Liverpool Women: The push for promotion back to the WSL

By Emma SandersBBC Sport
Liverpool celebrating
Liverpool striker Katie Stengel scored a late winner in their league victory over Watford last Sunday

Liverpool are a club that expect to be at the top and, following relegation to the Women's Championship in 2020, there was only ever one ambition - to go straight back up.

It did not go to plan last season but following the arrival of Matt Beard - a coach who led Liverpool to back-to-back Women's Super League titles in 2013 and 2014 - they are now on course for promotion.

The Reds are seven points clear at the top of the table having not lost in the league since August.

"We're getting rewards from the hard work," Beard told BBC Sport. "It's a collective effort. We know there will be bumps along the way but we're in a good place at the moment and we need to continue it."

Liverpool battled to a 1-0 victory against Watford on Sunday thanks to a late goal from new signing Katie Stengel and the celebrations showed "relief", according to Beard.

But it also displayed a togetherness that he says is key to Liverpool's push for promotion.

"That's the biggest thing. If you're happy and you're together… You look at the most successful teams and they have each other's backs. You can go a long way with that. "

Liverpool striker Leanne Kiernan, who is the league's top scorer with 10 goals in 11 games, also said enjoying her football right now was "the most important thing".

"Sometimes we forget because we want to get promoted, win the league and score in every game. But we play the game because we enjoy it.

"That's a big thing. I'm enjoying my football in Liverpool and so are my friends around me. It's a great craic - you go in every day and everybody is smiling."

'We know there will be tough times'

Liverpool squad
Liverpool are seven points clear at the top of the Women's Championship table

Kiernan was one of several players brought to Liverpool by Beard in the summer after the pair worked together at West Ham United.

The Republic of Ireland forward said she spoke with Beard about his philosophy and knew promotion was the aim.

"Our first goal is to get into the WSL. We don't tend to speak about it much because we just know that's our goal," she added.

"Of course there's pressure but if our training week goes to plan and we know exactly what we're doing at the weekend, we should hopefully win games.

"We stick to our small targets. If we do that, we get closer to the end goal.

"You want to be tested to earn that promotion. Watford gave us a great game [on Sunday]. We know there will be tough times ahead of us. We'll be ready."

Beard said Liverpool "can't focus on the WSL until we know we're there" but he is aware of the expectations from fans.

"Usually your targets are kept internal but we're a big football club," he added. "The biggest thing is that whenever we play someone in this division they want to knock us off our perch.

"We have to prepare the players for that. For example, we put the players under a lot of stress in training ahead of the Durham game because I watched last year's one and we were bullied. That didn't happen this time.

"We rehearsed the situations in training so we could deal with it. That's the biggest difference for me. We've worked on it - not just on the training pitch but in the classroom."

'We are all there for each other'

Liverpool coaches Amber Whiteley, Paul McHugh and Matt Beard
Matt Beard between his assistant managers Amber Whiteley and Paul McHugh - the key members of Liverpool's coaching staff

Performance psychologist Dr Francesca Champ has worked with Liverpool's players and staff this season to prepare them for the pressures of the promotion race.

Beard has built a culture that feels like "a family", coming together to deal with the personal tragedy of the death of assistant Paul McHugh's parents, or the injuries to goalkeeper Rylee Foster after a car accident.

"I just want the players to be themselves. I want them to come in and enjoy themselves," said Beard.

"The togetherness of the group is brilliant. We have had a lot thrown at us. We are all there for each other. We've all had ups and downs with things that have happened in our personal lives and Covid.

"We are all rallying around each other and making sure we stick to that one goal. We want to achieve something this year - not just for ourselves but for everyone."

Beard wants to repay the fans too.

"Everyone has stuck by us. It's great being there on a matchday. The away games feel like home games. That's been vitally important," he added.

"Knowing that they're with us and we're with them just makes it an enjoyable atmosphere. It was a tense atmosphere at the start of the season - you could see it, you could hear it and feel it. Now we're relaxed, the fans are relaxed."

Liverpool's push for promotion will continue after a League Cup quarter-final with WSL side Tottenham on Wednesday.

"We set ourselves a points target that we needed to get to in that first half of the season and we're in a position we wanted to be in. Now it's the next opponent," added Beard.

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