Cup action again disrupts the league programme as counties’ knockout competitions approach their final stages.
Six members of the Premier League are involved in their county cups – including the all-Premier clash between Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United in the semi-finals of the Capital Cup.
Charlton Athletic feature in the other semi – against Enfield Town, from Division One East.
Copsewood Coventry host Birmingham & West Midlands Police in the same stage of the Birmingham County Cup.
And two of the league’s most successful teams of the season also have home ties as they look to secure their places back in the final of their respective competitions.
Portsmouth, the Hampshire Challenge Cup holders, host Poole Town, of the South West Women’s League’s Eastern Division – some three levels below them.
With Pompey unbeaten in all competitions since the first day of the season, it would be an upset of unprecedented proportions at this level if Poole were to deny Portsmouth – whose in-form striker Ini Umotong has been called up to the Nigerian national squad – a place in yet another county cup final – against either Andover New Street or Southampton Saints.
It would be a similar shock if high-flying Brighton were to fall at home to Hassocks in their Sussex Challenge Cup semi.
James Marrs’ team, who were knocked off the top of the Premier League last week by Cardiff City, have won seven of the last 10 county cup finals and have only once failed to reach the final in that period.
Last season they lost 3-0 in the final to Chichester City, but they are a different proposition this season, having lost only two of their 13 league games.
Hassocks, by contrast, are rock-bottom of the London & South East Counties Regional Women’s League, and have not even managed a victory in their 14 league games to date.
Having already lost by margins of 6-0, 6-1 and 11-0 this season, they will be braced for another onslaught. However, the cup has proved their salvation, and the West Sussex club have enjoyed 10-1 and 6-1 victories in the Sussex County Cup.
Seahaven target cup holders
A more realistic hope of an upset comes in the other Sussex semi-final, where Chichester City, who won the trophy for the first time last season, are at home to Seahaven Harriers, the lowest-ranked club left in the competition.
Matt Wright’s team will rightly be favourites to reach their second consecutive final – and third in five years – but they must not under-estimate their opponents, who may play their football three levels below them but have been in fine form this season.
They are currently second in Division One West of the South East Counties League, having scored 40 goals in 10 games. But their season has been disrupted by the weather, and they have played just five times since November – including a League Cup defeat to Dartford Royals, who play in the tier above Seahaven but still two below Chichester.
However, the Greens should still have too much fire power for their opponents, providing they can rediscover their form in what has been a disappointingly inconsistent first season in the FAW Premier League Division One South West.
They lie in mid-table, having won four and lost six of their 11 matches.
Also in county cup action are South Park, who host AFC Wimbledon, title contenders in the league above them, in the Surrey Challenge Cup.
Cardiff bid to extend gap
With so many cup ties taking place, there are only two Premier League fixtures. And there is an ideal opportunity for new leaders Cardiff City to extend the gap between them and second-placed Brighton.
They host Plymouth Argyle, who despite enjoying no better than an average maiden Premier League season, have the honour of being the only team to have beaten Cardiff in the league – a 2-1 success back in September.
The Welsh side will be confident of revenge now, though, having won nine and drawn two of their 11 games since then.
Lewes‘ hopes of a quick return to form after the disappointment of their home defeat to Gillingham last weekend have been dashed, as their game at the Dripping Pan against bottom club Keynsham Town has been postponed because of the state of the pitch.
The only match in the FAWPL Division One South West is between Exeter City and Larkhall Athletic. The Devon side continue their catch-up campaign needing a win to enhance their promotion hopes.
Brighton Reserves look to boost goals tally
Brighton‘s reserves will also be hoping to hit the goals jackpot when they host struggling Bedford Reserves in the FAW Premier Reserves League.
Brighton have scored 74 goals in their 15 games – 11 of which they have won – while Bedford have conceded 52 in 13 and have just one win and one draw this season.
Charlton Athletic, who are joint-top, have a much trickier fixture, at fourth-placed Crystal Palace, while West Ham visit improving Chichester City.
Fifth-placed Portsmouth visit C&K Basildon, looking to get back to winning ways following two successive 2-2 draws.
Gillingham could rise above Chichester – with whom they drew 0-0 last week – if the Sussex side lose to West Ham and they beat Queens Park Rangers at home.
Edited on February 14 to include the postponement of Lewes v Keynsham Town