Getting to know: Abby Watkinson

We took some time to get to know Belles forward Abby Watkinson.

Belles’ philosophy is to help young players develop and break through to first team football. How do you feel your own development is going under Zoey?

Since being at Doncaster and playing under Zoey’s management I have grown into a more confident player. I am more vocal on and off the pitch and I feel like my overall performance has improved massively and is more consistent.

What’s your most memorable moment of the season so far?

The most memorable moment of the season so far was when we won 4-1 against Guisley Vixens as it shows that all the effort and hard work we are putting in is paying off.

The whole team and club just had a real buzz about us as it showed that we are able to compete in this league even though we are a young squad.

Who’s the joker in the squad?

Izzy Whittle and Sheldon Ashton.

Do you have any match day rituals?

I don’t really have any match day rituals no.

Who or what inspired you to start playing football?

My family have always been into football and growing up my dad and my grandad got me into playing.

If you could play in any football match what would it be?

If I could play in any match it would the World Cup final, as it’s one of the biggest audiences there is, all of the country watching and cheering on.

Do you have a favourite player?

Lionel Messi – his skill and talent is unreal.

Do you have a message for the fans?

Thank you for coming to the games and supporting us week in and week out. We really appreciate all the support and hope to carry on our progress throughout the season.

And last the most important question. Is it okay to have pineapple on a pizza?

I’d have to say not sure as I’ve never tried it.

 

You can follow Abby on Twitter @watkinson_abby

Whittle: ‘Let’s get cracking!’

Doncaster Rovers Belles captain Izzy Whittle hopes that dressing room’s positive spirit can inspire the side to their first points of the season in Sunday’s league clash with Middlesbrough.

The Belles sustained heavy defeats in their first two FA WNL Northern encounters, but there were plenty of positives to take from their last outing as Donny took Chorley to penalties in a 2-2 draw – with both goals coming from Whittle.

“We need to get cracking in the league,” she said.

“We’ve not had the best start but we’re still in high spirits. We’re together, we’re upbeat, we’re positive, and we just need to start getting some results. We’re doing it in training, it’s just not quite transferring to the pitch yet in matches.

“It’s a matter of learning to sustain our good spells and start quicker. We don’t seem to start fighting until we need to fight, when it would be great to be on the front foot from the beginning. We’re looking to get out of the blocks quickly against Middlesbrough on Sunday.

“We were talking about it the other day in the changing room and we’re not inexperienced as a unit. We may be young but lots of us have played for years and years.

“There’s other teams in the league that are sort of the same age, so it’s not really an excuse to say ‘we’re inexperienced, we’re young’; we know what we should be doing, we just need to start doing it.”

After being unavailable for our season opener, Whittle has gone the distance in both of the Belles’ last two games, including playing the full 120 minutes in last weekend’s cup clash with Chorley.

That game went all the way to sudden death in a penalty shootout after Whittle twice equalised from set pieces

The shootout went Chorley’s way, meaning the Belles narrowly missed out on progress to the next round and will now play in the FA WNL Plate.

But Whittle is keen to take the positives out of that improved performance, saying:  “I missed the first game and obviously Stoke wasn’t the result we wanted. Chorley was better, it was a fight. We came so close and it hurts to go out on penalties.

“It felt great to get my first couple of goals. I didn’t realise until I saw it on Twitter afterwards that we’d equalised so late on, so that was ace. It feels good to get some goals.”

The first of Whittle’s double came courtesy of a dominant header, with the captain rising high in the box to nod into the Chorley goal.

That led General Manager Sheila Edmunds to compare the captain to her predecessor and fellow centre-back Leandra Little, who led Donny to the WSL2 trophy last season, scoring twice along the way.

Whittle said: “Obviously I was here while Lea was captain and I’m just trying to emulate what she did, in terms of the sort of stuff she did in training, the way she prepared for matches, and obviously being a big centre-back scoring headers at corners as well!”

“Playing every week, and sometimes twice a week, is really good. It’s a competitive league as well, and it’s good to get some minutes. We’re starting to get a bit of team cohesion, but we need to see that translating into more complete performances.”

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The Belles take on Middlesbrough in the FA WNL Northern Division at Rossington Main on Sunday 9th September – kick off is at 2pm.

Tickets will be £3 for adults and £1 for children and can be purchased on the gate.

The ground can be found at Oxford St, Rossington, DN11 0TE. Details on parking at the ground can be found here.

Shaw: ‘We need to fight from start’

We spoke to manager Zoey Shaw following Sunday’s penalty defeat to Chorley in the FA WNL Cup determining round.

Izzy Whittle scored a pair of equalisers to force the game to extra time, but the side ultimately went out on penalties and will now compete in the FA WNL Plate.

Shaw: “I think we got off to a bit of a slow start and that’s something the girls and I will have to work on. We need to come out of the traps from the off because if not we concede and we’re chasing the game.

“But I think we did well to get ourselves back into the game. We did well with our attacking set pieces with Izzy to get the first equaliser, and then we started to play football, but the moral of the story is it was a little bit too late in the 90 minutes.

“We grew into the game and I was saying to the other staff on the bench that when we’re in a fight and there’s something on the line like when we get into the last ten minutes and we’re trailing or there’s going to be penalties, that’s when we step up and play our best football.

“But the girls have got to find something within themselves to get that from the start and that’s going to be our focal point for the next couple of sessions in training.

“I said to the girls after the game we have no excuses: everyone’s back, there’s nobody missing. But what I was impressed by was the desire to keep going.

“Chorley are a good side. Just because they’re in the fourth tier, they’ve played together for many years so they know where each other are on the pitch. They’re capable of quick football, and they’ve got that experience, and our girls are gaining that.

“I’m not going to keep saying ‘they’re young’ or ‘they’re going to learn’, because they play football just like anybody else. It’s just about playing themselves in the next game.

“Liv Cook had an outstanding game, as did Emily Batty. That save she made on that penalty, it was going in all day. Izzy Whittle had a good game and I thought Emily Burgin, when she came on straight from the RTC, for a player of her age, she rose to the occasion. She changed the game when she came on, and if players can do that then we’re doing something right.

“I said to the girls that I wasn’t disappointed in their performance, just in the result, that it went that way towards to end, because with penalties it’s anyone’s game.”

Shaw: It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Belles head coach Zoey Shaw hopes the experience of playing against the best side in the division will give her side an indication of where the bar is set.

As champions of the FA WNL Northern Division for the past two years, Blackburn were always likely to pose a stern test to a young Belles side, all of whom were making their senior debuts for the club.

Shaw said: “The quality of the squad they’ve got at Blackburn speaks for itself with what they’ve won in the past.

“I thought we had good spells in the game today for such a young squad with most of them playing senior football for the first time. The experience for them is huge and the amount of pressure they must have felt on their shoulders today was probably a lot for them to handle, but they got through it quite well considering.”

Shaw made a switch at the break, bringing on an extra defender to shore things up, and for the opening portion of the second half it stood firm against Blackburn’s bombardment.

She said: “It was a gamble going three at the back but they did extremely well. Emily Batty, the keeper, made endless saves, and Georgia Marshall and Holly Dodsworth, the centre-backs, are only 16 and they really relished the challenged.

“The change of formation did well for us and we held them off in the second half for a good 21 minutes, and for us that’s massive. But Blackburn’s experience just shows through more than what we’ve got through at the moment.

“We’ve just got to reflect on it, regroup on Tuesday, and we start again. We’re always working to better ourselves, individually and as a team, and we’re in it for the long run. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

New captain Whittle ready for season

Zoey Shaw has selected Izzy Whittle to take the armband from long-time skipper Leandra Little, while her deputy will be Olivia Cook.

Both players have experienced life in WSL and are hoping to help impart some of the good habits they have picked up onto the rest of the Belles’ new-look squad.

New skipper Whittle said: “We’re looking to continue the standards set by the first team from last year, in everything from starting training, finishing training, media, what we do off the pitch – we’ve been around them and watched what they do and done it ourselves, and we’ll pass that on.

“We really want to grab it with both hands and really give it a good go.”

Vice-captain Cook added: “It’s a great opportunity for us to take on this kind of leadership role.

“A young squad doesn’t necessarily mean a weak squad, and we have a lot of people who are willing to learn in an elite-level setup. We’ve got something to prove this season.”

Despite winning the WSL2 title last year, circumstances off the pitch mean this will be the Belles’ first season playing in the Women’s National League, and both players confirmed they are raring to go as the club takes on a brand new challenge.

Whittle said: “It’s going to be a tough league, with the likes of Sunderland and Sheffield taking the step down alongside us.

“Then you’ve also got some very capable teams already in there like Blackburn, who won it last year.

“So it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one we’re all looking forward to. There’s a really positive mentality from top to bottom at the Belles, and a big part of that is that we don’t shy away from a challenge.

“We’ve got a very young squad so it’s going to be a steep learning curve for a lot of them, but that’s how you improve and it’s really positive to see younger players getting a chance to play competitive football.”

The Belles first game of the new season will be against reigning champions Blackburn Rovers, who won the Women’s National League Northern by ten clear points last season, only to lose their playoff against Southern champions Charlton Athletic.

That means the Belles are expecting a stern test against the Lancashire outfit, but Cook said: “It’s better to start with the biggest challenge first and see where you’re at.”

Whittle echoed that sentiment, saying: “It’s a team to compare ourselves to, isn’t it, because they were unlucky not to move up a league last year.”

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Our 2018/19 season opener against Blackburn Rovers will be played at Rossington Main on Sunday 19th August, 2pm KO.

Tickets will be £3 for adults and £1 for children and can be purchased on the gate.