South Shields Women are “in a good place” according to head coach Matt Gatiss, as he looks ahead to the next spell of games with the Mariners chasing automatic promotion.
Shields sit third in the NERWFL Premier Division on 20 points, having played just eight out of their 22 league matches. Leaders Sunderland West End have 24 points, but have played nine games.
The lasses haven’t played for almost two months, with their last game coming on Sunday, 19 November against Gateshead Leam Rangers in the Durham FA Women’s Cup, but this hasn’t stopped the team from making the most out of their extended winter break.
“It’s good to be back; blow the cobwebs off, the opportunity to start re-aligning ourselves,” Gatiss reflected at training last week.
He continued: “We’re in a beneficial position that we’ve got a week off on Sunday, which means that we’ve got three or four sessions to get back into it before the first game against Wakefield, whereas some teams are straight back from their Christmas dinners into a game.”
Alnwick Town Ladies were the only team from the top half of the league in action last Sunday, and they lost 1-2 against Hull United Women.
Injury-wise, Shields are in a strong position with only Sophie Greener to wait upon, but seeing that the prolific Eve Gatens is fit once again, Mariners fans needn’t worry too much.
“She had a nice break to try and let the others catch up… but having Eve back is huge,” he said.
“A lot of how we play is built around her. Obviously [we] picked up a couple of niggly injuries as well after the Leam game, so the winter break has again given Ellie White a chance to get back into it, and like I say Sophie is close to it so we’ve got to wait and see.
“It’s always good to have a break to use it positively and we’ve not been frustrated too much because it puts us back to full strength.”
The Mariners’ success is partly due to the fact they have kept four clean sheets in eight matches, which is a joint divisional best along with Barnsley, who have played 10 games.
He added: “We’ve kept clean sheets in half of the league games we’ve had, and if you don’t concede a goal, you don’t lose a game - it’s as simple as that.
“Scarlett’s come on absolutely leaps and bounds from a goalkeeping point of view, having three of the best centre backs in the league to choose from two spaces is really competitive.
“Mon [Innes] and Alli [Ali] are stepping up when Meg [Archbold] was out injured for a long while and then having Meg back in, again it’s another injury where we’ve recovered and it gives us even more strength in depth than what we had.
“A lot of the defence, and our strong defence, comes from pinning teams back with the attack and the press.
“It’s a whole-team effort so the full team takes the credit for it but Scarlett’s pulled off some wonder saves and is integral to how we play in terms of style.
“Obviously it’s pleasing to defend - I’m a defender myself - so I enjoy keeping clean sheets.”
Nine of their remaining 14 games will be played at home, so it is more important than ever to have a strong home crowd backing the lasses whenever possible.
“We’ve got a lot of teams who need to make the big trip up to us. We’ve got a lot of away days out of the way now, and a lot of tough away days out the way,” Gatiss reiterated.
“Bradford; there’s not many teams going down there and getting results and we were within a whisker of coming away with three points.
“Wallsend, exactly the same. Other than the draw against us, they’ve been steamrolling a lot of the teams.
“So we’re in a good place, and having Spennymoor in the county cup away we’ve seen that we can compete against the teams that are higher up.
“Having a run of home games now should be good, obviously we’ve still got Barnsley, Spennymoor, West End to play home and away, so utilising the home advantage is going to be absolutely crucial.”