Beth Merrick believes that this is a year not to be missed as she looks towards the new season.
The Aston Villa Ladies star hasn’t had an easy journey in the last few months, but has enjoyed watching the claret and blues’ successful Spring Series campaign from the side lines.
She said: “I never thought I’d be celebrating on the pitch on the last day of the Series when the final goal went in.”
After breaking her foot in the early weeks of the Spring Series, Merrick had to watch on as her team mates came from 4-1 down to beat Durham 5-4 with a last-minute winner from Alys Hinchliffe.
The game signified the end of a campaign that had seen changes both on and off the pitch.
Unbeknown to supporters, Joe Hunt left the club following Villa’ opening day victory over Watford Ladies. Ron Mellor stepped up alongside new head coach Dave Stevens in leading the team throughout the remainder of the season.
However, it was just as much of a period of uncertainity for the players themselves. Merrick explained: “The Spring Series showed a lot of changes for the club on and off the pitch, which meant the girls had to go through a period of change of not (being) sure what was going to happen.”
She added: “That being said the change meant a fresh start for the girls and a chance to showcase what we can do with fresh ideas. The changes has really paid off in my opinion and the team got stronger and stronger as the Series went on.”
The versitale forward praised the work of Dave Stevens during his time and is excited to be able to work under him in the coming season.
Merrick said: “The plus side to it [being injured] was that I saw things from a different perspective on the touch line and saw the work of new head coach Dave, who is fantasic for me personally and the group.
Dave brings a wealth of experience which is rare in the female game with Ian as his assistant. They both deliver FA vourses to an extremely high level.
“But qualifications aside, the level of detail they provide is something I’ve never seen before. It’s outstanding.
“This makes it a very exciting period for us players and certainly gives you the motivation to get back on the pitch from being injured.”
Injury is not something she is used to. Having not missed a game in over 2 years, Merrick outlined her frustration a her recovery didn’t go to plan.
She said: “My recovery wasn’t going as I had hoped for originally. I had to have an operation later down the line as my foot wasn’t mending as it should. Since then it’s been going well, baby steps but a lot more progress showing which I’m happy about.”
Despite her injury, it has not stopped her from being selected to play in the World University Games.
Speaking of the massive honour that it is, Merrick exclaimed: “If I go it’ll be amazing, but if I don’t quite make it I can at least say that I was selected and crack on with Villa’s preseason programme. It’s a win win for me.”
Following Villa’s preseason is the beginning of the new winter schedule, which sees the Women’s Super League 2 (WSL 2) season run from September through to May alongside the men’s league.
It will be a season of transition as Stevens takes charge of his first campaign with Aston Villa.
However, the ladies will still be aiming to finish as high as possible – an ambition shared by Merrick and the rest of her teams.
Merrick said: “Less of the talking about where we would like [to finish] and more of doing something about it. Like everyone in the league, promotion is the initial target.
“Personally, I’d love to get back to being a permanent fixture in the starting team. I’ll be doing everything possible to get that, and then after that I’ll see when we get going. It’s not secret I love my assists!”
The new season bring about new change, but it is a chance for more supporters to come down and support the team. A thought echoed by Merrick: “Whatever you’ve seen or has happened before, this is a clean slate, an exciting one and a year not to be missed.
“Our home ground is lovely and us girls perform best with our 12th man/women behind us. So whatever age you are, me and the girls would really appreciated you turning out in numbers to chant for our girls.”