Exclusive: Natalie Haigh has “unfinished business” at Coventry United

Natalie Haigh of Aston Villa runs with the ball .
Natalie Haigh of Aston Villa runs with the ball during the Vitality Women's FA Cup Fourth Round match against Manchester City on 17 April 2021. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

Aston Villa defender Natalie Haigh has joined Coventry United on loan with one aim, to complete “mission impossible” and help United avoid the inevitable relegation from the Women’s Championship.

At the time of writing, the outcome of the legal challenge against United’s ten point deduction is unknown. However Haigh, like all her teammates, are adamant they will give it their best on the pitch to avoid the drop.

A long and colourful career

Haigh started playing for her local club Wetherby Athletic at nine years of age. Later, by the time she was 16 she successfully trialed for Leeds United first team.

In May 2006, she played for Leeds in the FA Cup final against Arsenal. They lost 5-0 but Haigh recalls it was “an unbelievable experience” playing against the likes of Rachel Yankey, Kelly Smith and Lianne Sanderson.

She then went off on a scholarship to America and uoon her return to England, she signed for Leeds City Vixens.

Over the following few years, Haigh played for Swindon Spitfires, Larkhall Athletic, Yeovil Town and Swindon Town before having a short spell in Denmark for FC Nordsjealland.

Haigh initially joined Coventry United in 2017 and spent almost two years there before trialing at Villa. Jay Bradford was her head coach and she played alongside players like Jade Brook, Nikki Miles, Anna Wilcox and Ali Hall.

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Outstanding player for Aston Villa

In the summer of 2019, Haigh joined Villa and was a key player in their Championship winning season.

Having won promotion to the WSL, Haigh’s defensive performances were vital once again in Villa’s quest to avoid relegation. Villa’s head coach Gemma Davison, and later Marcus Bignot, built the defensive line around Haigh. Alongside her were the likes of Elisha N’Dow and Anita Asante.

The transformation in the team’s defensive performances was nothing short of astonishing. In their final five games of 2020/21, Villa finished the season with five impressive draws. This included three clean sheets — notably one of them against Arsenal — and only conceding three goals.

Aston Villa narrowly avoided relegation. Haigh’s defensive performances were recognised by Her Football Hub as she was selected as one of our standout players of the season.

Confidence breeds confidence

Speaking to Her Football Hub, Haigh reflected on last season at Villa and how both Gemma Davies and Marcus Bignot aided her development.

“They taught me to be resilient, they allowed me to express myself with my performances. They reassured me that defending is an art and you can still be a good footballer without lighting up every game. Defending is still part of the game.

“That was essentially why I was able to perform the way I was towards the end of the season. Both Marcus and Gemma gave me that confidence. I was surrounded by good coaches.”

This season at Villa was very frustrating for Haigh due to a number of factors. This included suffering from concussion, then she became ill, then she had a minor muscle injury. Furthermore, head coach Carla Ward signed Meaghan Sargeant and Anna Patten on loan which meant Haigh’s chances were more limited.

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A message for the Villa faithful

When asked about the Aston Villa fans, Haigh had a message for them.

“The fans have always been unbelievable, especially the year we won the Championship. Last year was really difficult without them. Obviously being in a relegation battle it would have been great to have had them there,” she said.

“I will miss them. We do have a lot of loyal fans that follow us home and away. This is a group of people that commit to the club as much as hopefully we commit to the club. They travel hundreds of miles to come and watch us play and as a player that’s an incredible feeling. Hopefully I’ll see them again at a Coventry game.”

Loan move to Coventry United

Coventry United were very quick to come in for Haigh once they knew of her availability.

“I’m glad to be here and I’m glad to have an opportunity to hopefully get some minutes under my belt,” she said. “[I want to] help the team in their quest to get some points on the board.”

Haigh went on to talk about her new teammates and branded their attitude as “exceptional.”

“The provision they’ve got is unbelievable — just as good as WSL clubs that I’ve seen. They really want to fight for it. Part of the lure to come here was that there’s something to fight for.

“This is a club I’ve played for before. Maybe I feel like I’ve got a bit of unfinished business. It would be nice to support the club in hopefully staying in this division. That’s where it deserves to be.”

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Exciting future ahead for Coventry United

In discussing her new teammates, Haigh is excited for what lies ahead for both her and the team.

“There’s a number of girls that are playing or have played international football.

“Katie Wilkinson doesn’t win Championship Player of the Year and the Golden Boot for no reason. Hopefully I can help get her a few more goals to her name. She’s always someone I’ve played against and hated playing against for the nicest possible reasons.

“I’m really looking forward to be on the pitch with her as well as the likes of Olivia Fergusson and Charlie Estcourt. Additionally, there’s some really good talent here that’s yet to be unearthed.”

Can Coventry achieve mission impossible?

Haigh stressed the fact that the Championship is no easy ride when it comes to picking up points.

“Everyone knows the Championship is a difficult league, like the WSL,” she said. “Every game in the Championship is a game where we can look at and say we can take something from that.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work, grit and determination. Having been around the group I think they’ve got that in abundance.”

Aston Villa defender, and former teammate, Elisha N’Dow has also joined Coventry United on loan until the end of the season.

Coventry United are currently eleven points adrift from eleventh place Watford. However, this gap in points may yet be reduced depending on the outcome of the pending legal challenge.

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