Sent Her Forward takes a look at the first fixtures of 2015
The new year kicks off with a local derby that might once have featured as much needle as your average Christmas tree.
Or at least it would if it wasn’t for the weather.
The showdown is scheduled for the Dripping Pan where Lewes are due to take on the Premier League Southern leaders, Brighton.
But after the men’s fixture at the ground was postponed on Saturday, it looks unlikely that the women’s game will go ahead. A pitch inspection is scheduled for the morning.
Separated by half a dozen miles and 15 league points, and both with Super League ambitions, the pair are already fierce rivals.
And with Lewes now managed by ex-Brighton boss John Donoghue – and several players likely to feature against their former clubs – there’s plenty at stake again this time.
Not least, Brighton – now managed by James Marrs – have a score to settle after their East Sussex rivals finished one place above them last season, helped by a victory in their penultimate game at the Withdean. Brighton had beaten Lewes 6-0 at the Dripping Pan earlier in the season.
But Sunday’s is the first meeting of the sides this time around – Lewes having controversially pulled their development side out of a Sussex County Cup clash with Brighton in November.
Ironically, the traditional rivalry between the pair is probably now surpassed by that between Brighton and Gillingham following Marrs’ move from the Kent club, along with many of their key players.
But Sunday’s game still has much significance for both sides.
While Lewes are comfortable in mid-table, Donoghue and the likes of former Brighton defenders Rebecca Thompson-Agbro and Yasmine Poole and striker Cherelle Khassal will be keen to strike a blow to the league leaders’ title hopes, while getting their own season back on track.
Brighton, though, are formidable opponents. They lead the league at the halfway stage by two points, although they have played more games than two of their biggest challengers, Cardiff City and Portsmouth.
They have won seven games in a row – including four in the league – and have lost only twice in all competitions.
Marrs has identified Lewes’s work rate as a key area to combat and has urged his players to match their opponents in that respect. And he told the club’s website: “There will be no excuses come Sunday. We’ll be well prepared in order to get a good result.”
Donoghue, meanwhile, is keen to see more commitment from some Lewes players. He told his club’s website he wanted better attendance at training and availability for games, adding: “We play in the top tier of winter football and to play at this level takes a huge commitment, often costing players money to play by leaving work early or travelling to training.
“We need to recognise that unless we do more than our opponents and make sacrifices, then we won’t get the rewards.”
Cardiff bid to avenge shock defeat
Elsewhere in the Premier League, Cardiff, Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth are ready to pounce on any slip-up by Brighton.
Cardiff, currently two points behind with a game in hand, host Plymouth Argyle – the only team to get the better of them this season.
The Welsh side are on a magnificent run, unbeaten in 11 matches – a sequence that includes seven wins and two draws in the Premier League. They are the league’s second-top scorers, with 44 from 11 games, and they boast two of the top three individual top scorers in Kelly Aldridge, who has 21 in 13 games, and Cori Williams (16 in 14).
They have also recently added Welsh international Sarah Wiltshire to their ranks, following her winter loan move from Yeovil Town.
Plymouth have started well following their promotion from the South West Combination League, with 11 points from their nine games so far – including three from a shock 2-1 victory over Cardiff at the start of the season.
But they will have to be at their best to conjure up anything like a repeat against one of the division’s in-form teams.
Fringe players boost Pompey
The only team currently enjoying a better run are Portsmouth, who have not lost since Cardiff beat them on the opening day of the season.
They visit struggling Gillingham on the back of a run of 13 wins and a draw in 14 league and cup games, winning eight of their 10 league fixtures before Christmas.
Perry Northeast’s squad have scored steadily in the league and prolifically against lower-level opposition in various cup competitions, where emerging players have had the chance to play alongside established first-team names.
The introduction of more fringe players means that they have been better able to deal with this season’s injury problems than last time around, when an injury crisis contributed to their late stutter which ultimately cost them any chance of the title.
Goals have been spread around the team, with Lucy Quinn, last season’s top scorer, again leading the way with 10 in all competitions. But recent signing Ini Umotong is close behind, with nine in eight, while Charley Wilson also has nine, and Gemma Hillier had already totted up eight before a knee injury disrupted her season in late October.
Gillingham will be hard-pressed to halt the Portsmouth juggernaut at the Priestfield Stadium, having struggled to find consistency this season following the summer exodus of players and coaching staff to Brighton.
They are currently two places off the bottom, with just seven points from their 13 games, in which they have scored 19 times – six of which came in one of only two victories – a 6-2 win over Copsewood Coventry. But manager Simon Ratcliffe has had more problems in defence – their 45 conceded is second only to bottom club Keynsham Town.
Gillingham and Portsmouth will meet again – at Chatham Town FC – the following Sunday, in the FAW Cup.
Stop Press: The game at the Priestfield Stadium has been called off.
Free-scoring Charlton target top spot
The other side eyeing a return to the top are Charlton Athletic, who entertain Copsewood Coventry knowing that if Brighton and Cardiff lose, victory would enable them to leapfrog both.
The league’s top scorers with 48 goals will be expected to fulfil their part of the bargain against a side that has won only once in their debut season at this level.
Late update: This game was also called off on Saturday evening.
Tottenham Hotspur will be hoping for a repeat of their 3-1 win at Queens Park Rangers last month when they host the return fixture on Sunday.
Spurs still harbour title hopes despite four defeats already this season, while QPR are comfortable in mid-table.
Update: This match was called off on Saturday evening.
Keynsham Town aim to build on their most recent result when they take on West Ham United, having secured their first point of the season in a 3-3 draw with Plymouth in their last outing on December 14.
They have already beaten the Hammers, grabbing a shock 3-1 win in the League Cup back in August, but have lost 11 of their 12 league matches, scoring only 11 goals in the process and conceding 64, and they already look favourites for relegation.
This article was edited on January 3 to reflect the postponements of Gillingham v Portsmouth, Charlton Athletic v Copsewood Coventry and Spurs v QPR, and doubts over Lewes v Brighton.