It has been a breath of fresh air to welcome back the Women’s FA Cup and it’s been great to see the National League teams that I am so fond of being back in action. This weekend things get even more exciting with the introduction of the Women’s Super League and Championship teams. While cup upsets are as rare in women’s football due to the gulf in facilities and resources I have picked my top three clashes that I believe that you should be following this weekend. All of these matches involve underdogs who would not surprise me one bit should they upset the form book and come away victorious.
Lewes vs Southampton (18/04 at 14:00)
Those of you who haven’t followed life outside of the WSL or Championship will have missed the great work going on at National League tier four side Southampton FC.
Despite possessing facilities that would be the envy of many in the WSL clubs, Saints were refused one of the original Championship licences that were taken by Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. They refocused and embarked on their mission to climb the women’s football pyramid and since they began that journey they have yet to receive league defeat.
Over at Lewes, Simon Parker has been doing a wonderful job since replacing Fran Alonso after he left to take over at Celtic. Parker has been built a side that has been much more consistent and dangerous in the final third. For all Lewes’ good play I’ve always felt that they lacked the goals which would establish them as one of the best in the Championship. They currently occupy fifth position, the best of the non-professional sides within the Championship.
Parker has been able to rely on club legends, Rhian Cleverley, Sammy Quayle and Katie Rood but this season the club has welcomed in some new faces, including Tatiana Saunders in goal, Ellie Hack on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion and Ini-Abasi Umotong up-front. As well as recruiting Zoe Cross, Mollie Rouse and Lucy Ashworth-Clifford after they graduated from their college in the United States.
Saints’ match winners are likely to come from former Lewes forward, Rachel Panting, England Beach Soccer international, Shannon Sievwright and former Yeovil Town forward, Ella Pusey. Other players to watch out for include England youth international goalkeeper Kayla Rendell and former Wales youth international Caitlin Morris.
Lewes should have enough experience and quality to overcome their south-coast neighbours although write off Saints at your peril, they will be highly motivated, combative and clinical enough to punish any errors in the Lewes defence, in what is possibly the most fascinating draw of the round.
Oxford United vs Charlton Athletic (18/04 at 14:00)
Liam Gilbert’s Oxford United is one of the most competitive and hard-working in tier three’s National League South, while up until recently Charlton Athletic have struggled in the second tier, the Championship. This will be a fascinating clash, with Oxford relishing the opportunity to challenge themselves at this level.
Back in the 2018/19 season, Charlton Athletic finished third in the Championship behind Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur and boasted two of the league’s top scorers in Kit Graham and Elizabeta Ejupi, now at Spurs and London City Lionesses respectively. The following season, while cancelled, left Charlton sitting bottom of the league two points behind Coventry United.
This season Charlton have steadied their ship and under new ownership are rebuilding to move up the Championship table. Much of this is thanks to the foundations laid by Riteesh Mishra, although Mishra has since been replaced as head coach by the Karen Hills. The former Tottenham Hotspur boss is credited with being one of the driving forces which established Tottenham Hotspur as a Women’s Super League club. New Charlton owner, Thomas Sandgaard, will be hoping that she can do the same with the Addicks.
Charlton have picked up just one win in six games but along with three draws they have pulled away from the drop zone, consigning London Bees to life in the third tier of women’s football.
Gilbert and his defence will be well aware of the threat offered by former Lewes forward, Jess King. King only has the modest five goals so far this season but this isn’t a true reflection of the positive impact that she has made at Charlton. She is a hard worker and will be ready to punish the Oxford backline if given the opportunity.
Oxford’s Emily Allen grabbed the headlines in the last round when she scored a half volley from about 30 yards. However, Oxford share the responsibility of scoring goals throughout the squad with the likes of Molly Peters, Daisy McLachlan and Carly Johns all chipping in.
In my personal opinion Oxford United’s keeper and former Reading player, Rose Kite is one of the best young keepers in the country. I believe that she has what it takes to establish herself within the Championship. She spent last season on loan with Southampton Women and in their FA Cup tie with Crystal Palace she was a star performer, earning a replay for the fourth tier side.
Ahead of the game, Gilbert told the club’s website, “Everyone seems to have gone up another level in training, in terms of our intensity and focus. We’re really looking forward to this weekend. We want challenges like this, we want to see where we are as a football club. I know how much all of the players are looking forward to the challenge.”
I have seen enough of the U’s to know that they have it in them to cause a cup upset but I feel that Charlton have that extra experience at this level to see them through, especially if they can score early and force Oxford to leave gaps at the back.
Everton vs Durham (18/04 at 14:00)
Willie Kirk’s Everton have firmly established themselves as the best of the rest in fifth position, seven points off Manchester United in fourth and also seven points above Brighton & Hove Albion in sixth. I think that there is a fair shout that had Valerie Gauvin avoided injury then the blues will feel that they could’ve pushed harder for a Champions League place but this shouldn’t detract from the great strides forward they have made as a club in the last twelve months.
Everton come into the game on the back of some positive form with two wins in their last three games, with the only negative being a defeat to Chelsea and based on this season’s form there is no disgrace in failing against Emma Hayes’ side. On the prospect of another cup run Kirk said, “We got to the final at Wembley last year and we said at the time that we wanted to be back as quickly as possible. That journey starts on Sunday and we want to go one step further.”
Simone Magill will still be on a huge high after her heroics with the Northern Ireland team, helping them make history by qualifying for the European Championships. She’ll be hoping to add to her six goals this season, making her joint top scorer with Izzy Christiansen. Although she’ll have to get past her fellow Northern Ireland international, Sarah Dobson in order to do so.
Durham might not have that big-name men’s club attached to them but that has not held them back. They are always in and amongst the title chasers in the Championship. Presently they are four points ahead of Sheffield United and Liverpool after finishing this and fourth in the two respective seasons prior.
While Everton boasts a potent forward line that includes Magill, Christiansen, Lucy Graham, Hayley Raso and Valerie Gauvin, Durham will not be intimidated, they know that their strengths and will believe that they can win this tie. For me, one of Durham’s biggest strengths is their hard work and organisation, plus if they can create chances for Beth Hepple then she’ll be confident that she can convert and add to her seven goals so far this season.