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Sarah Manning believes that her Middlesbrough team are well in the running as a wide open Northern Combination title race enters the latter stages.
'Boro are currently in fourth place, four points behind leaders Chorley, and the long serving midfielder, who has been with the club for fifteen years, admits that things are too close to call right now.
"The league is quite strange this year," she said. "There doesn't appear to be anyone running away with it as there has been in previous years. There are four or five clubs in with a shout and I think we have to take one game at a time and try to finish as high as possible."
Middlesbrough have been through a transition in recent seasons but now, under the guidance of player manager Sammie Leigh, Sarah insists that things are starting to look much brighter. "In most recent seasons, we have had a large turnover of players year on year and it seems that the team is always 'new'," she said. "I believe that has been a little bit of a disadvantage against other teams in our league who have been playing together for quite a while.
"We have always started quite slow whilst other teams hit the ground running. Once players become settled, we then string results together but we seem to be playing catch up by then. I think looking ahead to future seasons we need to establish a settled squad so that the team can build on performances year on year.
"I think the balance [of the team] is good and our performances and results show that."
Middlesbrough recently took over Blackburn Rovers in the F.A.Women's Cup and despite going down to a 3-0 defeat on the day, Sarah was more than satisfied with the way the team competed against their Premier League opponents. "With a relatively young and inexperienced team, I think we more than held our own and were competitive throughout. It was a shame that a few lapses in concentration meant that Blackburn were able to capitalise and were clincal with their chances, and all of their goals seemed to come from a direct ball.
"All three goals were quite similar. As we were pushing for the win we probably over committed going forward and held a high line, conceding far too much space in behind which allowed the direct long ball over the top and put their forward in a one-on-one situation. These are things we must learn from and we cannot afford to make these kind of mistakes against experienced players as they will punish you.
"I think the neutral would have enjoyed the game, particularly if they knew the relative league standings of the two clubs. There was no gulf in standard or quality and it would have appeared that the underdog more than matched the opposition. I think we have to be pleased with the performance, in the first half in particular we were extremely solid, organised and committed. But as a young and inexperienced team, the performance gives us plenty to work on in training if we want to improve further."
Middlesbrough have since booked their place in the North Riding County Cup Final where they will take on York City. In the semi final they won 6-0 against Kader and Sarah, who scored two of the goals, admitted that at the age of 29, she still gets the excitement of playing: "I have always, do always and will always get a buzz out of playing football or training. You only get so long playing so I am a firm believer that you need to take every opportunity possible to play and train and try to improve."
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