Focusing on the first half of the 2020/21 FA Women’s Championship, Leicester were beginning to find their feet in their maiden season as a full-time, professional outfit.
Hitting the ground running with an opening day victory, back-to-back draws followed, before a huge, morale-boosting 2-1 win over potential title-rivals Liverpool.
Manager Jonathan Morgan hoped the team could produce something similar when they arrived in south London to face Crystal Palace: “Sunday was a great day and we were really pleased with how we handled the game.
“It's a great result, but it's just one game, it doesn't define the season. This result means nothing if we don't go and back it up with another good display against Palace.”
There were plenty of celebrations at Butts Park Arena as Leicester ran riot against Coventry.
Those motivational words of equal encouragement and warning were ringing in the players’ ears as they recovered from a goal down to storm to a 4-1 victory, led by two goals from stand-in captain Remi Allen, who felt the team 'showed great character to respond' to the early set-back.
A turning point in the season came when London City Lionesses inflicted Leicester’s first league defeat. Sophie Barker displayed the disappointment and drive to put things right: "We need to pick ourselves up really quickly, but we definitely don't want to feel like that again.
“It's a busy schedule and every team is going to test us in this league. We're the team to beat, we're the full-time team, we're the ones expected to win every game."
From there on, City embarked on a league record 12 consecutive wins, including their biggest-ever Championship victory – a 9-1 success at Coventry United.
Goalscoring forward Paige Bailey-Gayle outlined her contentment at the scoreline and overall display: “We're absolutely buzzing to get so many goals. We were working hard throughout the week and it showed in the game. It has been weeks in the making, but it's coming out.
Natasha Flint & Ashleigh Plumptre
A Natasha Flint brace helped the Foxes edge past Blackburn to remain top at the end of 2020.
“You've seen it in the flesh. It's a positive because everyone's getting on, everyone knows how each other plays now, we've gelled together. There's a good atmosphere in the changing room and on the pitch."
That cohesion was only improving further when City rose to the top of the standings for the very first time, courtesy of a comprehensive 3-0 over London Bees. It was a sign of things to come, but the manager was keen to keep everyone’s feet firmly on the ground.
"We obviously don’t want to let that go,” Morgan stated after full-time. “It’s a very nice feeling for the girls. We were just saying in our huddle afterwards that it means nothing at this point of the season, so we have to keep working hard. But it’s nice to see ourselves up there at the top."
The Foxes would remain at the summit over Christmas should they overcome in-form Blackburn Rovers - and did just that, recording a 3-2 away victory with two goals more from Natasha Flint, who was only enhancing her reputation as a sharpshooter.
Morgan, meanwhile, displayed pride in the way the team was going about their business on the pitch: “It’s been a very, very difficult year for everybody, but from this, as the football family goes, it gives them a little boost. It’s something positive to hold onto over Christmas.
City moved into their new home at the start of the year.
“From the London City game, we’ve really regrouped and galvanised. We’ve understood where our weaknesses were. It came at a very good time for us and to get five wins on the bounce, 15 points, when title rivals have been dropping points in that period, it’s been great.”
The New Year brought further success on the pitch and a move to the elite facilities at Belvoir Drive training ground, a venue which the players quickly felt at home in.
Sophie Howard commented: “To come back to these facilities is obviously massive. Having a training ground for yourself is just a foundation, maybe some groundwork, but the stuff on the pitch doesn't change. The intensity of training, the quality of training, still has to be high, and we've managed that, and we've managed to perform on the pitch.”
A narrow win over Sheffield United was the perfect way to kick-off 2021 and it was followed up with another three points by the same scoreline, away at Liverpool, to complete the double over the Reds.
Charlie Devlin celebrates her 81st-minute winner at Prenton Park.
Charlie Devlin scored the winner in Birkenhead, a perfectly executed finish, and joked in her post-match interview about the goalscoring prowess of Flint, who also found the net that day.
"I think Tash Flint’s rubbing off on me!" she said. "I just hit it, hoped for the best, and it went in. It’s great to get on the scoresheet. It was a great feeling. I enjoyed every minute of it, but at the end of the day, [I'm happy to do] anything to help the team win."
Another forward with a point to prove was Hannah Cain, who recovered from a long-term injury to score her first goal for the Club on her home and full debut. And it proved to be a winning goal, seeing off Crystal Palace by one goal in early March.
"It's very hard to come back after an injury like that," she revealed post-match. "But with the staff and obviously the players, it's very easy to. The more games I play, the easier it gets. So, it's just about getting more minutes under my belt and making sure that the rest of my body is now ready to play more minutes."
It was goals galore at The Hive, including a first two in Leicester colours for new recruit Shannon O'Brien.
She would have a big part to play in the coming months.
January had also brought new recruits, including 19-year-old attacker Shannon O’Brien, who enjoyed an afternoon to remember in the away fixture against London Bees, two months on from her arrival. The former Coventry United forward came off the bench to score twice during a 7-0 success, in a ruthless display of attacking quality from the visitors.
“I was so happy and relieved," O’Brien told LCFC TV after the game. “In the first two minutes I was on today I got one, so it took a lot of pressure off. It's great to come into [this team] and the girls have been so welcoming.”
A week later, Leicester faced a trip to the North East to take on second-placed Durham and a potentially pivotal 90 minutes awaited...
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