Everton Ladies are working tirelessly to “close the gap” on the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, says manager Willie Kirk.
The Blue Girls lost 3-0 to reigning WSL champions Chelsea on Sunday as Emma Hayes’ side put on a clinical display at AFC Wimbledon’s Kingsmeadow Stadium.
Kirk, who took charge at the start of December, recognises the work that still needs to be done if he is to guide the Toffees into the top half of the table and beyond.
But with a reminder of the levels needed to compete with the best sides in the division fresh in the memory, he has backed his side to improve.
“Chelsea’s standards are those that we will strive to make up,” Kirk said. “We won’t take them off those teams around us in the league because that is not where we want to be. We want to be in that top half.
“So we will look to raise our standards to the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City but we saw on Sunday what the gap was.
“Some of that gap will be closed easily through fitness – we know there is room for improvement there. We also know that is not something you can sort out in just one day but over two or three months.
“We are already working towards remedying that. To be honest, the players probably came into last Sunday’s game a little bit tired because we had worked them hard in the week.
“But we are absolutely comfortable with that – if we can get considerable long-term benefit from that week in terms of our fitness and the cost is a slight hit against Chelsea because we are a little bit tired, that is ok because it will benefit us going forward.”
An aspect of the Ladies squad that has pleased Kirk straight away since his arrival is the competition for places within the group.
That has been boosted by the return from injury of full-backs Dan Turner and Siri Worm, who both featured against the Londoners.
At the other end of the pitch, the emergence of young talent Elise Hughes has also been a welcome boost for Kirk.
The Wales international striker started in the final match of 2018 against Liverpool, scoring her maiden goal for the Club, and kicked off the new year by retaining her place up front.
“Elise is not getting anything that she doesn’t deserve,” added Kirk. “She has been exceptional since we came in. She is the type of player who leads by example in training day in and day out.
“She gets starts because she has earned the right to start. On Sunday, she had the ball in the net with a great finish but unfortunately from an offside position, so she still needs to work on getting the balance right between eagerness and getting into good positions.
“Elise also put in a fantastic delivery for Chloe Kelly where she was denied an equaliser by a world class save from Hedvig Lindahl. So she has that all round game that you need.
“We had Dan starting for the first time in a couple of months after her injury, too, and then managed to get Siri on for a couple of minutes at the end.
“We are starting to get players back now and that’s good for us because it increases that competition for places.”