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The home side, having claimed a crucial away goal from the first leg in a 1-1 draw in Spain, conceded in the fourth minute of the second leg at the Academy Stadium – and again just before the break to dash City’s hopes of progression.
Reflecting on the defeat – only the Blues’ third in Europe since our competition debut - Cushing bemoaned the ‘slow start’ and asserted his side must fly out of the blocks from kick-off.
“I don’t think we started quickly enough,” he admitted. “We looked tentative with no conviction and we’d spoken about not giving away an early goal.
“We didn’t get into our rhythm. In the Champions League, you can’t do that.
“It’s something that is on my mind. We didn’t start at the right intensity against Atletico or Bristol. At Everton, we got into the game quickly but we need to put more pressure on teams.
“For any player – young or senior – it’s your responsibility to impose yourself on the game. You’ll always find your level. The plus point for us is that we finished the game strongly. It was only the third Champions League game we have lost
“We have so many games in a short space of time and if we want to play at this level. We will look where to we can get back into rhythm.
“The second half was a lot better. The positive is that we ended strongly and we have to take that into Sunday’s game against Birmingham.
“There is always belief in the team. We started slowly but I thought we could get back into the game. I made a tactical change and we hit the crossbar and had one goal ruled out for offside – we just didn’t put the ball in the back of the net.
“We’ve said before that our forwards need to show more hunger to score. We want to create more chances.
“This team are an honest group and they know they’ve come short. It’s very disappointing, especially because the Champions League is a competition we’ve played well in.
“I don’t think the players let themselves down. They had hunger and desire to win.
“I’m a realist. If you don’t play well, then you’re going to give yourself a mountain to climb. We didn’t show enough clarity or conviction. I’m disappointed but not surprised (by the result).
“You never know who you’re going to get (in the Champions League). We drew to Bristol, who people thought we would beat. You have to improve – otherwise, you’ll fall short.
“Lots of good teams will have to perform the way Atletico did against us to win. We can control the game – the second half shows how we can play.”
City have little time to dwell on the setback, with Sunday’s eagerly-awaited league clash with Birmingham looming.
Cushing also urged his side to stand up and be counted, as the Blues switch focus to regaining the league title from champions Chelsea.
“I don’t think (exiting the Champions League) gives us an advantage but it gives us more breaks and more rest time, and more time to train and get back to our standard,” he stated.
“I think we put more pressure on ourselves than anyone. We aren’t going to panic but we are going to work to improve.
“My job isn’t to keep people happy – their job is to show me they deserve a place. People will get their chances – Tessa Wullaert and Caroline Weir showed hunger to be in the starting XI and potentially, they could start on Sunday.
“I was also hugely impressed by Lauren Hemp and Georgia Stanway – two young players, who showed they’re fearless. They were our two best players. Lauren had a hamstring (problem) so we took her off because we didn’t want to take any chances.
“I don’t really distinguish between opponents. We have drawn against Bristol, in 2016, London Bees beat Chelsea, Yeovil drew with Arsenal last year – the women’s game is growing and if you don’t understand that, you’ll get left behind.
“It’s not just a case of a ‘top three’ – this season will be the most competitive ever.”
Nick Cushing's side were not at their best in Spain a fortnight ago, but a steely defensive performance and Bonner's maiden Club goal secured a precious 1-1 draw.