Aston Villa captain Beth Merrick has her eyes on the SSE Women’s FA Cup final after her side were drawn against Cambridge United in the third round.
Merrick was at Broadway Academy, in Perry Barr, to see the draw be made and take part in a question and answer session with the pupils.
She led Villa to the quarter-finals of the 2016 competition, but wants to go further this year and, after seeing the trophy up close, wants to get her hands on it come the showpiece final at Wembley.
“To get to the quarters, doing what we did, was brilliant,” said the 21-year-old.
“But that’s not where we want to be. We want to be higher. We want to be an underdog team that pushes towards the final and play at such a prestigious place as Wembley.
“To get to Wembley, is an incentive for any football player, no matter what team you’re at.”
The third round proper signals the entry of the FA Women’s Super League 2 sides, but Merrick is taking nothing for granted against FA Women’s Premier League South East Division 2 side Cambridge.
“It presents a different challenge to us,” added the attacking midfielder.
“With everything that goes on in the FA Cup, anything can happen, you see it in the women’s and men’s games.
“Everybody loves the FA Cup, the magic of it. Teams from lower down can come up and beat the bigger teams.
“So it’s a game we’ve got to be switched on for.”
With the game set to be played on February 5 Merrick, a former England under-19 international, is already back in training with her Villa teammates and targeting promotion from the FA WSL2 this season, after a seventh-place finish in 2016.
As well as the cup, Villa will take part in the Spring Series tournament, ahead of the WSL competitions becoming winter affairs, later this year.
And Merrick knows her side face a challenge if they are to make it into the country’s top division.
“The season just gone is one that as a team, and as a club, we were not happy with,” said the clubs leading goal scorer last term.
“We want to use the Spring Series as a base to go into the FA Women’s Super League 2 and aim for promotion.
“I know I stood here last year and said promotion was our target, but it really is. For a team like Aston Villa, we need to be pushing seriously hard for promotion.
“With the results that we had last year, we know they’re not good enough, so they will be the inspiration to go and do better this year.
“Pre-season has begun, and the girls have already been put through our paces and it’s set the tone for the rest of the season.
“Everyone’s come back in with the right attitude, right commitment and right desire.”
After scoring nine goals in all competitions last season, Merrick – more known as a midfielder than striker – is keen to add to her all-around game in the coming season.
“I base my personal targets for every season on assists, because that’s ideally what I’m in the team to do – every goal is a bonus,” she added.
“We lost a few strikers last year to injury so that did not help our cause, but it’s nice to chip in with a few goals when I can.
“But I’m not resting on last year, I was happy with the amount I got but I’ve got to take it up a notch. I’ve got to provide more assists and take it into double figures with goals this year.”
Tickets are now on sale for the SSE Women’s FA Cup Final on Saturday 13th May at Wembley Stadium connected by EE. For the second consecutive year, kids go free to the final, tickets can be purchased here: https://ticketing.thefa.com/