Saints fighting at the top!

As 2020 comes to an end, St Ives Town Ladies find themselves 3rd in the Eastern Region Women’s Football League Premier Division. Although they have only played 8-games of the 2020/21 season, the Saints find themselves two-points off the top of the table.

“I’m pleased with how the season has gone so far. We had a good start with a good FA Cup run, and some excellent performances and the results reflected that,” said manager Darren Marjoram. “Our two league defeats to date were only by a single goal so even then we are still pushing to get something for those games. This season has seen teams all capable of beating each other so it would seem a much more open league than previous seasons.”

Their run in the FA Cup had seen them start in the Extra Preliminary Round, beating Hartham United 12-0 before getting wins against Histon and Northampton on the road in the Preliminary and First Qualiyfing Round. That run was brought to an end against fellow-ERWFL side Harlow Town Ladies as the Saints bowed out with a 5-1 loss on the road. Their league campaign began with two wins as St Ives scored four past Haringey Borough and AFC Dunstable before picking up a point in a 1-1 draw with Bedford. The first loss of the season came at home to Peterborough Northern Star as a single goal was enough for the victory before they returned to winning ways with a huge [5-0] win over Bowers & Pitsea Ladies. League leaders (at the time) Wymondham Town claimed Ives second loss of the season with a 2-1 win at Ketts Park before their last two games, coming in December ended with wins as they beat AFC Dunstable and Bedford. For Darren, finding his side fighting at the top was what he set out to achieve.

“Our main target was a simple one – not to be involved in a struggle at the bottom of the table as we had been last season. We all thought that with our players back fully fit and with the experience of last season under our belts, we should be involved at the right end of the table. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I’m not a big believer in setting finishing position targets during pre-season as I think you can only take one game at a time. At the end of the season, you generally finish where you deserve to be!”

The 13-games of the 2019/20 season [before it was cut short] had seen the Saints sit in 10th, two places off the drop. It was a tough season for the club but returning to action in the 2020/21 season gave them a chance to have a second chance to compete in the Premier Division, something Darren was going to grab with both hands. “The short answer is we devised a plan [coming into the new season]. I spent a quite a bit of time during the first lockdown [in March] analysing where we needed to improve and how to do that with the squad. The squad are all excellent learners and very happy to put in the hard work to be their best so that is never an issue. We are much fitter than last season as well because the work the players all did through the summer was really intense. So far, we are seeing much better performances and results, so that is very pleasing from a coaching perspective.”

The constant stop-start of the season due to the Coronavirus Pandemic was certainly a low for the team who wanted to build on positive results. The lockdowns also proved tough for the team as they weren’t able to train and prepare for any return as a group.

“The struggles have really been the same for everyone –  breaks between games. The lockdowns have been tough for individuals for sure, but as a team, we have found many ways as possible of trying to be at our best. We have all our games recorded so we also do analysis and players can watch games back during the periods of lockdown.”

Although there were tough times during the first 4-months of the season, there was also plenty of positives they could look to build upon in the New Year. “There has been plenty of highlights including our FA Cup wins, massively improved performances this season and going into the New Year sitting in our highest league position. We are also seeing players take on the the challenge of playing new positions and thriving. This has been a particular highlight from a coaching perspective.”

With the return of football still unknown, it would be hard for Darren and his side to prepare but they were still optimistic. Their winning run of two-games on the spin was something they wanted to build on but more importantly, going into 2021, they wanted to continued their rise in the table. “I think our league position definitely reflects where we are currently as a club. I think it’s fair to say we feel disappointed in the games we’ve dropped points and maybe should be closer to the leaders. The players deserve a huge amount of praise because they have totally embraced the need to work even harder and to learn different systems and instructions. The exciting thing is that there is still plenty more to come from this group of players.”

“Like a lot of teams, we are doing fitness sessions on zoom, setting fitness challenges and also doing fun stuff just to keep everyone in touch and engaged. It’s never easy for anyone who loves the game to be unable to train as a group or play games, but we’ve tried to do our best to keep everything on track. Fitness isn’t just about the physical elements, it’s about the mental aspects too, so we’ve tried to pay particular attention to that as well.”

Being two-points of both Wymondham Town and Peterborough Northern Star for the side seemed disappointing but it was an incredible effort in a tough league. A win against Bedford instead of a draw could have seen them level or either a win over the leaders could have seen them top going into the second-half of the season but it was something to build upon once football did return. “The main thing [when we return to action] would be purely to try to maintain the good form we was in prior to the latest lockdowns. That’s never easy after a break but that has to be the aim.”

“Going into the New Year, we will just take things as they come. One game at the time. At this stage, we aren’t sure when we will be able to get back playing, so we will have to see what happens, but as and when it’s safe to return, we will want to continue the good start to the first part of the season.”

And the ambitions for the future?

“Like everyone, both the club and I want to be competing at the highest level. Short term that means trying to get as high up the table as we can this season, and longer term being in the National League. The club have had a huge upgrade of facilities planned for the end of the season so it is a very exciting time for everyone at St Ives. It will certainly offer the facilities to rival any National League club and that definitely where the club and these players deserve to be.”