‘The only pressure that’s on us is what we put on ourselves,’ says Carla Ward ahead of Spurs clash

There is no denying that Aston Villa’s start to the Barclays Women’s Super League season hasn’t been as successful as some may have hoped. Carla Ward’s side have suffered defeat in all three of their opening games, and they welcome a buoyant Tottenham Hotspur side to the Bescot Stadium on Saturday.

But despite their poor position in the standings, Carla Ward insists that the context of the season is incredibly important. ‘When our fixtures came out, we knew our first five fixtures were, politely put, horrific,’ she added.

‘Let’s put it into perspective – we went into Christmas last year with everyone saying that Villa have had a great half of the season, and we went in on 11 points. We’ve got six games coming up that arguably we can try and get points from. One win would get us going, gets us started and I’m a big believer in what we’re doing to go in at Christmas in a similar position as last year.’

‘If we had played Arsenal at the start of the season, Man United at the end and lost to Liverpool in the middle, I think everyone would be going ‘bloody hell, Villa have closed the gap on Arsenal, bloody hell, Villa are closing the gap on Man United, they’re going toe to toe with the big boys’ – but the reality is we’ve had them all in succession.’

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Ward acknowledges that given their current position in the WSL table, Saturday’s fixture against Tottenham Hotspur becomes ‘a must win for us as a group because we want to go and win the game, we wanted to go and win the last three games and we’ll do everything we can. The reality is that the only pressure that’s on us is what we put on ourselves to continue to improve every time. We’re preparing the same way whether we’re winning games or losing games.’

When asked about how she views Saturday’s opposition, Ward was full of praise for her managerial counterpart – Robert Vilahamn. ‘I met him in preseason,’ she detailed, ‘and he seems a really good guy – someone that’s clearly getting a tune out of the players. I think they’ll be a tough opposition, they’ve shown early doors what they’re capable of and they’ve got off to a good start. I think their second half against Chelsea was very very good and then they’ve had a couple of convincing games in these past weeks so look, they’re gonna be a good side that’ll be knocking on the doors of the top six as well.’

The Aston Villa boss is hopeful that the club can bring an end to their recent spate of conceding late goals, adding that ‘we’ve analysed, we believe we know why and we believe we have key elements that have played their part, key things we’ve gone after and tried to implement to ensure we don’t get in that position again.’

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Aston Villa opened their league campaign with a slender defeat at Villa Park against Manchester United, before travelling to Prenton Park and Emirates Stadium to face Liverpool and Arsenal respectively. With this weekend’s match set to be played at the Poundland Bescot Stadium, Ward hopes that the smaller stadium can help to boost the atmosphere in Villa’s favour.

‘I love the Bescot, I really do. I think the players love the Bescot, there’s an energy around the players that we’re going back to the Bescot because the fans are close… You saw at the Emirates, we had nearly 800 there and that’s a lot to travel down to London.’

But Villa fans hoping to see Kirsty Hanson and Kenza Dali returning to the turf will be disappointed. Despite some confusion as to whether suspensions are applied across all domestic competitions or solely the Barclays Women’s Super League, Villa have not yet played in the Continental Tyres League Cup – and so Hanson will serve her third and final match ban against Tottenham Hotspur this weekend.

‘Kenza’s back on the grass which is excellent and on track for the international break. She’ll be back for Chelsea,’ she added. ‘Hopefully, everything will be ticked off from a medical point of view to be back in training with the team after the weekend.’

Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur will kickoff at 12:30 BST on Saturday, 21 October 2023. The match will be played at the Poundland Bescot Stadium, with the FA Player showing live coverage.