Cup ties against the biggest teams in women’s football have made Sheffield United hungrier than ever to achieve their ambition of playing in the Women’s Super League.
That is the verdict of manager Carla Ward, whose United team were beaten 4-0 by holders Manchester City in the Continental Cup quarter-final at Chesterfield’s Proact Stadium on Wednesday night.
If a four-goal margin appears wide, then it simply highlights the gulf between the divisions, with City rich with professional England players like Steph Houghton and Ellen White, coming up against Ward’s part-timers who had spent the day working before playing 90 minutes.
Nevertheless, United are second in the second-tier Women’s Championship, and if a six-point gap to leaders Aston Villa in the sole promotion spot looks a lot to make up, the experience of Wednesday and the earlier rounds has left United with a mission to redouble their efforts to join the elite.
“The motivation is you want to play in the top division and we’ve got players who I believe can play in the top division,” said Ward.
“We went to Liverpool (earlier round) and turned them over on their patch. People say it was a tight game but if you were there and you watched it you’d agree that we were the far-better team, and showed we can compete in the WSL. Nights like these make you hungry.”
If the noises coming out of United are that promotion is beyond them this season – six points is certainly not insurmountable – then there is a genuine belief that another sustained effort next year can see them take the leap.
Ascension to the WSL would mean evolving from a part-time set-up to a full-time one, but even with players who work all day and then play or train in an evening, Ward believes she has assembled a squad good enough to compete with the bottom half of the WSL.
“We talk about it a lot in the women’s game, that top three compared to the rest of the bottom end of the WSL, there is a massive gulf, let alone to the Championship.
“The team City put out was a compliment to the work we are doing. They were stronger that night than they were against Everton (league game). City, Arsenal and Chelsea are in a league of their own.
The team City put out was a compliment to the work we are doing. They were stronger that night than they were against Everton (league game). City, Arsenal and Chelsea are in a league of their own.Carla Ward
“But if any other team from the WSL had have turned up, it might have been a different story.”