On spot the Lucy Gra­ham scores the penalty that earned Bris­tol City a draw with Manch­ester City

Af­ter her mother’s death, Lucy Gra­ham’s form dipped. Now re­vi­talised at Bris­tol City and with Kim Lit­tle ab­sent, she aims to stake her claim in Spain

The Herald on Sunday - - FOOTBALL - BY ALAN CAMP­BELL

HAV­ING redis­cov­ered her ap­petite for foot­ball fol­low­ing a sum­mer move from Hiber­nian to FA WSL club Bris­tol City, mid­fielder Lucy Gra­ham hopes a long- awaited se­cond Scot­land cap will be forth­com­ing in the friendlies against Nor­way and Ice­land.

Gra­ham and her team-mates fly out to their La Manga train­ing base to­mor­row and will face the Nor­we­gians on Thurs­day, with the Ice­landers four days later. The ab­sence of Arse­nal cap­tain Kim Lit­tle, de­spite her re­mark­ably quick re­turn to club foot­ball last Sun­day, will im­prove Gra­ham’s chances of get­ting game time. Both play in the No 10 po­si­tion.

The death of Gra­ham’s mother Ruth, which the player spoke about with can­dour in these pages last Jan­uary, threat­ened to blow the 22-year-old’s ca­reer off course. She learned of the tragedy on her re­turn to Ed­in­burgh Air­port with the Scot­land squad in Oc­to­ber 2017 – and that was to prove her last in­volve­ment with the na­tional team un­til Shel­ley Kerr rein­tro­duced her for the La Manga friendlies.

The player cel­e­brated her re­turn to in­ter­na­tional duty last Sun­day by scor­ing from the spot to earn Bris­tol a 1-1 draw against ti­tle chas­ing Manch­ester City. She won the penalty her­self, some­thing she may be re­mind­ing fel­low Scot Jen Beat­tie, who brought her down, dur­ing this week.

That made it 11 goals in 15 games since mov­ing to Eng­land last July, an out­stand­ing re­turn at any club but es­pe­cially one that is com­pet­ing against pow­er­houses such as Arse­nal, Chelsea and Manch­ester City.

Gra­ham plays along­side an­other Scot­land player, Frankie Brown, and for­mer Spar­tans goal­keeper Eartha Cum­ings, who joined the club at the same time as Gra­ham. While the 19-year-old, re­garded as an out­stand­ing prospect in goal­keep­ing cir­cles, is hav­ing to bide her time, Gra­ham is thriv­ing un­der man­ager Tanya Ox­toby. The Aus­tralian joined from Birm­ing­ham City as re­place­ment for Wil­lie Kirk just prior to the ar­rival of the two

Scots.

“She’s re­ally good,” Gra­ham said. “I took to her as soon as I met her. She’s driven and knows what she wants.”

The box-to-box mid­fielder, who played 23 games for the Scot­land Un­der-19 side, lat­terly as cap­tain, and scored seven goals, has found the step up to the full team prob­lem­atic. She wasn’t af­forded any op­por­tu­ni­ties by the pre­vi­ous coach­ing regime, which ran­kles, but her time ap­peared to have ar­rived when she was given a de­but cap in Kerr’s first game, a 3-0 friendly win against Hun­gary in Septem­ber 2017.

Then, a month later, her mother died when the squad were in Minsk for their open­ing World Cup qual­i­fier against Be­larus. Gra­ham has no is­sue about be­ing omit­ted by Kerr since then, as not only did she with­draw from Hibs’ fi­nal games of the 2017 sea­son, but she was un­able to re­cover her old spark in the open­ing months of 2018.

“Ab­so­lutely, my form dipped,” the mid­fielder ad­mit­ted. “My mum’s death is still in the back of mind now, but it doesn’t af­fect me in the same way. I use it to drive me for­ward, rather than get­ting me down.”

The other fac­tor in Gra­ham’s resur­gence is the switch to pro­fes­sional foot­ball. While in Ed­in­burgh she had a part-time job in a su­per­mar­ket to pay the bills, but that has all changed in Bris­tol.

“Hibs were great with me and gave me the plat­form to play but, un­for­tu­nately, they’re not full time,” Gra­ham said. “You also don’t get the ex­po­sure in Scot­land that you do here. Im­proved fit­ness, in­clud­ing dou­ble ses­sions two days a week, isn’t just about how far you can run. It’s a lot more than that. My whole game has come on.

“I had a taste of full-time foot­ball when I went to Swe­den [in 2015]. I knew it’s what I wanted and that I needed to get out of my com­fort zone and test my po­ten­tial. I found that op­por­tu­nity here and I’ve jus­ti­fied my­self so it has worked in my favour.”

De­spite the vast gulf in re­sources north and south of the bor­der, Gra­ham be­lieves her old club and Glas­gow City are both un­der­rated in Eng­land.

“I found it fairly easy to adapt at Bris­tol,” she said. “Scot­tish foot­ball some­times doesn’t get the credit it de­serves. A lot of play­ers have tran­si­tioned down to the English league al­most seam­lessly. Scot­tish foot­ball has given them the back­ground that they can play at this level.”

My mum’s death is still in my mind, but it doesn’t af­fect me in the same way

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