Preview: Brighton & Hove Albion Women v Blues Women

Carla Ward is determined that Blues Women confound the critics in the Barclays FA WSL.

Blues return to competitive action for the first time since the end of February on Sunday, with an opening 2020/21 campaign fixture at Brighton & Hove Albion Women (2pm).

After a successful battle against the drop last season followed by another sizeable turnover of players - combined with the way other clubs are spending big sums on improving their squads - many observers are predicting a tough campaign ahead.

The team that goes out to face Brighton will be a different one to the eleven that was preparing to face the Seagulls in the FA Cup Quarter-Final - the outstanding fixture before COVID-19 stopped football.

Blues, of course, will play Brighton in that Quarter-Final on 27 September as last season's FA Cup is being carried over.

But more immediately it's the league clash that is of prime importance for Ward, who was appointed Blues Head Coach on in the second week of August.

She and the Club have moved swiftly to add to the ranks, with Christie Murray, Rachel Corsie, Chloe McCarron, Georgia Brougham, Jamie-Lee Napier and Destiney Toussaint.

As the likes of long-time favourites Kerys Harrop and Rachel Williams moved on in post-season, it's certainly been a changing of the guard at Blues.

Ward said: "I've been told for the last few weeks that 'you're mad', 'you're crazy' . . . players too. And it would have been easier for some players to go to a club where it's different, where it's easy.

"These players, they will be stretched. They will be asked questions they have never been asked before. They are going to be put in positions where it will only develop them - and myself.

"Yes, I like the fact that everyone has written us off. Let that be our motivation.

"I say it to the players probably every day that everyone will see the fixtures and think 'Birmingham City, easy three points'. Let's make sure it's not."

The new additions have brought positive comfort to Ward.

"We know it has been a tough few weeks in terms of trying to get bodies over the line, but we are pleased with who we have got in.

"The group - as I said when I came in - although there were only eight or nine players, they were very honest, wanted to learn and work hard.

"Naturally we would have liked a couple more weeks prep, but it is what it is. So going into it this weekend we are fairly happy."

"It was about adding the right players," Ward added. "We feel we have done that.

"I said to some of the staff on Friday that the intensity and attitude out there in training was unbelievable.

"And now there's some competition.

"We've gone through our pre-season games without having to make too many changes so it certainly is making everyone step up, and that is all we can ask at the moment."

Brighton will present a stern test.

"They will be good," said Ward. "They will be organised.

"We know Hope Powell's qualities. Look, they have recruited very, very well. They have got a great group so we know it is going to be tough.

"We are going there as the underdogs but we will do what we can do, we will effect what we can effect. If it is good enough we will be able to walk away with something."

Ward said one thing that will be true about her Blues side is that they won't be found wanting for effort.

Talking about the style we can expect to see, she said: "First and foremost we have got to be organised. I think it's all we have touched upon the past couple of weeks.

"Then obviously be expansive and creative in possession.

"Whilst I think we might be without the ball a lot, what can we do with it?

"We want them to have freedom, we want them to brave and creative.

"And I say it to the players all the time that if they make mistakes but give me 100 per cent then I can take that; if they give me 90 per cent I can't take that.

"It's going to be a whole-hearted group that want to work, want to fight. The supporters will get that, and that's where we will need them."