starting. It’s all about matching those performances with results now.”
Pre-season is not all about the results, often teams use it as a tool to enhance their fitness and get match ready ahead of the season. The first team train twice a week and with the step up, Osborne knows how important the physical side of the game is as well as the technical.
“We want to be one of the fittest teams in the league if not the fittest but also play the best football,” he said. “In terms of our footballing ability and how we played last year we were, in my opinion, the best footballing team in the league.”
The most surprising stat during pre-season is that the first team have yet to score a goal in any of their four matches. Luckily this does not matter too much during friendlies and head coach Osborne is not too concerned.
“I’m not overly worried with the lack of goals,” he said. “Pre-season is always a funny one and we rotated our team quite a lot. The players have also had to get used to how the new girls play and how they fit into the system. But in terms of the performances there has been some good bits within them, there has also been some bad bits. We’ve been working hard on the training pitch and hopefully that all comes together.”
On a more positive note, the team have managed one clean sheet out of the three games and will need to continue this defensive resilience into next year. Centre back Amber Langston-Lloyd has impressed during the course of pre-season, Osborne said she has come on ‘leaps and bounds’. Also, central midfielder and club captain Mollie Holmes has impressed the head coach and he said she will be ‘pivotal’ next season. Osborne wants to tie in being solid defensively with scoring more goals.
He stated: “Our setup is solid and our back four are quite strong. Our structure has been good as a team as well, in terms of what positions people need to be in and where they need to be when the ball is in certain parts of the pitch. Then it’s about working on that transition when we do win the ball back, how we can capitalise on this and go and score goals.”
Coincidently, the B Team also began pre-season with a heavy 6-0 defeat, against Dulwich Hamlet. In their next fixture they lost 3-1 to Walton Casual Reserves but they did claim a victory in their third game beating Luton Town Reserves 2-0. Jasmine King grabbed the only goal for The Bees against Walton. Forward Jasmine Williamson grabbed the opener in the 2-0 win against Luton and defender Salma Mahamud got her name on the scoresheet for the first time for the Club.
Head coach Blithing has been pleased with the overall performances and was particularly pleased with how the girls played against Luton.
He said: “Going into the game against Luton with a clear system and plan, along with some minutes in the legs really helped us. From minute one to 90 every decision we made on the ball was good; we were trying creative and positive things. We created so many more chances in this game than we had done previously.”
A further sign of synchronicity between the First Team and the B Team is that they both train twice a week. It will be a step up for the players in the B Team and Blithing is aware of the physical challenge this league will pose.
“We hit one session with a lot of heavy fitness work, normally our Friday session will involve a lot more fitness than our Wednesday session would,” he explained. “The Wednesday one is a lot more technical, however when we do the technical stuff, we try to keep it short and sharp, so the fitness levels stay high. I think a good intensity is key in training sessions.”
He added: “Furthermore, we ask them to do their own fitness work outside of the sessions and have set them some little running targets. This is because we are going up a level this year and we know the standard we are going to come up against. I have spoken to some of the other managers in the league, so we know what their plans are and what they want to achieve out of pre-season. Therefore, we need to be matching these guys now, otherwise when we go into week one of next season, we’re going to be a step or two behind.”
A big part of pre-season is trying to embed new players into the team by getting them to understand your philosophy and style. Some players take longer than others to fit in but Blithing has been particularly pleased with how young centre back Cara has done early on in her Brentford career.
He said: “She settled so quickly into the squad, so she came in and trialled then we signed her after a couple of weeks and she settled so well. Already she has been training and playing with us but has also played two games in pre-season with the first team. Therefore, Cara is one to look out for this year, she will be playing for the B team and is already knocking on the door for the First Team.”
Ambition is certainly not lacking with both managers with their eye on back-to-back promotions. Despite both having excellent campaign’s last time out, both sides are only looking onwards and upwards.
Osborne said: “Personally, our aim is to go on and achieve another promotion to make it back-to-back promotions. We want to establish ourselves in the league but at the same time we want to make sure we’re climbing the league. We’ve got some tough targets to hit very quickly and it’s going to be hard work.”
Blithing added: “For me personally and speaking to the coaching staff for the B Team, we want to be challenging for another title. We had the luxury of winning the league last season and for me we need to be pushing to go up another division. Looking at the squad we have now it’s good enough to go and challenge for promotion in that league.”