Lewes FC manager Simon Parker says the international break has given his staff more time to get to know the players following the multiple changes to the squad over the summer months.
The Rooks have claimed three points from their opening two fixtures in the FA Women’s Championship this season and head to Sunderland on Sunday seeking to topple the division’s current leaders.
The international break means Parker’s troops have had to wait a fortnight to get back into competitive action following the 1-0 win over London City Lionesses earlier this month.
And the boss believes the time away from competitive action has been invaluable to helping the squad gel further.
“The international break has meant we’ve had a little bit of time off. We did a slightly different session on the Tuesday after the London City game – more of a team bonding session,” said Parker.
“It’s been good to break away from fixtures, to have the opportunity to rest and also work on team things.”
Parker made plenty of changes to his squad during the off-season and enjoyed some strong results during friendlies. But he admits the squad is only being properly tested now that competitive games are back.
“The squad is developing quite a lot. As a coaching team we’re learning a lot about them,” he said.
“We had our preseason and it’s different in friendlies because they’re not competitive, so you don’t always get to see everything until you get to competitive games.
Potentially some of the friendlies we had we were the dominant team in, so we didn’t get to see all aspects of what the players bring – the defensive side, for example. But the competitive games have given us an opportunity to really get to know the players better, and we’re still learning the best combinations of using them are, who works well with someone else. We’re still building those relationships.
Obviously the longer we’re together the more we learn that and the players learn off each other, so it’s developed a lot since the start of the summer but it’s still going to take a little bit more time.”
Sunderland usually play at Eppleton Colliery Football Ground (capacity 2,500). So the switch to the iconic 49,000 capacity Stadium Of Light creates an even bigger attraction for this fixture.
Sunderland sit top of the table heading into the weekend, having claimed seven points from their opening three games. The club were promoted to the FA Women’s Championship in the summer and Parker believes they have adapted well to the next division thanks to their strong team unit.
“They’ve been doing really well. We’re kind of contrasting a bit because we’ve had quite a big turnover of players, while they’re fairly solid in what they do,” said Parker. “From the majority of the games they’ve played this season, there’s only been two changes from the team that was there last year.
So with Charlotte Potts at centre-back and Emma Kelly in the centre of midfield… apart from that there’s a lot of players – well, nine of them – that were there last year. They’ve added to the squad and the bench as well.
They’re a team that knows each other, knows how they work. It’s probably reflected in their start to the season. They look organised, everyone knows what they’re doing and they’re picking up results. I think they’ll be happy with the start that they’ve made.”
Indeed, wins over Coventry United and Blackburn kicked off the campaign with goalkeeper Claudia Moan keeping back-to-back clean sheets. Their last outing was a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace, where Keira Ramshaw earned Sunderland a point with a 72nd-minute strike.
One to Watch
Having played for Sunderland all her career, Ramshaw got her first goal of the season in the draw with Palace in what is her 12th campaign for the club. The 27-year-old showed her nose for goal with a smart turn and finish to ensure Sunderland remain unbeaten after three games in the Championship.
Ramshaw actually started on the bench and may again be deployed as a super sub on Sunday if manager Mel Reay needs reinforcements against Lewes’ combative midfield.
Return of McKenna
Rebecca McKenna has now returned from international duty this week, having starred for Northern Ireland in wins over Luxembourg and Latvia.
And Parker was pleased to see the full-back get another run-out for her country.
“I’m really glad she got more minutes for Northern Ireland,” said the boss. “I understand there were quite a few changes for the second game, so she came off the bench for that.
“It’s just great to have players who are competing internationally and Rebecca has been doing really well. She was part of the set-up before she came here and is still doing great. We’re excited to get her back as well!”