Kirsty Hanson

Hanson aiming for further success with United Women in 2020/21

Saturday 05 September 2020 11:47

Kirsty Hanson says she and her Manchester United Women team-mates are targeting a top-three finish in the 2020/21 WSL season.

This is only the Reds’ second campaign in the top flight and, following a commendable fourth-placed finish last term, Hanson said she wants go at least one step further this time.

United begin the new season with a home game against Chelsea on Sunday, and the winger took time out from her busy pre-match preparations to speak exclusively to club media.

In this wide-ranging and in-depth interview, the 22-year-old spoke about life in lockdown, returning to training, behind-closed-door matches, how our new signings are settling in, her personal aims for the upcoming season and much more…

What’s the mood been like in the camp ahead of Sunday’s big match?
“It’s really exciting. We’re all buzzing, obviously after training through lockdown at our homes. It’s all for this moment and we can’t wait to get going.”

What was it like coming back to training? It must have been strange seeing everyone again…
“Yeah, it was. Obviously we had to come in, in bubbles, so it took like a week or two to actually see the whole team and speak to everyone. But it was good. It [the break] didn’t feel that long but it was annoying because you couldn’t hug them either. You had to just wave at them and say hi. It was difficult because you haven’t spoken to many of the girls face to face and you need to get that relationship and that confidence back. But it’s all good now."
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Who did you keep in contact with most during lockdown?
“We had Zoom calls with the team [so I spoke to everyone], but with the ones I’m closer to like Fran [Bentley], Leah [Galton], Jackie [Groenen] and Lotta [Okvist], we did quizzes and I spoke to them quite a bit. Some of them were obviously away, like Jackie was at home [in the Netherlands].”

During lockdown you were living with your parents, but are you back in Manchester now?
“Yeah I was in Halifax, but I’m back in Manchester now. I actually got a new house which is good. I’m pleased to be back. I go back to Halifax a lot anyway but it was good to see them for so long, but at the end it got a bit annoying because you don’t have your own stuff. It was great to see them though.”

You’ve had quite a few behind-closed door matches to prepare for Sunday. What have they been like?
“They’ve been different challenges. Glasgow City were good and they were preparing for the Champions League. That was our first game with the new players, like Ona [Batlle], Ivana [Fuso] and Lucy [Staniforth]. Then there was Blackburn, who were quite physical - so were Liverpool - but it was just different challenges and it was good to get back on the pitch. Getting 90 minutes into our legs is great. Training on your own is harder, it’s not the same as working in a team.”

What was your first experience of playing in front of no fans like?
“It was a bit strange because when you’re shouting instructions you can hear yourself. It’s just a bit weird. Normally you can’t hear people that well, but it was echoing in the stadium. We can’t wait to get the fans back and have them cheering us on.”

No one will be able to pretend they haven’t heard Casey’s instructions on the pitch…
“Exactly! Even that will be different [how we communicate with the bench].”
We’ve had three new players through the door so far. How have they settled in?
“They’re really good and play in a way that Casey wants us to play: attacking football and they’ve all got speed and power, which our players have got. They’ve also got character as well, which Casey goes for. We’ve got loads of different, funny character is our team. They’ve fitted in perfectly.”

When new players come in, does it give the players a boost and make sure everyone stays on their toes?
“Yeah, we’ve got a lot of depth in every position now, so it keeps the players working harder. You don’t know who is going to start and everyone needs to have it in the back of their mind that it’s unknown. We need to work extra hard and it’s great that it’s hard. We love competitiveness in the team.”

Has the abrupt end to the 2019/20 season made the team more hungry and fired up ahead of the new campaign?
“Yeah, definitely. We finished fourth but we want to push on from that and challenge the top three. We want to finish better again next year.”

Is that something that you as a group believe you can do, finish in the top three?
“Yeah. We’ve all worked extra hard during lockdown and in pre-season. Some of us have looked at what we can improve on as we had so many months off. Everyone is just looking sharp and is ready to go. I can’t wait.”
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Did lockdown give you, and the rest of the players, a lot of time to reflect on your own games and the areas where you can try and develop?
“It’s all about concentrating on what you want to do this season because we didn’t have much of a summer. Normally you get a longer summer and you can just relax. But because of lockdown we just wanted to get back and look at what we need to do to get better ourselves. You want to make sure you’re in the starting XI and playing week in, week out.”

It’s Chelsea on Sunday, that’s going to be a massive test…
“We knew it was going to be one of the big teams [for our first game], but we don’t really focus on them. We focus on ourselves and we just ignore what the media are saying about the new players they’ve got. If we outwork them and stick to our game plan, and we believe in ourselves, then we can go and win.”

Is it the type of game you’d like to start the season with?
“It’s good to start with one of the top sides as it shows you where you’re at and where you need to be. If we can start off with a win it will build confidence and gives us something to build on throughout the season.”

Do you see Chelsea as a side who are setting the standards at the moment?
“They’ve won a lot of trophies and signed quite a few players [this summer], but on the day we just have to be better than them. We can do if we believe in ourselves.”

What have you made of Chelsea’s transfer business this summer? They’ve brought in some really high-profile names…
“We try to ignore it because we know we’ve got a strong team as well. Emma Hayes has brought in a lot of new players but it’s 11 v 11 and we’ve got to go out there and do our jobs.”
We lost 1-0 to Chelsea in both games last season. No doubt a bit of revenge would go down nicely in the camp?
“We always want revenge when we’ve lost. It was only one goal in it in both games so we might just need to fix those minor details that cost us. We need to finish our chances, keep the ball when we’ve got it and make them work hard. Just stick to our game plan and focus on ourselves.”

The full WSL fixture list came out on Friday and we now know when we’ll be playing each side in the league. Is there a fixture you look out for first?
“Not really. I just take every game as it comes. Every game is a massive game, especially this season because everyone is building their squad. Every match is going to be hard and be different - some have got different managers and different players, so they’ll play in a different way. You don’t know what to expect.”

As well as the league fixtures being announced, we also had the Continental League Cup draw this week. Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City - it doesn’t really come much tougher than that…
“No. We always seem to get tough draws, but to be the best you have to beat the best. We have to go out there, be confident and believe in our ability.”

Prior to lockdown you had an ankle injury, has that fully  recovered now? Are there any long-term effects?
“It’s recovered now thankfully. There’s just a bit of strapping now to secure it. I feel good, and fitter than ever. I suppose lockdown came at a good time for me and I’m back to where I was before [fitness-wise].”
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We finished fourth last season - when you look back at that, particularly considering it was our first campaign in the WSL, how do you assess the season?
“It was a great season for the club. To finish in the top four in our first WSL campaign was amazing and it gives us confidence going into this season to try and get a top-three finish. That’s the aim.”

If you had to pick one area for the team to improve on to make that top-three finish happen, what would it be?
“Probably finishing our chances because we had a few chances against the top team from last season and we didn’t finish them. So we need to do that.”

Have you got any personal aims and objectives for this season?
“Just to keep developing and to get as much game time as I possibly can. I just want to keep developing on the training ground and taking that into games.”

What about on the international scene with Scotland?
“Just to keep being selected in the squad. I got picked last season for the first time and I want to be selected every time from now and get more minutes. I also want a first goal.”

Get ready for next season. Our 2020/21 home and away kits are available now from United Direct.