Tough start for Premier League champions Portsmouth

Fliss Gibbons is congratulated on one of her goals for Brighton against Copsewood Coventry (Photo: Geoff Penn/BHAFC)

Fliss Gibbons was among the scorers when Brighton won their opening fixture last season against Copsewood Coventry (Photo: Geoff Penn/BHAFC)

Premier League Southern champions Portsmouth will need to make sure their Super League play-off disappointment is well and truly out of their system when they begin the defence of their title with a daunting start to the new Premier League campaign.

Pompey, who lost the championship play-off to Sheffield FC in heartbreaking fashion in injury time in May, face two of the likely title contenders in their opening three matches – the first two of which are away from home – and end the season with a showdown against their biggest rivals last season.

Perry Northeast’s side, who won the southern division title by three points from Brighton, face their nemesis from the last campaign – Cardiff City – away in their first fixture, on August 16 – a repeat of last season’s opener which they lost 7-3 following the controversial sending-off of Lucy Quinn.

They follow that with a visit to West Ham United, who suggested they were capable of becoming a force in the division under Julian Dicks before falling away towards the end.

With Dicks now assisting Slaven Bilic with West Ham’s men’s side, the Hammers’ women will once again start a season as a somewhat unknown quantity – though with plenty of talent already within their ranks.

Portsmouth’s first home game of the season is against the newly created Coventry United, who, as Coventry City, won the league two years ago before being switched to the northern division, in which they finished runners-up.

If the coming campaign is as close as last season’s, their final fixtures may prove crucial. Their last home match is currently scheduled to be against newcomers Forest Green Rovers on January 31 before that last-day showdown against Brighton at Lancing.

Tough starts for newcomers

Forest Green and fellow promoted club C & K Basildon could hardly have a more demanding introduction to the higher level.

The Gloucestershire side, who won Division 1 South West last term, visit Brighton and Division 1 South East champions Basildon host Charlton Athletic, who finished third in a sensational trophy-laden campaign.

Forest Green’s opening home game is against Plymouth Argyle – a relatively short first-day trip for the Devon side – and they end the season away to Portsmouth followed by a home match against Basildon.

Red October, blue November?

Brighton‘s relatively gentle first fixture has echoes of last season’s opener, against Copsewood Coventry, who were also making their bow in the division, and which James Marrs’ side won 3-1.

But it masks a challenging series of games to follow, including an incredibly tough November.

After the Forest Green game they travel to Charlton, who finished one place behind them last season, and they play Sussex rivals Lewes twice in a fortnight in September – both under floodlights.

October starts with a visit from Coventry United and also includes a trip to Portsmouth, the only side to finish above them in 2014/15.

But then comes November: Cardiff City at home is followed by West Ham away; then the two reverse fixtures, followed at the beginning of December by the home return game against Charlton.

Glory scene revisited

Badge of Coventry United

Coventry United, formerly Coventry City, are back in the southern division of the Premier League

Coventry United, who are now managed by Paul Iannaconne, who replaced Craig Nicholls at the beginning of the month, mark their return to the southern division with successive home games – against West Ham United and then Queens Park Rangers.

Their first away match is at Portsmouth, scene of their final-day championship triumph two years ago, and they end the season at Cardiff City.

Lewes, like Portsmouth, will have a repeat of last season’s opening game, at home to Plymouth Argyle. Then they visit Cardiff City before September’s double-header against Brighton.

Their final home fixture is scheduled to be against QPR, and they end the season with a daunting trip to Charlton.

The other opening-day game, on August 16, renews London rivalries between Tottenham Hotspur and QPR, who last met on the final day of last season.

First FAWPL Southern fixtures
Brighton v Forest Green Rovers
C&K Basildon v Charlton Athletic
Cardiff City v Portsmouth
Coventry United v West Ham United
Lewes v Plymouth Argyle
Tottenham Hotspur v Queens Park Rangers
*All fixtures are subject to change

Division 1 South West

Relegated Keynsham Town start life in Division 1 South West against the side that very nearly replaced them. They host Exeter City, who missed out on promotion on goal difference to Forest Green Rovers.

Swindon Spitfires, one of the teams promoted into the division, travel to Cheltenham Town, who finished second-from-bottom last season.

Fellow newcomers Gloucester City host St Nicholas, who finished bottom last season, winning one game, but remain in the division because there was no relegation.

And the other promoted team, Maidenhead United, travel to Larkhall Athletic.

Chichester City, under new manager Liam Greenfield, start the new season at home to Shanklin, and Swindon Town, whose promotion hopes last season were wrecked by an administrative error that led to a points deduction, try again, starting at home to Southampton Saints, who finished just behind them last term.

First-day fixtures
Cheltenham Town v Swindon Spitfires
Chichester City v Shanklin
Gloucester City v St Nicholas
Keynsham Town v Exeter City
Larkhall Athletic v Maidenhead United
Swindon Town v Southampton Saints

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