Birmingham City Women are struggling to raise a squad for Saturday’s first WSL second-city derby and have been forced to ask the FA for permission to use academy players. With two WSL wins so far City go to Villa Park three points clear of newly-promoted Aston Villa but their small squad has been hit by injuries. Manager Carla Ward said: “If the game was this afternoon [Thursday] we would be playing with ten players, but we have a great medical team and 48 hours for them to do their best.” She added: “We have been on the phone trying to sort a few situations out so hopefully come the weekend we will have bodies available.” Those bodies, Ward hopes, will be from the academy. However, there are hurdles to overcome due to restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus. “It is a bizarre situation with the academy players,” said Ward. “No 1, we have got Covid protocols and they are outside the Covid bubble. No 2, there is an issue as they won’t have had the screening. But we are trying to force open a few doors to get some players from the academy. It is a case of wait and see.” If Birmingham are able to use academy players they may be short of match fitness as girls’ academies were closed when lockdown began, unlike boys’. Permission has now been given for them to reopen once Covid protocols are met and Ward added: “We will open as soon as possible. We are in a position where we rely on some of the academy players as bodies for training so the sooner the better for us. We have a small squad, so when you get seven injuries you struggle.” Among those is Sarah Mayling who was injured in last week’s defeat at West Ham. “It was a bad one, which we knew immediately”, said Ward who was unhappy with the refereeing. “For me the prime focus of the referee should be to protect the players. In my opinion if he had protected the players we would not be in this position. Sarah’s a bit heart-broken at not playing at Villa Park as she’s a massive Villa fan.” Villa, who have a full squad to choose from, are also keen to open their academy. “We will be looking to do that as quickly as we can,” said manager Gemma Davies. “We are in a really fortunate position our academy is well supported by the football club and we are able to operate effectively in a Covid environment.” Casey Stoney, the Manchester United manager, highlighted the need to reopen the academies. United are seeking to reopen theirs as soon as possible and Stoney said: “It’s massively important. They’re missing out on their development. They’re missing out on their mental wellbeing, their physical health is impacted by this, and obviously as a football club, we don’t want their development stalled, so it’s really important we get it back up and running as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
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He said: “He senses where the space is and how to use it. I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s a dribbler with skills and tricks but he’s dynamic. How he plays, he is unique in some ways.