Old scores to be settled as Premier League clubs switch focus to cup

Sent Her Forward previews the weekend’s games

They’ve only been playing for two weeks, but the FAW Premier League clubs take a break from league action this weekend to contest the first games of this season’s FAW Premier League Cup.

Holders Charlton Athletic, who beat Sheffield FC on penalties in last season’s final, are already through to the next preliminary round after being awarded a walkover against Gloucester City, who are struggling following their promotion to South West Division 1.

But there are plenty more compelling ties to be played on Sunday. Sent Her Forward previews some of them.

Brighton v Gillingham

Simon Ratcliffe and James Marrs, managers of Gillingham and Brighton, wath their teams in action, September 2014 (Photo: Julian Hart)

Brighton beat Gillingham home and away in the Premier League last season (Photo: Julian Hart)

This fixture has taken on extra significance ever since James Marrs quit the Kent club to take over at Brighton, taking much of his fine team with him. But a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, and while Marrs very nearly steered his new side to the championship last season, those he left behind ended up relegated.

The Gills have a new managerial partnership, a number of new players and began their first season in South East Division 1 in style last weekend with a 9-0 victory over Bedford.

Brighton, however, have also enjoyed a good start, beating Forest Green Rovers 4-0 and holding title rivals Charlton Athletic to a goalless draw.

Verdict: Even in last season’s relegation campaign, the Gills did not disgrace themselves in either match against Brighton, and I don’t expect them to do so this time, either. 

Coventry United v C&K Basildon

Two teams new to the Premier League Southern, and joining in vastly different circumstances. Coventry, who won the southern division two years ago and were runners-up in the northern division last season, have been switched to the south again and are among the (many) favourites to win the title.

Basildon joined from the other end, having won Division 1 South East convincingly last term. They have made a stunning start to life at the higher level, drawing with Charlton and winning at Spurs, while Coventry have won both their openers without conceding a goal.

This game will give everybody a better idea of how much of a threat the newcomers are to the Premier Leeague élite.

Verdict: Basildon to take Coventry all the way, possibly to extra-time.

Keynsham Town v Portsmouth

A match against Keynsham has been regarded as an opportunity to put points on the board in recent times, with the West Country club finishing in the bottom three two years ago and rock-bottom last season, winning just one of their 22 matches and conceding 94 goals.

But for many clubs – including Portsmouth, last season’s league champions – they were no pushovers. And although they fell away at the very end of the campaign, after their relegation became inevitable, Keynsham gave some impressive performances in the second half of the season.

Playing attractive football, they are expected to be among the front-runners for a return to the top division from South West Division 1 this season, and have started impressively with two victories over teams who finished in the top four last term.

Verdict: Portsmouth will not under-estimate them – and they will be right not to do so. But Pompey will still be too strong for their opponents.

Plymouth Argyle v St Nicholas

Is there an upset in the air? St Nicks endured a miserable time last season – their first in South West Division 1. But they have begun the new one impressively, accumulating as many wins – and points – from their opening game as they did in the whole of last season.

The club say they are stronger – physically, mentally and in terms of personnel – than they were last year, and even though they lost last weekend, their 3-2 defeat to one of the title favourites, Swindon Town, showed how far they had come.

Plymouth survived their first southern division campaign last season and look set for another tough year. But they picked up their first point of the season, away to Forest Green Rovers last week, and could well have taken all three but for a late comeback.

Verdict: Plymouth should have enough to see off a much-improved St Nicholas to kick-start their league campaign.

Tottenham Hotspur v Lewes

Action from Lewes v Spurs in March 2014 (Photo: Women's Soccer United)

Lewes and Spurs tend to enjoy closely fought contests (Photo: Women’s Soccer United)

These two established Premier League Southern sides always seem to enjoy tough, tight battles. And they switch to cup mode with very similar records so far this season.

Lewes convincingly won on the opening day, against Plymouth, before Cardiff City inflicted a heavy defeat on them last weekend.

Spurs saw off Queens Park Rangers two weeks ago but were shocked by C&K Basildon last Sunday.

Verdict: Spurs are aching for cup silverware this season and should have just enough to cope with the challenge of a new-look Lewes.

West Ham United v Crystal Palace

Danni Ritson, in action for Prince of Wales against Amber Walker, of Abbey Rangers, in the Chairman's Cup final, April 2015 (Photo: James Prickett)

Danni Ritson (left) played for Prince of Wales in the South East Counties League last season (Photo: James Prickett)

New boss Marc Nurse would probably call West Ham a work in progress after taking charge of just one competitive match so far – a comprehensive 5-0 defeat at Coventry United.

His new signings have had little chance to bed in yet, and another of them – Danni Ritson – is likely to be thrown into the fray on Sunday against the team she joined in the summer before switching to the Hammers after featuring in just two friendlies.

She is likely to encounter a baptism of fire against a team who have won both their league games so far this season, having missed out on promotion last time by just five points.

Verdict: Palace to continue their impressive start as West Ham find their feet.

Old Actonians v Denham United

They nearly didn’t make promotion at all, but Actonians have made short work of the apparent gulf between the London & South East Women’s Football League, which they won by a point last season, and their new home in South East Division 1.

They are joint-top after two games, having beaten both Lowestoft Town and Denham United, their opponents on Sunday.

Verdict: It’s too early to tell who have the better chance of success in the division this season, but Denham will be out for early revenge in the cup on Sunday.

Shanklin v Bedford

Not a point between them so far, but Shanklin, who enjoyed a superb run in the FAWPL Plate last season, reaching the semi-finals, have derived more encouragement from their two defeats than their opponents.

While the visitors prop up the early South East Division 1, having lost 6-0 at home to MK Dons and 9-0 at Gillingham, their hosts, from the South West division, lost 3-0 at Chichester City and 2-1 at home to Exeter City, both of whom are expected to be in the reckoning for promotion this season.

Verdict: More misery for Bedford will leave them to focus on league survival.

Southampton Saints v Chichester City

Relative neighbours in a division dominated by West Country clubs, these two meet twice in five days, their cup clash followed next Thursday by a league match at Oaklands Park.

Saints have made a disappointing start against two of the most highly rated sides in South West Division 1, losing 5-1 to Swindon Town and 3-2 at Keynsham Town. Chichester have played only once, brushing aside Shanklin 3-0.

But Saints did the double over Chichester last season, when they finished three places – and seven points – higher. However, the West Sussex club are confident of a better campaign this time, and believe they may have an ace up their sleeve on Sunday.

Verdict: Buoyant Chichester to progress.

Swindon Spitfires v Swindon Town

The first of two encounters between the local rivals has been called off after Spitfires struggled to get a team together.

They had only eight players available for the tie, and although the FAWPL said the match should still go ahead, the home side have pulled out, conceding the game.

Secretary Jacqui Turner told the Swindon Advertiser: “We made the decision to protect the players we have left to concentrate on our league campaign… We can’t send out eight players – they would get crucified.”

The two sides are due to meet for the first time in South West Division 1 of the Premier League on Wednesday, when Spitfires hope to have some of their absentees back.

Spitfires have picked up just one point from their first two games in the Premier League, while their opponents have won both, once again looking like the division’s team to beat.

And in the London & South East Counties Women’s Football League…

Only the second weekend in the London league, but one 100% record has to go as Leyton Orient, winners over Fulham Foundation last week, take on AFC Wimbledon, who defeated Bexhill United.

Herne Bay, whose first match in the division ended in a 4-1 victory over Camden Town, visit Crawley Wasps, who missed out on a game last Sunday in the division of 11.

London Corinthians, who inflicted a rare home defeat on Carshalton Athletic in the opening round of games, host Bexhill United, who lost 3-0 at AFC Wimbledon.

The other two matches should produce the first points of the season for at least two clubs, as four opening-day losers are pitted against each other.

Aylesford host Camden Town and Fulham Foundation are at home to Carshalton Athletic.

Why not contribute to Sent Her Forward‘s weekend round-up. Tweet or e-mail your views on your side’s performance, together with the result, scorers and your link with the club. And if you want to send photos of the action, I shall try to use some of them, too.

* Updated on August 29 to reflect the cancellation of Swindon Spitfires’ match against Swindon Town.

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