Matt Beard hopes ‘on fire’ striker Ebony Salmon can help Bristol City spring an almighty surprise against Chelsea in Sunday’s Conti Cup final.
The 20-year-old, who made her England debut against Northern Ireland in February, scored the winner against Reading on Monday night to take her Barclays FA Women's Super League tally for the season into double figures and lift the Robins off the foot of the table.
Salmon has also netted four times in the Conti Cup and her prowess in front of goal will prove crucial if City are to cap their fine run with a first ever domestic trophy.
The Robins are huge underdogs against the WSL leaders and reigning Conti Cup champions, who won 5-0 when the two sides met in February, and Beard knows Salmon could be the key if his side are to turn the tables.
“When we get our chances, we need to take them,” he said. “It’s about being clinical in the moments you get.
“Ebony is on fire at the moment and we are getting goals from other players as well. We’ve got goals in the team rather than relying on one player.
“(Salmon’s) pace is a massive threat and the last thing you want as a defender is her running at you.
“On Monday, she showed a bit more to her game with an assist. She is not just a player who can play off the shoulder.
“She’s a great player and she’s got a hell of a future in the game. I’m confident she’ll go on and have a fantastic England career as well.”
Beard took interim charge of the Robins in January to provide maternity cover for Tanya Oxtoby, who will be watching on from the stands on Sunday.
“It’s great for her to be there as she’s been a big part of this journey,” Beard said.
“She deserves to be there as she and the players have done most of the work to get us there – I only had one game (the semi-final win over Leicester).
“Tanya has had a great impact at this club in the last few years and in an ideal world, I’d have loved her to lead the team out.
“My main aim when I came in was to keep the team up. If you were asking Tanya, she’d say WSL survival takes priority (over a cup win).
“I’d say that, too, as it’s the best league in the world. The players want to play in the WSL.
“But this cup run has been a welcome distraction and it has given us confidence to put in the performances we have in the league.”
City are two-time FA Cup runners-up but have not been back in a domestic final since the last of those defeats in 2013.
Chelsea, by contrast, are bidding for a second successive WSL title and warmed up for their latest trophy tilt by qualifying for the Champions League quarter-finals in midweek.
But Beard has backed his players to cause problems for their star-studded opponents and cited Wigan’s 1-0 win over Manchester City in the men’s FA Cup final in 2013 as evidence for the unpredictability of the big occasion.
“Chelsea are a world-class side full of internationals – they are one of the best teams in the world, not just England,” he said.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game but we are not in it to make the numbers up. Anything can happen in a cup final.
“We had a great win on Monday, confidence is high and there are lots of smiles on faces.
“This group will fight for everything and we have a group that is really together. Sometimes that is really difficult to beat.”