Preview: FAWNL Plate Final – AFC Wimbledon vs Nottingham Forest

This weekend sees the return of the FA Women’s National League Cup and Plate Finals after a two-year Covid related hiatus. The matches are being played as a double-header at the Armco Arena, the home of Solihull Moors Football Club. The Plate will be contested between AFC Wimbledon and Nottingham Forest. While the League Cup final will feature Southampton and Huddersfield Town. Both matches are going to be fascinating and hard to predict but I am going to try my best.

The FA Women’s National League’s determining round of matches went ahead in September. Tier four AFC Wimbledon took on tier three Oxford United and fell to a 2-1 defeat thanks to two late goals minutes from Riva Casley and Carly Johns before they grabbed their own injury-time goal. The underdog was unable to come out on top in that tie but it was a different story at Jericho Lane. Tier four Liverpool Feds were able to upset the form book and record a 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest. 

Defeats placed Wimbledon and Nottingham Forest into the Plate competition which also included strong opposition in Portsmouth, Queens Park Rangers, Cheltenham Town, West Bromwich Albion and Boldmere St Michaels. 

Road to the Final…

AFC Wimbledon
1st Round – Norwich City 4-0 (Hincks, Stanley, Stow x2)
2nd Round – Chesham United 3-2 (Sargent, Stanley, Stow)
3rd Round – Portishead 2-1 AET (Sargent, Stow)
QF – Portsmouth 3-3 (7-6 pens) (Donovan, Hincks, Russell)
SF – Sporting Khalsa 4-1 (Hinks x3, Stanley)

Road to the Final…

Nottingham Forest
1st Round – BYE
2nd Round – Doncaster Rovers Belles 1-0 (Moncaster)
3rd Round – Bedworth United 5-1 (Bonsor, Brown, James, Reynolds, West)
QF – Alnwick Town 1-0 (Steggles)
SF – Cheltenham Town 3-0 (Greengrass x2, Mitchell)

Kevin Foster. Photo: Glyn Roberts.

AFC Wimbledon boss Kevin Foster on entry into the Plate Trophy…
“It’s a great opportunity for the players and staff to be rewarded for the hard work throughout the season, whilst it’s never great to lose the first round we have still gone five rounds to get here four of which been away and not down the road either!”

On winning a trophy…
“It would be great its the first time in the clubs history to reach a wnl final and something we take great pride in and look forward to what will be a tough challenge.”

On the team’s preparations…
“It’s been a really good week with lots of excitement and plans taking place we are travelling up on the Saturday and going to make a real occasion of it.”

On the opposition…
Nottingham Forest are a very good side and that’s shown by their position in the league above. They are also a club building for the future and promoting women’s football.  On the field it will be tough and we will need to be at our best to get anything out of the game.

Andy Cook and Nottingham Forest. Photo: @NFFCwomen

Nottingham Forest boss, Andy Cook on entry to the Plate Trophy…
“It’s great to get into this final it’s only 1one of the three trophies you can realistically win. There’s no real chance in the FA Cup. So we’re delighted to be in this final. Yes, we were disappointed with the first-round loss but we wanted to get into this final and we’ve done that so now we have to compete and earn the right to play.”

On the prospect of winning a trophy…
“It’s brilliant to win any trophy in a season is great your one of only four teams that will win something in the WNL if you win the trophy so it would be a great honour to lift that trophy but we must earn that right in the game and battle to earn our opportunity play then see what happens with the quality on the pitch.”

On the team’s preparations…
“It’s been a good week of work. It’s actually been really normal we still have a league game and a county cup final to play so we are just focusing on the sessions and the work we still have to do. I know on the day we will be excited to get going. They are always great events and occasions. The secret is to remember it’s just a game of football though.”

On their opposition…
“They are a good side. With good players. I’ve worked with Emily Donovan before and played/coached against a few of them previously. They are great on the attack and can score from lots of different positions. With some good patterns to progress the ball both in transitions and possession once they have built up. They will also want to come and prove a point in a final. Of course they will say the pressure is on being in the league above but it really doesn’t matter when you are as good as they are. I’m excited for the challenge on the day and can’t wait to get the game going. It will be a great game and hopefully the start of a great day with two other good sides in Southampton and Huddersfield in the cup final.”

Ashlee Hincks takes on Portsmouth. Photo: Dave Haines

Despite both sides being separated by a division, this looks like it is going to be a closely fought contest. AFC Wimbledon will be calling upon former Chelsea and Crystal Palace forward, Ashlee Hincks for the match. She is a match-winner in the truest sense of the word and someone that Forest should be very worried about. I’m not giving away any great secrets here, you only have to look at her record of thirty-nine goals in thirty-three matches to know that she is someone to pay close attention to. 

It is not just her impact on the pitch which is important to this squad, AFC Wimbledon midfielder Megan Stow told me, “Outside of the crazy number of goals she’s scored for us this year, she is brilliant off the pitch. For me personally, she’s already become someone I know I’ll be friends with for life. I’ve been lucky enough to play with some very good footballers in my career, and Ash is a player who could have an ego, and quite rightly so, but she is honestly one of the nicest people I’ve met in football. She’s great to have around the club and for young players to aspire to be and learn from.”

Tickets for the match are available on arrival: £5 for adults, £2.50 for concessions and free for U16s. You can follow all of the action on our Twitter account from 10:30 on Sunday morning.