By Chris Harris
Laura Harvey will demand a fast start from Arsenal Ladies as they chase a place in the last 16 of the Champions League on Thursday.
The Gunners beat ZFK Masinac 3-1 in the first leg thanks to late strikes from Gilly Flaherty and Danielle Carter, but the Serbian champions proved they were no pushovers and will travel to England with expectation as well as hope.
The first goal at Meadow Park is likely to be decisive - it would put Arsenal out of sight or haul Masinac right back into contention - and Harvey will urge her players to be focused from the first whistle.
"We have to start the game well, without a doubt," she told Arsenal.com. "We could sit back and be happy with the scoreline we've got but we're not about that and we've never been about that.
"We're about going and winning football matches and playing football the best way we can. That's by keeping the ball and moving and trying to make sure we can be a little bit ruthless against opposition like the Serbians who are young and energetic. They have got no fear and I think they will come at us so we've got to show our quality and experience and make sure we get the job done."
Of course a flying start is easier said than done, particularly in this most unusual of seasons. Arsenal's first Super League campaign does not get underway until March, leaving the Women's Champions League as their sole distraction between now and Spring.
So is the Ladies' lack of competitive football a concern for their manager?
"It is a concern," admitted Harvey. "We managed to get a good friendly in on Sunday which has done us the world of good. It is so evident that we haven't got football games to play in. As many training sessions and as many fabricated environments you can put on there isn't anything as good as 90 minutes.
"So we were really lucky that through fixture cancellations we were able to play a Northern Premier side in Coventry who were a stern test. They've got some good young players and it was exactly what we needed. We've had a bit of normality this week with a game Sunday, a training session on Tuesday night and a game Thursday so there's not a lot of excuses to why we shouldn't start relatively well against Masinac."
With the exception of long-term absentees Natalie Ross and Julie Fleeting, Harvey has a full squad to choose from. And the manager believes that home advantage, plus the quality of the pitch at Boreham Wood, will help give Arsenal the edge.
"It could make a big difference," she said.
"The biggest thing coming from the first leg in Serbia was that we go a win. I said prior to the game that I wasn't really interested in anything else but winning. Coming back to Boreham Wood with a victory is brilliant, and now we have a home environment and a home surface.
"It's our first game at Boreham Wood since early May so I'm hoping the pitch will be in good shape and we can go out there and put a performance on and get the result that we need."
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