Lauren Smith: Bristol City ‘were written off before we’d even kicked a ball’

As Bristol City prepare to welcome Liverpool to Ashton Gate on Saturday, Robins manager Lauren Smith addressed the media to provide an insight into team news and the squad’s mentality as the end of the season approaches.

Relegation is all but confirmed for the BS3-based side, given the seven-point gap that separates them and 11th-placed West Ham United. Smith suggested that her Bristol City side ‘were written off before we’d even kicked a ball. When we got points at West Ham, Liverpool and Everton in the first half of the season, I think people picked their heads up and had a little look at what we were maybe doing. I think they are the moments that we are really proud of because we’ve performed.’

‘Part of our values and our identity at Bristol City is to develop young, special talent, as well as making sure we’re competitive. In the first half of the season where we’ve been competitive and we’ve done that in developing players – we’re all very proud of that. Equally, the ones that maybe don’t feel like they’re the young teenagers, they’re still young into WSL football. They maybe signed for us last year and it was their opportunity – I think they’ve done well.’

‘There are some players who can pat themselves on the back and say, “I can compete at this level”. There are others who might go, “I’m going to compete at this level”, and they will put the time in and will develop those situations. So, I think when we look at what we’re about, yes, we can take success from this season, regardless of what the next few weeks look like. Whatever the outcome is, there is success and we have done well with that. If you look only at results, no one’s going to say that. It depends what lens you’re looking through to get the answer to that question.’

‘But it doesn’t stop here. It never stops, right? Right now, we’re focusing on trying to do everything we possibly can to stay in the WSL until we can’t do anything about that. Right now, it’s about tomorrow. It’s about three points and then we’ll continue on fighting. But regardless of which way it goes, I’m immensely proud of everybody at Bristol City,’ she added.

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Speaking about her mentality and whether it is possible to pile the pressure on West Ham with four games remaining, Smith commented: ‘We want to go after the win at home still. It doesn’t really matter who we’re facing. It’s going to be part of our jobs, but the team are chasing that as well. A lot of people ask about how it feels. The team are professional and they’re working hard.’

‘They want everything that we want and that the fans want. It would be amazing to get that. Do we focus on that being the only outcome? No! We want to make sure that we are tight at the back and that we maybe press a little bit higher. But ultimately, that we match them and make sure it’s a good game.’

The Robins have been bolstered by the return of Rachel Furness and Naomi Layzell in recent weeks, and Smith commented pre-match that Abi Harrison will return to the squad against Liverpool, ‘albeit managed to some extend because it’s been a long time out for her.’

‘She’s had a really tough season and it’s hard to understand it for her. She was part of the catalyst of, when we got relegated before me coming in, wanting to get back to the WSL. It’s been difficult for her not to make an impact and I know that she’s gutted at that. Equally, there’s no pressure on her of what that looks like in these last few games because I want her to make sure that she can do what she can do.’

‘It’s not about being the hero; it’s about just making sure that we’ve got a fit and happy Abi Harrison ready. We know when that happens, we probably do get the hero, but it’s not worth focusing on. It’s great to have her back in the squad and training with the team.’