Clubs bid to make up for lost time before Christmas break

Highlights of Sunday’s women’s football programme in the South East

Waterlogged pitch at Oaklands Park, Chichester

Unfit pitches have already started affecting some teams

It’s the final round of fixtures of 2014 for most sides this weekend, but for some, it’s hopefully a welcome return to competitive action after weeks of postponements because of unfit pitches.

Some sides haven’t played since October, enabling others to pull away from them in their respective leagues to grab a psychological advantage.

And there will be plenty of players aching to get back into league action after their enforced lay-offs.

Not least in the FAW Premier League, where Portsmouth play their first league match for nearly two months, at home to Tottenham Hotspur.

Pompey, who have not lost in any competition since the opening day of the season, have lost ground on the leading clubs, who have continued playing when the Hampshire club’s fixtures have been postponed or cup matches have taken priority.

But they are still only three points behind the latest leaders, Charlton Athletic, with three games in hand, and have played two games fewer than Brighton, who are level on points with the leaders.

In the meantime, Pompey have faced a different quality of opponent, in the League Cup, where they disposed of Mossley Hill 6-1, and in the Hampshire County Cup, where they booked a quarter-final place by beating AFC Boscombe 13-0.

It has enabled manager Perry Northeast to blood some of the fringe and development players – to great effect, with Chloe Dark scoring in both games and Laura Newsome bagging four in last week’s double-figures victory.

However, he will put out what he considers his strongest side against Spurs for a match that could take them level with the top two if results go their way – or see them overtaken by their opponents if they don’t.

Charlton will have to overcome West Ham, who are still in the title hunt despite playing only nine league games so far, if they are to remain top, with Brighton expected to pick up maximum points in the return fixture of their opening-day encounter against Copsewood Coventry.

Cardiff City could also go top, depending on other results, if they win at Gillingham, while Lewes will be looking to record their third successive league victory – albeit over a six-week period – when they return to league action at Queens Park Rangers.

Keynsham Town will bid for their first point of the season at the 12th time of asking when they host Plymouth Argyle.

Roles reversed in Reserves League

In the sort of quirk of the fixture list that crops up occasionally, it’s Charlton‘s turn to try to knock the leaders out of their stride when they host West Ham‘s high-flying second string.

But whereas Charlton’s first team play the same opponents knowing they will probably need a win to stay top, their reserves know that even victory over West Ham will not be enough to knock the leaders off their perch.

West Ham are currently seven points clear, having lost only one game all season. Charlton, who are third, could go second if they win and Brighton fail to beat Crystal Palace.

However, the South Coast side will fancy their chances of breaking the 50-goal barrier for the season after racking up recent wins of 11-0, 8-0 and 9-0, marred only by league and cup defeats to West Ham and the concession of their match at Portsmouth at the beginning of last month.

Chichester City‘s development side, fresh from their first win in the division last Sunday, will be looking to build on it at home to Bedford, while the team they beat, Lewes, continue their quest for a maiden victory when they visit C&K Basildon.

Gillingham, who enjoyed a morale-boosting victory over Charlton in the Reserves League Cup last Sunday, attempt to pull away from the bottom when they travel to Queens Park Rangers.

Division One promotion race hots up

Four of the five top contenders for promotion from Division One South West are in direct combat on Sunday, with the pick of the fixtures the second v third clash between former leaders Forest Green Rovers and in-form Southampton Saints.

Swindon Town will attempt to preserve their three-point lead at the top at home to Shanklin, who find themselves in sixth place after playing three cup ties on the bounce.

However, a shock victory over the leaders, who – like Shanklin – have lost only once in the league, would keep them on course for a tilt at the title in the new year.

Exeter City, the other team well-placed to mount a promotion challenge, will seek to keep the pressure on the top three when they visit Cheltenham Town.

Chichester City, fresh from the heartbreak of defeat on penalties to Eastbourne Town in the FAW Cup last week, visit Larkhall Athletic anxious not to be dragged into the competition at the other end of the table.

And Gosport Borough bid to break their points duck in the Premier League when they travel to St Nicholas, who are just one place above them.

Grassroots highlights

London & South East Regional League leaders Fulham Foundation will be in no mood to let Hassocks interfere with their title bid when they travel to Sussex to take on the bottom club.

AFC Wimbledon will also expect to take all three points at home to Aylesford after beating them 6-3 in the reverse fixture last week – a defeat that dropped the Kent side back into the relegation battle after a recent resurgence.

And Bexhill United will be braced for a tough encounter with an effervescent Eastbourne Town in their local derby in East Sussex following Eastbourne’s FAW Cup victory over Chichester City last week.

The top two in the South East Counties Women’s League meet in Kent, where Meridian host leaders Dartford Royals.

Several Premier Division clubs are involved in League Cup matches, the pick of which is Herne Bay‘s tie at home to Parkwood Rangers.

Charlton Athletic Development will be bidding to cause an upset when they host Anchorians, from the division above them.

Worthing Town will also have designs on an upset when they visit Premier Division strugglers Crockenhill in the Chairman’s Cup.

The top two in Division One East also clash – Prince of Wales at home to Ashford, while the bottom pair – Castle Colts and Aylesford Reserves – meet in a basement battle – the visitors’ first game since November 9.

Worthing Minors bid to make it 10 wins out of 10 in Division One West when they host Burgess Hill 2nds. And Long Lane Reserves will aim for their ninth win in nine matches in the Kent Division, at home to London Corinthians Reserves.

By contrast, University of Kent will try for a 10th time to get off the mark at the opposite end of the Kent Division when they host Sheerness East.

In the Sussex County Women and Girls League, it will surely be a question of how many leaders Lancing score at Women’s Division bottom club Predators.

Lancing beat the Bognor-based side 14-0 in their first ever league match at the start of the season and have now scored 59 goals in their eight games, including a 7-2 win over Worthing Town last Sunday.

Predators have taken only one point in their eight league games to date, and crashed 16-0 to Hurstpierpoint last Sunday.

Another team defending a 100% record is Southdown Under-16s, who visit Royal Tunbridge Wells in the reverse of their encounter last month, which the Sussex side won 13-0.

In the Surrey Under-18 League, third-placed Crawley Town are at Beecholme Belles, and Horsham Sparrows – who have lost all seven of their games – are at home to Kingstonian Youth.

Portsmouth‘s Under-18s travel to Fleetlands in the Portsmouth and District Senior Cup.

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