Portsmouth and Lewes meet for the fourth time this season, each struggling to disguise their keenness to look beyond their FA Cup third-round clash to a potential meeting with one of women’s football élite.
The two Premier League Southern clubs have mixed feelings about yet another encounter with familiar opposition, having played twice in the league as well as in the Premier League Cup this season.
But while there is local pride at stake, more important for both is the possibility of testing their progress against one of the country’s top Super League sides.
Pompey and Lewes are separated by just two places and two points in the crowded middle section of the Premier League.
They know each other’s game pretty well.
Perry Northeast, Portsmouth’s joint-manager, told Sent Her Forward: “Bar the top two (Cardiff City and Gillingham), both of whom can still be caught, and the two at the other end, everyone is very close.
“Everybody can beat everybody.”
And while Sunday’s match, on a 3G pitch at Furze Lane, Portsmouth, is a knockout tie, he is approaching the game in much the same way as he did the clubs’ league encounters.
The clubs have a victory apiece in the league, but Lewes won their League Cup clash.
“I don’t think much changes in terms of preparation,” he said. “Perhaps the team talk slightly changes because the motivation is already there for the players.”
He added: “All three have been games with some good football, but they have also turned into battles on occasion.
“Both teams have a good team ethos and good team spirit. [Lewes’s] togetherness is very good and they are hard to break down.”
But for him and his counterpart at Lewes, Jacquie Agnew, the third-round tie is really about one thing – the fourth round.
“This is a big round because the Super League 1 clubs come in after this. It would be a good chance for us to see how we are as a developmental side,” he said.
Agnew agrees. She told Sent Her Forward: “We want to progress because ideally I would love to draw a Super League team. That would be the icing on the cake.
“We progress every season and are building for the future. I would like to benchmark where we are, and playing against a Super League team would help us do that and indicate whether we are on the right road.”
Agnew acknowledges the FA Cup is more about measuring that progress than the prospect of glory.
“We can’t compete with Super League 1 teams at the moment, but the FA Cup has always been my second priority, and it is important to go as far as we can,” she said.
Of Lewes’s opponents, she says: “It’s 2-1 in our favour at the moment, and it is going to be a tough game. There is a bit at stake in terms of the ratios (of wins).”
She said she and her opposite numbers at Portsmouth were keen to get the game played to avoid a fixture backlog.
The match had already been switched from Portsmouth’s normal home venue of West Leigh Park to Blackfield & Langley’s ground near Fawley.
But with another ominous weather forecast predicting more heavy rain, the club has switched it to the all-weather facilities at the University of Portsmouth complex.
The teams had mixed preparation for Sunday’s game, each playing in different cup competitions last weekend.
Lewes went down to a solitary strike from in-form Cardiff in the League Cup, while Portsmouth thrashed Aldershot 17-0 in the Hampshire Cup.
Northeast said: “We needed a game because we haven’t had many games recently. Whereas in another scenario we may have put out an experimental side, I wanted to field a strong side because we needed the pitch time.”
He and fellow joint-manager Katie Poore were still able to give a first-team debut to Jodie Goodall as they start to integrate some of the next generation of players into the set-up following the loss of the likes of Leeta Rutherford to the Super League.
They hope to be able to select from a full squad on Sunday, while Lewes – who have lost Naomi Cole to Millwall Lionesses – may be able to welcome back one or two of their players who have been out with medium-term injuries.
Sent Her Forward will bring news of the game – assuming it beats the weather – on Sunday.