Part two of Sent Her Forward’s preview of women’s football’s big day out in Crawley
When Crawley Wasps entered this season’s Women’s FA Cup competition, thoughts were on a little run that would perhaps get their name more widely known as they continued their remarkable journey towards the big time.
The club’s focus was always on – well, I would say establishing themselves in the fourth tier of the game in England following their runaway promotion success last year.
But some at the club would say their sights were a little higher, and that a second successive promotion was the aim.
Not even the most ambitious of souls at the smart little nomad of a club could have envisaged a 10-out-of-10 winning start to life in the FA Women’s National League Division One South East – and the prospect of hosting the Women’s FA Cup’s biggest name in a fourth-round showdown, four wins from a Wembley final.
But on Sunday the scenario no-one dared to dream becomes reality for chairman and manager Paul Walker and his record-breaking players who embody the meaning of the word team.
After disposing of third-tier Chichester City in the last round, Wasps – with no men’s team behind them and without a ground to call their own – face an Arsenal side who, even shorn of some of their star players through injury, will boast a match-day squad bursting with internationals.
Arsenal, who have won the FA Cup a record 14 times – most recently in 2016 – and currently lie second in the FAW Super League, are superior not only in the calibre of player, but also in terms of facilities, coaching quality and – possibly most crucial of all – fitness.
They are full-time footballers, picking up a decent wage and training all week.
— Jenny Drury (@JennyDrury4) January 28, 2019
Wasps’ players turn up for their weekly sessions after a day’s work, perhaps running fitness classes, treating sports injuries or helping save lives.
Nobody gives them a chance, but after knocking out four higher-level teams in cup competitions this season, opponents will under-estimate them at their peril.
Arsenal manager Joe Montemurro surely will not do that, but regardless of his approach to the game, he will undoubtedly be fielding a weakened side as the club reels from an injury crisis that was magnified last week by the addition of winger Lisa Evans and midfielder Lia Wälti to the lengthy list.
Also missing will be England stars Jordan Nobbs and Danielle Carter, but among those still at his disposal are the likes of Beth Mead, Kim Little and Vivianne Miedema, who on Sunday broke the record for the number of goals in a single Women’s Super League season with her 16th of the campaign.
Intriguingly, both sides have scored precisely 50 goals in their respective leagues – and there could be plenty more on Sunday.
Wasps are determined to make a game of it – and more importantly, for them, a day of it. And one thing is for sure – Arsenal’s players and officials will know they’ve been in a game.
How they compare
London and South East Regional Women’s Football League champions (2017-18)
Sussex County FA Challenge Cup runners-up (2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18)
Captain: Naomi Cole, ex-Lewes (FAW Premier League), Millwall (FAW Super League 2)
League record 2018/19: (currently 1st, FAW National League Div 1 South East – tier four):
Played 10 Won 10 Drawn 0 Lost 0 For 50 Against 6 Points 30
Meet the players
Captain Naomi Cole takes you through the lesser-known names at Crawley Wasps who are making big waves just below the Super League surface.
But first, Sent Her Forward does the honours for Cole herself.
Naomi Cole is quite simply one of the best players in the division and the catalyst for Wasps’ evolution from a good fifth-tier team to one that would be perfectly at home in the third tier.
She has experience, strength and awareness. She can pass, tackle and is a dead-ball expert.
Here are her thoughts on her team-mates.
Frankie Gibbs The experienced head but also the most straight-talking of the lot. Known to be best friends with officials. A fantastic goalkeeper, too.
Niamh Stephenson The relaxed one who is always cold. Don’t be fooled, though. She is a strong, physical defender who doesn’t mess around.
Darcey James Aka Helga, the most passionate player in the team when it comes to winning. A superb defender with bundles of talent. Listen out for her shouting (pot luck what it will be).
Charlotte Young Youngey – aka Giraffe – the seasoned veteran of the team. Fitted into the squad perfectly. Queen of banter to other people, not so good at taking it. An all-round defender who brings quality.
Rachel Palmer A wand of a left foot, for both dead ball and in play. Genuinely one of the nicest people in football and an all-round great person. My right hand girl as vice-captain.
Megan Stow The foulest mouth on the team, but my God, she works hard on the pitch. Another player who this season has been a great addition, likely to score a worldie.
Jenny Drury The most under-rated player in the team, does all the dirty work that sometimes would go unnoticed. Skilful, as well, she has it all! One of the mums in the team.
Ariana Fleischman Our American utility player, she can play in a number of positions. Known for her “strength and power”.
Faye Rabson The other mum of the team, with burning pace and an eye for goal. We are lucky to have her on our side rather than against us!
Kemina Webber Kay’s a strong forward who is capable of being so dangerous for defenders. Debatably the most forgetful person in the team, always borrowing something each week.
Sian Heather Never heard this girl swear or complain, she’s too nice! A tricky forward who always wants to improve her game. A superb signing for us in attack.
Emma Plewa Our Welsh PT who body-shames us all. A powerful and lightning-quick player with two good feet. Overcame an injury lay-off, and we’re glad to have her back.
Suzy Davies The twinkle toes of the team, can beat players in small pockets. The longest-serving player in the team – since the age of seven.
Ellie Russell The future CB of our team, so calm on the ball and has a mature head on her. Most sarcastic banter in the team.
Lauren Graves For her age this girl is incredible. Doesn’t miss a save and in training frustrates us attackers. A future number 1 with plenty of talent.
Abbie Measures New recruit this year. Has the most inspiring Twitter feed, with plenty of advice and life tips. A hard-tackling defender.
Uefa Women’s Cup (forerunner of Champions League) winners 2007
FA Women’s Super League champions 2001, 2012
FA Women’s Premier League champions (12 times)
Continental Cup winners 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2018
FA Women’s Cup winners (14 times)
Captain: Kim Little (Scotland international, multiple-trophy winner with Arsenal, Hibernian, Seattle Reign in the United States and Melbourne City in Australia)
League record 2018/19 (2nd, FAW Super League – top tier):
Played 13 Won 11 Drawn 0 Lost 2 For 50 Against 11 Points 33
Meet the players
Women’s football fanatic and Arsenal expert Sylvain Jamet gives Sent Her Forward the lowdown on some of the players who could be featuring against Wasps at Oakwood on Sunday.
Arsenal have a formidable squad full of international stars that can destroy any team when firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, there are many players injured at the moment, which means it might be a mixed squad coming to Oakwood FC, with academy youngsters drafted in to gain first-team experience on the day.
Here are the senior players who should be available:
1 Sari Van Veenendaal The Dutch goalie is an excellent shot-stopper who has unfortunately lost her starting place following the arrival last summer of Pauline Peyraud-Magnin. It looks like the manager seems to favour a ball-playing goalkeeper. She should get the nod for this cup game.
2 Katrine Veje The Danish winger has just arrived at Arsenal after a disappointing stint in France at Montpellier. A left-footed wide player, she should provide the ammunition for Anna Miedema.
3 Emma Mitchell The combative Scottish left-back has recently come back from injury and is a key player in the squad with her winning mentality, power and strength.
4 Janni Arnth Another new signing in January, the Danish defender has already shown promising signs in the couple of games in which she has been involved. A classy centre-back with all the necessary attributes.
6 Leah Williamson One of the few player who made it from the youth teams. Started as a midfielder but now settled at centre-back and a regular in the England squad. An old head for a 22-year-old.
10 Kim Little The Scottish playmaker is back following her long injury sustained after a nasty challenge against Chelsea last year. World-class, a strong technical goalscoring midfielder.
11 Vivianne Miedema The Dutch striker now has the WSL record for number of goals in a season. Has scored and provided assists at an exceptional rate this season. She is lethal in the penalty box.
15 Katie McCabe Used in defence, central midfield or on the wing. Her versatility is priceless for the team, especially at time where there are so many injuries. Another left-footed, technical player, who can provide assists for the forwards.
16 Louise Quinn The Irish centre-back is strong, powerful, excellent at heading the ball and man-marking. An asset at both ends of the pitch.
7 Danielle van de Donk The dutch playmaker came back from injury against Reading on Sunday and has been a key player this season, linking up play in attack. She can beat players in one-v-one situations but can also deliver killer passes.
18 Pauline Peyraud-Magnin The French goalie arrived last summer and established herself as the Arsenal number one. She is good on the ball and strong mentally.
20 Dominique Bloodworth Extremely versatile, as she can play in the four positions in defence and two out of three in midfield. A consistent performer wherever she is on the pitch.
23 Bethany Mead The England striker mainly operates as a winger and has an excellent ability to beat defenders one-on-one – and is clinical in front of goal.
24 Ava Kuyken The young England U18 central midfielder has a lot of ability and is one for the future.
The rest of squad are currently injured. They include Jordan Nobbs, Danielle Carter, Jessica Samuelsson, Tabea Kemme, Victoria Schnaderbeck and the latest casualties, Lisa Evans and Lia Wälti. A couple of youngsters might therefore get a game, including defender Hannah Dawbarn, midfielder Ruby Grant and forwards Amelia Hazard and Paige Bailey-Gayle.
Do Wasps have a chance?
Crawley Wasps are in the form of their lives. Unbeaten in the league since 2017, and with a 100% record so far in their maiden National League campaign, they are on course for a second successive promotion – one that would put them within touching distance of the FA Women’s Championship, the second tier of the women’s game in England.
Moreover, they have been going great guns in cup competitions, too.
Their defeat to Chichester City on January 20 in the semi-final of the Sussex Challenge Cup was their first in any competition in 20 matches this season.
They have already beaten the same opponents – currently top of the league above Wasps – and Coventry United (league leaders when they beat them) in the FAW Cup and they have defeated Oxford United and Plymouth Argyle, from that same division, in the League Cup.
But free-scoring Arsenal, with their international superstars, big-match experience and – perhaps most importantly – superior fitness as a full-time professional outfit, are a different proposition.
Walker insists, as he has to, that they are not unbeatable. And certainly, it’s fair to say that on Wasps’ current form, with confidence sky-high, Joe Montemurro will do well to ensure against complacency when his injury-hit squad trek into the modest Oakwood changing rooms.
But even a draw at 90 minutes would represent one of the most sensational results in the history of the women’s competition and undoubtedly the most jaw-dropping since the top teams turned professional.
Walker said: “Of course I’d say it’s a winnable game. That’s the beauty of the cup. We’ve got a chance, there’s no question.
“The belief that I, Dave [Cole, the assistant manager] and the coaching staff have in this squad is unbelievable. They can play, and I don’t think Arsenal should underestimate.
“If they do, then maybe we might have a fun day.”
For Arsenal, Wasps remain very much an unknown quantity. They’ve never met before and are unlikely to again for a few seasons, at least.
Super striker Vivianne Miedema admitted to the club’s website: “I don’t know what to expect, but these games are always hard because in the end we’re the only team that can lose, so we just need to stay focused, win and move on to the games after that.”