Abbey Joice has done more than most to inspire Sunderland’s Women’s Super League title bid.
But the “mini Messi” says shape and strength will be just as important as style when the Lady Black Cats visit Manchester City on Sunday.
While not quite a championship decider, the result could go a long way to deciding who challenges Chelsea for the crown.
At the moment, the Londoners have the lead, three points better off than Sunderland and five ahead of City.
Joice, who scored the equaliser when Carlton Fairweather’s side drew 1-1 at Birmingham in their last WSL1 match, recognises how good a team Manchester City are.
City are unbeaten in six WSL fixtures – four of them wins – and, perhaps tellingly, have beaten Sunderland twice this season.
But the Lady Black Cats are not second for nothing, their 4-0 rout of Chelsea proving just how good they are.
“They are in top form,” said Joice.
“The are quick on the ball and we must keep our shape better and not let them play around us.
“When we beat Chelsea, we had a really good shape.
“We would not let them play through us and I think they struggled to find a pass to beat us.
“When we played Man City, we were a bit too open and they found it easier to get through us.
“We need to concentrate on keeping our shape and, if we play like we did against Chelsea, then I think we can do well.”
Joice relishes performing on the big stage in Manchester on Sunday.
“It is one of the biggest I’ve played in,” said the wide player.
“The season is coming to an end and we are high up there.
“We need to win to keep ourselves in with a shout for the league.
“I started off the season in a different position to what I’d played originally so it took a while to adapt and get used to playing there.
“It feels like I’m getting my full potential out there and it was nice to get back in the team.
“I’m not always the most patient person but I waited for my chance and when it came I was determined to prove why I should be starting.”
Joice has been one of Sunderland’s key playmakers since regaining her place.
The winger is noted more for her creativity than goals, but she is hoping to score more as well as set them up for Beth Mead, the leading WSL1 scorer.
“I never score goals but was happy to get one at Birmingham,” she said. “The big part of my game I feel is to set up goals for Meado, I never usually think to shoot myself.
“Whenever I get the ball my first thought is to give it to Meado and she’ll score!
“But I’m trying to shoot a little bit more and contribute to the team.”