Women's Team

Taylor relishing ‘top-level’ Final

Gareth Taylor says he is relishing the challenge of a ‘top-level’ Continental Cup Final with City set to lock horns with league rivals Chelsea in March.

City progressed to the showpiece game at Wimbledon’s Plough Lane with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at the Academy Stadium, thanks to goals from Jess Park, Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw and Lauren Hemp.

Taylor spoke of his pride to have reached the final two, where Chelsea await having beaten Manchester United in the semis, and once again hailed his side’s professionalism and quality.

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“It feels great,” he said. “It’s brilliant to get through to a Final. I thought we set about the game really well, really aggressive with our pressing.

“We took probably 10 minutes to find our gameplan a little bit – we tried to play central quite a bit when the space was wide so it took us a while – but the goal set the standard.

“It was a brilliant goal from Jess. We scored some really good goals tonight. Arguably, could have had more but I’m really delighted with the way we controlled the game.

“I think it’s the way we set about without the ball in the game [against Spurs] earlier in the season so it was great for us to use that footage from the league game we played against them.

“There were still parts of it that we didn’t get right but the pressure we put on made it difficult for them. It was a good starting base for us and probably the best we’ve been without the ball in a long time.

“The girls showed confidence and communication from behind and the front players did a lot of work and showed a lot of energy. When we made changes, it was the same level so I think it was really pleasing.

“We came back at the turn of the year after starting this competition quite well, knowing we needed to beat Leicester. It’s a competition we’ve taken seriously for many years. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t.

“It’s the chance of a trophy: a trophy we really value. I was gutted when we went out last season in the last seconds against Chelsea because we earned the right to be there after coming through a difficult route. It’s great. Any Final is fantastic so it’s one we’re really going to look forward to.

“I’m really pleased, a trophy is a trophy for me and I’m certain if you asked Emma [Hayes] the same question after they won the Conti Cup last season, it’s a trophy you want to win and these trophies are important.

“The men’s equivalent is something Pep [Guardiola] and City have won for the last so many years and it’s an important trophy to them. I believe it’s a real positive thing for us. We’ve worked hard to get here, the performance was good tonight and again we don’t just want to enjoy the Final – we want to win it.

“Both sides deserve to be there first and foremost. It’s a great game and should be a top-level game. We’ve got a bit to do in terms of catching them in more recent results. We have an opportunity on Sunday with the WSL game as well so we’re going there full of confidence.

“If we play like we can do and be clinical at the top end of the pitch and control games like we have shown recently, then I don’t see us not being there. We’re going there full of confidence, we’ll look forward to the final in a month’s time but there’s a lot of football to be played between now and then.

“We understand the challenge that’s ahead of us in terms of playing a good opponent but nothing’s easy when you want to win a trophy like that.”

Taylor also reserved praise for youngster Park, who opened the scoring with a well-taken drilled finish before crafting two assists to increase her impressive tally of goal involvements to 10 in 19 appearances this term.

“I thought she was great considering she’s got levelled by the full-back in the first challenge,” he reflected. “Some young players might go under at that moment but she’s playing with real confidence and creating a lot of goals.

“The challenge with Jess is trying to get more goals out of her. The goal was really pleasing – the way she cut across the defender. We know she can finish well; it’s just trying to get her into those positions as much as possible but I think to score a goal like she did and create two as well, it was a special performance from her.

“She’s got lots to improve on – don’t forget she’s playing in a different position, something that’s probably alien to her: she’s always usually played behind or as a striker, so the way she’s adapted to playing on the wing has been fantastic.

“It’s similar with Ruby Mace – a young player who came to us as a defensive midfielder and someone we have changed into a centre-back. Her performance was very good tonight.

“You want to work with open-minded players and Jess has been like that: adapted to the position and has produced some high-level performances.”

There was further cause for celebration as new recruit Julie Blakstad made her debut, introduced from the bench late on – and she almost made an instant impact with an assist.

Taylor was pleased with the way the Norwegian conducted herself, especially given her inclusion was a late decision.

“To be honest, we weren't sure if we'd be able to get clearance in time for this game,” he admitted, “but we did and had that information this afternoon.

“Especially where she is in pre-season, she’s not played any games – this was her first competitive moment she’s had.

“She’s physically very good, in good shape, she’s very clean in her technical capability, she’s very powerful and dug out some really good crosses with real quality.

“It’s exciting times and I've been impressed with the rest of the players and how she’s been introduced to the group and how they have helped her in coming on.

“Sometimes, when players haven’t learned our way of playing, it can be quite difficult but the players helped her a lot tonight and it was a nice moment for her.

“All of our wingers have different qualities. The difference between Jess and Janine [Beckie] are slight and we have Julie now who can play in any position down the left side, full-back or 10 or 11 where she came on tonight.

“And then obviously Hayley [Raso] too, who can play on both sides. They all bring different things and it’s an exciting opportunity for us: the first time we’ve had a full squad on the bench.

“It shows the difference from where we were before. The competition in training's been great and people are competing for the shirt. Tonight, I could have picked three different midfields and forward lines.

“Everyone's really putting everything in to being selected and it’s difficult when they’re not because they’re disappointed but I thought tonight, everyone put the ego aside and was there for the team whether that’s coming on or just supporting the team. It was massive for us because that’s what the team does really well.”

Taylor also provided an update on captain Steph Houghton, who missed the game through injury, revealing the skipper had suffered a knock but could still be in contention for Sunday’s league trip to Chelsea.

“She’s had a bit of a setback with her Achilles,” he explained. “Let’s see how she checks in over the next few days – she might be available for Sunday but it might be longer than that. We’re not too sure.

“Sometimes with the Achilles, you can get that type of injury but hopefully, it's not something to keep her out too much longer.”

WHAT'S NEXT

City travel to Chelsea in the Women's Super League on Sunday 6 February in a 12:30 (UK) kick off.

The next home game sees City face Manchester United in the Manchester Derby on Sunday 13 February in another 12:30 kick off.

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