We are finally at that point in the Women’s FA Cup where the first and second-tier sides are now involved. The Women’s Super League and Championship teams possess resources that the National League sides can only dream of and many of them risking losing money on costly away trips, but that’s a discussion for another day.
With the big disparity in resources between many of those involved in this round Stuart Barker doesn’t see there being many upsets. But here he picks the most fascinating games from the Sunday action…
Aston Villa v Brighton & Hove Albion
Aston Villa are currently sitting top of the league in the Women’s Championship, three points ahead of second-placed Sheffield United but with a game in hand.
Villa will see this as a great opportunity to continue to turn a few heads and show that when they gain promotion to the Women’s Super League, they are not just there to make up numbers.
Melissa Johnson’s early-season goal-scoring form has stalled slightly but she still boasts an impressive 14 goals in 12 appearances.
This will be a welcome distraction for Hope Powell’s side who have lost five of their last six games.
The Sussex side have not been performing badly this season but is lacking the quality to break into the top half of the Women’s Super League. That being said, if they are focused and disciplined then they should be favourites to secure safe passage into the next round.
Prediction: Aston Villa win.
Kick-off: 1pm at Boldmere St. Michaels FC, Church Road, Sutton Coldfield, B73 5RY.
Tickets: Adults £5 (concessions £2).
Bristol City v Durham
Bristol City are currently bottom of the Women’s Super League on goal difference and, like Brighton, will welcome the distraction of the FA Cup.
This will be an opportunity for Tanya Oxtoby to show off new signings Faye Bryson from Everton, and internationals Chloe Logarzo (Australia), Megan Rose Wynne (Wales) and Jeon Ga-Eul (South Korea).
While both sides are over 280 miles apart, there is a bit of a rivalry developing between the two sets of supporters. Many Vixens supporters are still upset by Durham’s ‘overly-physical approach’ in last year’s FA Cup that saw Lucy Graham suffering an injury which kept her out for two months.
The visitors will be buoyed by their performance in that game last season which saw them overcome Bristol City 2-0 thanks to a brace from Lisa Robertson.
They have been having another consistent season so far and are sitting comfortable in third place in the Championship.
Prediction: Bristol City win.
Kick-off: 1pm at the Stoke Gifford Stadium, New Road, Stoke Gifford, Bristol BS34 8LP.
Tickets: Adults £6 (concessions available).
Southampton FC (Saints) v Coventry United
Over the last two years, Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s Saints side have been quietly going about building a high-quality squad, complemented by a superbly-run academy.
Saints are currently top of the National League South West Division One and are unbeaten in all competitions. It is hard to see them not gaining promotion and ending the season with silverware.
Saints will more than fancy their chances of scoring goals on their historic St Mary’s debut through Rachel Panting and former Yeovil Town pair, Ella Pusey and Shannon Albuery.
Coventry United comfortably earned promotion from the National League to the Championship last season but currently sit three points above bottom side, Charlton Athletic, although having played two games more.
The visitors will no doubt value league points over an FA Cup run but they will also want to avoid the embarrassment of a cup exit although with Saints’ quality this wouldn’t be too much of an upset.
Prediction: Southampton win.
Kick-off: 1pm at St Mary’s Stadium, Britannia Rd, Southampton, SO14 5FP.
Southampton Women v Crystal Palace
The first Women’s FA Cup final was held in May 1971 featuring Southampton Women and Scottish side Stewarton Thistle. The south coast side won 4-1 thanks to a goal from Dot Cassell and a hat-trick from Pat Davies.
Southampton Women then went on to win eight of the first 11 finals and are only second to Arsenal with 14 titles to their name.
Aaron Smith took over at Southampton Women during the summer, fresh from taking Chichester City to third place in the National League South last season. Many familiar faces have left the squad but the new boss has brought in some stellar talent including former Women’s Super League player, Erin Bloomfield from Yeovil Town, Portsmouth’s EJ May and England youth international goalkeeper, Rosie Kite.
Palace, who ply their trade two leagues higher, have struggled this season and are involved in a relegation scrap. If they are not focused and give Bloomfield and Jane Yeates time or space, then the potent strike force will punish them and spark wild celebrations as the home side progress into the next round.
Prediction: Southampton Women win.
Kick-off: 2pm at The Bypass Ground, South Front, Romsey, SO51 8GJ.
Tickets: Adults £4 (concessions available).
Sunderland v Watford
Followers of the National Leagues will be fascinated by this match. Both teams are top of their respective Northern and Southern leagues and the promotion chasers could face off in the end-of-season National League Championship play-off.
This is going to be a tight game with both sides possessing quality all over the pitch.
Watford may just shade it if they have a fit and in-form Helen Ward leading their line. The all-time record goal scorer for Wales has scored 11 goals in 12 appearances this season. Although Sunderland haven’t been goal-shy with Bridget Galloway bagging an impressive 17 goals in 16 games.
Prediction: Watford win.
Kick-off: 1pm at the Energy Check Sports Ground, South Drive, Hebburn, NE31 1UN.
Tickets: Adults £3 (ST holders £1.50 and concessions £1).
Liverpool v Blackburn Rovers
Much has been made of Liverpool’s struggles under Vicky Jepson but a lot of the blame should land at the door of the board for the financial neglect of their women’s team.
The recent signing of Rachel Furness has already started to pay off after she scored the winner in a 1-0 win against Bristol City last weekend, giving them a vital three points and confidence boost as they moved off the bottom of the Women’s Super League.
After long domination of the Women’s National League North, Blackburn Rovers finally were granted a licence to earn promotion to the Championship this season.
They overcome their early-season struggles to establish themselves as a mid-table side but I feel that this game will be a step too far and their main goal will be to continue picking up league points and retain their Championship place.
Prediction: Liverpool win.
Kick-off: 1pm at Prenton Park, Prenton Road, Birkenhead, CH42 9PY.
Tickets: Adults £5 (concessions available).
Follow Stuart on Twitter @_ChuBarker