The congestion at the top of the southern division of the FAW Premier League could become even tighter after Sunday’s matches as the race for the Super League play-off place becomes ever more intense.
Four points separate the top five as the clubs approach the halfway point of the season – and even the teams in sixth and seventh place harbour realistic hopes of a tilt at the title – which this season carries the promise of a two-leg play-off against the winners of the northern division for a place in WSL2 in 2016.
Locked at the very top are two of the season’s outstanding sides – Portsmouth, unbeaten in 11 league and cup games, and free-scoring Cardiff City, the only team to beat them this season.
The Welsh side lead the table on goal difference – effectively their 7-3 opening-day victory over Pompey, who were controversially reduced to 10 players early in the contest.
Both have tough fixtures this weekend – Cardiff at Queens Park Rangers, fresh from their 8-1 win at Keynsham Town last Sunday, and Portsmouth at home to an inconsistent West Ham United, who despite three defeats already are only four points behind the leaders.
However, if results don’t go their way, Charlton Athletic could leapfrog both to the summit if they win at title rivals Brighton in one of the most attractive-looking games of the weekend.
Charlton have outscored every side in the division, with 37 from nine games, and in Kit Graham they have the season’s stand-out striker.
Graham has scored 20 goals in 12 league and cup games – nine more than her nearest club rival, Samantha Pittuck, who was this week shortlisted for FAWPL Players’ Player of the Year for season 2013-14.
Pittuck was one of three southern division nominees in a shortlist of four – alongside Portsmouth’s Lucy Quinn and Charlotte Gurr, now with Brighton, but one of the driving forces behind Gillingham’s brilliant campaign last season.
Her manager, James Marrs, whom she followed to Brighton in the close season, is one of three contenders for FAWPL Manager of the Year, alongside Sheffield’s Helen Mitchell and Craig Nicholls, who denied Gillingham the title when he steered his Coventry City to a nail-biting last-day success.
Elsewhere in the Premier League on Sunday, Tottenham Hotspur, who are also in with a chance of winning the league, visit struggling Gillingham, who will no doubt have the words of their manager Simon Ratcliffe still ringing in their ears when they take the field bidding to make amends for last Sunday’s capitulation against Charlton.
Ratcliffe publicly criticised their performance and attitude this week, and following the victory on penalties of a Gillingham side comprising largely reserve players in the Ryman League Cup on Wednesday, it seems likely there could be changes on Sunday.
Lewes will look to reach mid-table safety after slipping uncomfortably down the league when they visit Keynsham Town, who have yet to pick up a point this season.
And Plymouth Argyle will hope to do likewise when they play Copsewood Coventry, who have won only once in the league all season.
FAW Cup 3rd Qualifying Round
There are no Premier League Division One fixtures, as many of the clubs are in FAW Cup action.
Chichester City, along with Bedford, have a bye into the next round, but Gosport Borough, Shanklin and the form team, Southampton Saints, all play.
Eastbourne Town will have strong hopes of a giant-killing when they host injury-hit Gosport, from the next tier. Borough have been without their first-choice goalkeeper nearly all season, having to play outfield players in goal on occasion.
And more than once they have finished games with less than a full side, so it’s little wonder they have endured a nightmare sequence of results, including 20 goals conceded in their last two league and cup games – and 50 in total this campaign.
Southampton Saints should have no such worries about confidence as they prepare to take on Swindon Spitfires, from one of their division’s feeder leagues.
Saints are now up to second in Division One South West after a superb run of results, with only one defeat in their last seven league and cup matches.
Shanklin, the only team to beat them during that period, visit London & South East Counties side Maidenhead United.
FAW Premier Reserves League Southern
Two fine contests are in store: fourth-placed Portsmouth host Brighton, who are second, both having lost just once this season.
And the bottom two meet in a Sussex derby, each striving for their first victory in the competition.
Chichester City, who despite having scored only two goals all season, are off the bottom on goal difference, are at home to a young Lewes side, who have also struggled to come to terms with what was a big step up for most of their players.
Their goal difference was wrecked a fortnight ago when they lost 9-0 at Brighton, who fielded an unusually high number of players with first-team experience after some of the development side were promoted for a County Cup tie.
London & South East Regional Women’s League
Hassocks‘ hopes of a first league win of the campaign are high ahead of their visit to fellow strugglers Bexhill United.
Hassocks hit 10 in a County Cup victory over Worthing Town, but they lost on their return to league action last weekend, against Eastbourne Town.
However, Bexhill have had a miserable campaign so far, too, winning just once – at Hassocks in the reverse fixture.
Victory for either could see Aylesford tumble back down to second-to-bottom if they fail to pick up a point against Maidstone United.
And Old Actonians could find themselves in the thick of the promotion race if they win at home to Crawley Wasps.
Actonians are the only unbeaten team left in the division, and are only two points off the top with two games in hand.
South East Counties Women’s League Cup
Plenty of eyes on cup upsets, too, in the South East Counties League, where the Premier League and two Division One sides compete for a trophy won last season by Herne Bay.
The Kent side are not in action to defend their title until next weekend, when they are due to play Abbey Rangers.
Of this Sunday’s games, the pick is probably Worthing Minors v Crockenhill. Minors lead Division One West with a 100% record, and will fancy their chances against the Premier League side.
Also in with a chance of a giant-killing are Prince of Wales, who lead Division One East. They visit South Park, who until last week’s impressive 3-1 victory over Eastbourne, had been bottom of the Premier Division.
Burgess Hill will need to be on their toes if they are to see off Ashford, who are second in Division One East, while Eastbourne will also be anxious to avoid defeat to a lower-league side when they travel to Castle Colts.
Premier League Dartford Royals and Parkwood Rangers will be reasonably confident of seeing off the challenges of Faversham Elizabethans and Worthing Town, of Division One East and West respectively.
Wivelsfield Green are through to the next round following the demise of their scheduled opponents, Rusthall, who have folded amid difficulties in retaining players, according to the league.
Sussex County Women & Girls League
A rare full schedule of matches in the Women’s Division throw up some fascinating contests.
Lewes, currently top, having played more games than any other side, host third-placed Rottingdean Village, who have won their last two matches after a surprise opening-day defeat.
But possibly the most intriguing fixture is scheduled for Cowfold, where Hurstpierpoint, whose game against Lancing last week was called off, are due to play Crawley Wasps, whose boast of being one of only two unbeaten sides in the league is undermined somewhat by the fact that they have played only two games.
None the less, victory over Hurstpierpoint would throw them right into the title race.
Second-placed Lancing, who have won all three of their fixtures, are at home to Jarvis Brook, who have lost three of their four.
Henfield, who have won only once, are at home to Predators – one of two teams yet to record a victory.
Unusual goings-on in Sussex’s top youth league, too, where every team in the division is in action – yes, all four in a season of constant concern about the sustainability of teenage girls’ football in the county.
Southdown, the leaders, will be looking to make it four wins out of four at home to Royal Tunbridge Wells, who have lost both their matches so far.
Hawks Youth Withdean seek their first victory of the season at home to Bexhill United.
Surrey County Women and Girls Football League
Leaders Crawley Town are at home to Kempton, who have yet to win this season. Horsham Sparrows, who have yet to pick up even a point, travel to Crystal Palace, who have made a fine start, with four wins and a draw taking them into second place.