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United captain ready for top of the table encounter

11 January 2020

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Sheffield United Women captain Sophie Barker says it's important her and her team mates don't overhype Sunday's top of the table FA Women's Championship clash with Aston Villa.

A win for Carla Ward's side at the Proact Stadium on Sunday would put the Blades top of the league for the first time against a Villa side unbeaten in the league this season.

While United's only defeat came on the opening day away at Sunday's opponents, the three point gap has remained ever since and Barker knows the game will have a big say in the destiny of which team gets promoted.

"We're trying not to make it into a bigger thing than it needs to be really," says Barker. "It is and isn't a defining game of the season because there's still a number of games to come but we know people will look at it that if we don't win we're six points behind.

"I think sometimes if you overhype games it can put a lot of pressure on players and I think that at the moment, Villa being three points above us have more to lose than we do right now. We have to take it as any other game. We've obviously prepared more than normal because we know it's a big game, but the mood is really good and everyone's excited."

As captain, the 29-year-old is one of the most experienced in the Blades dressing room and knows all about getting promoted into the FA Women's Super League, having done it with Doncaster Rovers Belles in 2015 and then winning the league in 2018, along with team mates Leandra Little and Sam Tierney.

Several more players in the squad have experienced a promotion chase and come out on top whether it be with the Belles, Manchester United or Bristol City, and Barker believes that experience can prove critical on Sunday and for the rest of the season.

"It's massive because to have that amount of experience is pretty much unheard of in most teams. Not many teams have seven or eight players that have actually won promotion from this league.

"It's not just the manager who needs to bring it, the players do too because she knows we have got this experience and players that know how to go out on the pitch and know game management. They know what it takes to win and that feeling never goes, I'll never forget that feeling of winning the league."

United's record against Aston Villa heading into the match has seen the Blades come out on the wrong end of the last four meetings between the two sides, but the last time the two faced each other with Ward's side at home ended in a 4-1 victory at Bramall Lane last season.

United haven't lost a home game in the league since February, dropping just two points since then and winning both their games at the Proact Stadium so far.

With the home crowd behind them, Barker hopes the support plays a part in a positive result for the hosts on Sunday.

"With the Proact, you also get a real feeling of professionalism. The ground, the stadium, the changing rooms, it almost brings out a different side to your game. The pitch being grass also suits a number of our players and the size of it with the pace we have in the team.

"Our home record is really good and these players are not going to want to change that. That is my team talk every home game, every home game I say 'We do not lose here. This is our home, nobody beats us'. For some reason it seems very effective!"

The Villa game marks the start of a busy month which will see the Blades host FA WSL opposition twice, first in the Continental Cup quarter-final against Manchester City on Wednesday, before another home game against Birmingham City in the FA Cup at the end of the month.

With an away game in the league at Coventry United also to come, Barker feels like it's a sign of where the team are meant to be and they will channel past results when it comes to a big month ahead.

"100%. Look back at the Liverpool game, we have got players that can compete here. We've got players who want to do better than this league. We've got players who want to compete against players in the FA WSL. When you play teams of that standard, everybody ups their game, because everybody wants to be where they are."

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