The controversy over West Ham’s ejection from the Essex County Cup for putting Sunday’s Premier League match against Brighton first threatens to overshadow what could be one of the league’s most crucial games of the season.
The Londoners are still very much in the title race but will need to overcome the league leaders on Sunday to maintain a realistic hope of overhauling the four clubs ahead of them.
And with the Hammers still smarting from their 6-2 loss to the same club two weeks ago in the FAW Cup, after leading 2-0, there will be little need for motivation on either side when they meet on Sunday at Culver Road, Lancing.
West Ham manager Julian Dicks was highly critical of his team that day following their capitulation, and he promised changes in the coming matches.
Whether they will include new goalkeeper Nikki Duncan, who made her debut following her move from Copsewood Coventry in their 7-0 Capital Cup win over Haringey Borough last week, remains to be seen.
West Ham are six points behind Sunday’s opponents with a game in hand. But Cardiff City and Portsmouth are also ahead of them, and the Hammers do not have games to spare against either.
Another defeat would not put them out of the running for the coveted top spot and a play-off for a Super League place, but it would leave them needing a considerably better second half to the season than their impressive – but slightly inconsistent – first.
Dicks would argue that many of his new signings have now had time to settle in, and he will no doubt be driving them to sustain higher levels in the coming months.
But ominously for him – and the rest of the Premier League – Brighton, too, should be confident of a similarly impressive second half to the season.
They led at the halfway point despite being deprived of a number of players through injury during the autumn and early winter. But with most of their casualties now back in contention for first-team places, manager James Marrs is in the enviable position of having a large pool of talent to choose from.
Their FAW Cup victory over West Ham two weeks ago was their eighth in a row in all competitions.
Seagulls in Bluebirds’ sights
Brighton’s arch-rivals, Lewes, could do their Sussex neighbours a favour when they visit high-flying Cardiff City.
The Bluebirds are gliding serenely in the Seagulls’ slipstream, just two points behind but with a game in hand.
They are unbeaten at home and have the best goal difference in the division, so will prove ominous opponents for the Rookettes, who are hovering in mid-table during a transitional season in which they have struggled for consistency.
Tottenham Hotspur, who are on the fringes of the title race, in sixth place, could pile pressure on their rivals if they win at eighth-placed Plymouth Argyle.
Portsmouth, who have played only one league match since October, have scheduled their home game against Gillingham at the unusual venue of Locks Heath Recreation Ground.
Queens Park Rangers will be anxious to avoid another cup upset when they host KIKK United, of the London & South East Regional Women’s League, in the Capital Cup.
Earlier this month they bowed out of the FAW Cup to Eastbourne Town, who also play in the L&SERW League.
Copsewood Coventry have some respite from a challenging debut season in the Premier League when they visit Solihull in the Birmingham County Cup.
FAWPL South West Division One
Leaders Swindon Town could see their massive lead eroded a little on Sunday, when all three of their nearest challengers are in action.
Swindon, currently 10 points clear, are not playing, giving Forest Green Rovers and Exeter City a chance to make up ground with one of their three games in hand of the leaders.
Exeter are at home to Shanklin while Forest Green host Chichester City, who have sprung into decent form, winning their last two league games and losing only two of their last eight competitive fixtures.
Southampton Saints, who are second but have played the same number of games as Swindon, will expect to cut the gap by three points when they host St Nicholas, who have yet to pick up a point this season.
FAW Premier Reserves League
The new leaders of the reserves league, Brighton, will bid to extend the gap between them and second-placed West Ham United when they visit fifth-placed Queens Park Rangers.
Charlton Athletic can also make up ground on the Hammers, who are without a scheduled game, when they visit Chichester City.
Second-to-bottom Bedford are at home to Portsmouth.
Gillingham and Lewes are both in Reserves League Cup action, against Sheffield and Stoke City respectively.
London & South East Regional Women’s League
AFC Wimbledon and Old Actonians meet in a crunch promotion fixture. The Dons, currently second, are three points behind leaders Fulham Foundation with a game in hand. Their opponents are a further point behind but have an extra game in hand.
Fulham visit FAW Cup giant-killers Eastbourne Town, who need to start picking up points from their games in hand to pull away from the bottom of the league.
West Sussex meets East Sussex at Three Bridges, where Crawley Wasps are due to play Bexhill United.
And Hassocks continue their search for a first league win of the season, at home to Maidstone United.
Promotion-chasing Carshalton Athletic are due to play their Surrey County Cup tie at Chobham and Burymead, which was postponed last week.
And across the border, Aylesford and London Corinthians are due to play their rearranged Kent Women’s Cup tie.
South East Counties Women’s League
With the bulk of the teams in League Cup action, there is only one Premier Division fixture – South Park v Parkwood Rangers.
The only other league games are in the Kent Division, where second-placed Barming attempt to narrow the gap on runaway leaders Long Lane Reserves when they take on London Corinthians Reserves.
Bottom club Univeresity of Kent try again to record their first point of the season, at the team just above them in the table, Margate.
And Sheerness East take on Swale.
However, most of the SECWL attention will focus on the League Cup.
Two promotion-seeking sides from Division One West have ideal opportunities to test their Premier Division credentials, hosting opponents from the higher division.
Worthing Minors, who lead the charge for the Premier Division, test their 13-game 100% league and cup record against Anchorians, who lie in mid-table – and effectively only six places – above them.
Seahaven Harriers, who are currently third in Division One West, face an even tougher test, against Dartford Royals, who are having an excellent season themselves and are currently second in the Premier Division.
Wivelsfield Green, who are fifth in Division One West, are due to welcome Burgess Hill Town – formerly Haywards Heath – to their old stomping ground at Hanbury Stadium, weather permitting.
The fourth League Cup clash pits Premier Division rivals Herne Bay and Long Lane – third and fourth respectively – against each other.
There could be an upset on the cards at Crockenhill where the only Premier Division side in the Chairman’s Cup face one of the teams eyeing their Premier Division place.
Prince of Wales have led Division One East for much of the season, having won seven of their nine league games.
And they returned to winning ways last weekend, winning 7-0 against Teynham Gunners after crashing to promotion rivals Ashford in their previous fixture.
By contrast, Crockenhill are marooned at the bottom of the Premier Division, having won only once this campaign and being knocked out of the League Cup by Division One West leaders Worthing Minors.
Ashford also have an excellent chance of progressing – the in-form promotion challengers host Burgess Hill 2nds, who lie seventh in the parallel Division One West.
In Sunday’s other scheduled tie, Aylesford Reserves, second-to-bottom in Division One East, are at home to Bexhill United Reserves, who occupy the same spot in Division One West.
The fourth quarter-final, between Abbey Rangers and Faversham Elizabethans, is scheduled for the following Sunday.
There are also two Kent FA Plate ties – Anchorians 3rds play Castle Colts and Anchorians 2nds are due to host Faversham.
Sussex County Women and Girls Football League
The bottom four in the Women’s Division are in action.
Worthing Town seek their first point of the season after their draw with the now withdrawn Predators was wiped out. They visit Henfield, who are one place and three points above them from a game more, having won just once all season.
Jarvis Brook and Hurstpierpoint, whose comfortable mid-table positions have now become slightly less so following Predators withdrawal from the small division, meet in the knowledge that a win could help towards a top-half finish, thanks to their games in hand of most of the teams above them.
All matches are subject to alteration or cancellation. Check with clubs for latest details.