The weekend starts here – Sent Her Forward’s football preview
Those dreams of FA Cup glory that come around at the start of every campaign may be over for another season for many teams in the region, but for nearly half the clubs in the Premier League’s southern division, those hopes are still alive.
Four teams from the southern half of the Premier League – plus one from the next level down – are still involved in women’s football’s most prestigious knockout tournament as the competition hots up.
Portsmouth and Keynsham Town both play Super League opposition, while Spurs face Premier League northern counterparts Derby County, and Charlton Athletic host a London derby against Division One South East side Crystal Palace.
With the élite from WSL1 due to join the fray in the fifth round, there’s a lot at stake for all 16 teams taking part this weekend.
Sent Her Forward takes a look at the prospects for the south’s remaining cup competitors.
Portsmouth v Millwall Lionesses
A full preview of this game is available here. Pompey welcome WSL 2 Millwall to Cams Alders for their third competitive match against Super League opposition. Having beaten Durham – who finished two places above the Lionesses – last season before bowing out to Notts County, and riding high in second place in this year’s Premier League, the Hampshire side will have high hopes of claiming another Super League scalp.
However, Millwall not only have a season of Super League football behind them now, but they have more focus under new boss Dan Mlinar, who has brought in some new faces, according to last season’s captain Naomi Cole.
And she insists there is no danger of under-estimating the Premier League side – particularly after, in her words, they played her team off the park in a pre-season friendly.
Portsmouth’s confidence was sky-high before last week’s League Cup semi-final defeat to Sheffield, ending a run of 20 games unbeaten. The key to Sunday may well be whether they can bounce back from what to them was the unusual experience of losing a game.
Prediction: Oh so close. But could Pompey’s pre-season victory over the Londoners backfire?
Watford v Keynsham Town
It feels like a mis-match as the team who finished seventh in the inaugural WSL2 take on a side who have yet to beat a fellow Premier League club this season.
Keynsham’s journey to the fourth round has pitted them against only lower-league opposition, but they saw off two sides flying high in their respective divisions – the FAWPL’s Division One South West and the London & South East Regional Women’s League – in fine style.
Watford, who, like most Super League teams, have evolved over the winter, are a bit of an unknown quantity. But even without the likes of Jo Wilson, last season’s joint-top scorer, and Sarah Wiltshire, who switched mid-season to Yeovil Town before signing for Manchester City, they put Premier League high-fliers Brighton to the sword in the last round, shortly after returning to pre-season training.
They also include former Brighton and Chichester City player Hollie Wride and Yasmine Poole, who has played for both Brighton and Lewes.
Keynsham have had a desperate league season and are rock-bottom of the Premier League Southern, with just a single point from 14 games.
But they shone in their two FAW Cup ties, beating Forest Green Rovers 4-2 after extra-time in round two and Carshalton Athletic 5-2 in the last round- both away from home.
Prediction: Straightforward progress for Watford
Charlton Athletic v Crystal Palace
Having reached two cup finals already this season and with a League Cup semi-final still to play, Charlton’s cup form suggests only one winner on Sunday as they host lower-league opposition.
Still in with a chance of winning the Premier League, and having beaten one of the favourites, Brighton, in two different competitions this season, Charlton are on a high as they approach the final stage of what has been another enthralling campaign.
Their 2-0 win over Brighton in the Premier League Cup last Sunday will ensure they are full of confidence when they take on Crystal Palace, who are third in South East Division One.
Palace, on the other hand, have little to lose. They thought they were out of the FA Cup after losing 3-0 to Super League Reading in the third round, but were granted a lifeline after the FA threw the victors out for fielding an ineligible player.
Prediction: Charlton to continue their cup adventure
Derby County v Tottenham Hotspur
On the face of it, probably the most evenly balanced of all the ties involving Premier League Southern clubs.
Spurs have displayed good form in some of their league matches this campaign, but their inconsistency has been their undoing.
They were unbeaten until being thumped by Cardiff in late September; then failed to win another league game until November. Most of their victories have been against teams below them, and they made light work of FAWPL Northern counterparts Preston North End in the last round.
They also ran high-flying Sheffield close in the Premier League Cup in October before going down 1-0.
Their hosts, Derby County, are at the wrong end of the Premier League Northern, with only three league victories so far.
They were taken to extra-time by minnows Eastbourne Town in the last round before triumphing 4-2, and crashed 4-0 at home to Brighton in the Premier League Cup.
Prediction: An in-form Tottenham should have no problem. But which Spurs will turn up?