11 Dec Preview: Portsmouth vs Southampton
This weekend sees the first of two meetings between south coast rivals, Portsmouth and Southampton. The first being a Vitality Women’s FA Cup third round tie on Sunday, followed by a National League game on Wednesday evening at Fratton Park, the home of the men’s side.
Portsmouth’s campaign in the FA Cup last season was a disappointing one, there’s no hiding it. Despite beating Cheltenham Town 2-0 in the second round they were eliminated after being found to have fielded an ineligible player. Something that will have caused huge frustration for everyone involved. The club will be keen to put that right by knocking out their fiercest rivals.
On the other hand, Saints had a great run in the FA Cup last season, beating AFC Bournemouth, Plymouth Argyle, Yeovil United (now Bridgwater United) and Lewes on course to the fifth round. That is where they were eventually eliminated by Super League side Birmingham City, but only just, it was a tight 3-2 victory for Carla Wards’ team.
Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s Saints team will be going into both games as favourites based on form and resources available. They sit in second place in the National League South, five points above Portsmouth and a game in hand. Although Jay Sadler’s Portsmouth have a good record against Saints, beating them in their last encounter. I felt that Southampton almost played with a bit of arrogance, underestimated Portsmouth and paid the price during the penalty shootout thanks to some heroic work from keeper Hannah Haughton.
Since their last meeting, Katie James and Jade Bradley have departed for AFC Bournemouth, but in response, Sadler has strengthened by bringing in Danielle Lane, Sammy Quayle, Evie Gane, Cherelle Khassal and Jaime Gotch who have all dropped down from the Championship.
While it was a blow to lose club captain, Jade Bradley, this has created an opportunity for Freya Jones. Jones has been promoted from the Development Squad and has quickly established herself in the first team and has shown that she is someone with ability beyond her young years.
Spacey-Cale has only tweaked her side, adding Northern Ireland internationals, Laura Rafferty and Ciara Watling. As well as New Zealand international Katie Rood and former blue, Leeta Rutherford. All four add experience and talent to an already talented squad.
Both sides should be going into these games high in confidence. Portsmouth won their last three games, including Dorking and AFC Bournemouth in the FA Cup first and second rounds respectively. As well as a comfortable 4-0 win over Queens Park Rangers in the National League Plate.
Southampton swept aside lower league opposition in Ilminster Town (FA Cup) and Eastleigh (County Cup). Sandwiched between those was a surprisingly tight 2-1 win against struggling MK Dons in the National League Cup.
Both sides also boast frighteningly good forward lines who have been free-scoring all season. Portsmouth possesses the trio of Cherelle Khassal, Shannon Albuery and Tamsin de Bunsen. de Bunsen is someone I rate hugely, she’s had a difficult few seasons with injury setbacks amidst spells of great form. Currently, she looks in the best shape since she joined the blues and her recent hat-trick against Dorking in the first round proves that she is one of the deadliest finishers in the division.
Saints are no slouches in front of goal with five players scoring over seven goals already this season. The deadliest in front of goal is Ella Pusey, who has scored sixteen goals in thirteen games so far this season.
Considering that both sides have been scoring goals for fun, I still believe that these games will be tight, low scoring and will be decided by which side can maintain their concentration and discipline in defence while being ruthless at the opposite end.
While a cup run is important for Saints they have already dropped points against Ipswich, who they trail by nine points, and promotion is going to be more of a priority than a cup run. Let’s face it, they are not short of cash and we all know that the Women’s FA Cup prize money is quite pitiful.