A reduced fixture list of eleven games are set to take place in the Women’s National League this weekend.
With the attentions of 49 teams from WNL Divison One turning to the FA Cup this weekend, the Northern and Southern Premier Divisions take centre stage, as twenty-two teams battle it out for precious points. With excitement and intrigue guaranteed and stories set to unfold, here are three matches to keep an eye on this Sunday.
Ipswich Town v Bridgwater United – Southern Premier Division
In arguably the most exciting match-up on this weekend’s FAWNL schedule, the table-topping Tractor Girls welcome Bridgwater United to the Goldstar Ground.
With a record of eight wins from eight games, it’s hard to imagine Joe Sheehan dreamt of a more perfect start to the league season. Ipswich Town have not simply taken to life in the Southern Premier Division – they’ve excelled.
Extending their winning run to nine games on Sunday would see Sheehan’s side move six points clear of title rivals Southampton, forcing Saints into the role of the chasers, a position they’ve never been in before as a club. And while, by his own admittance, nothing is settled until May, it would put his side in a strong position with a third of the season played.
But it won’t be easy as the Tractor Girls face arguably their toughest test to date in third-placed Bridgwater United.
Currently sitting two places and four points behind the leaders, with a record of played nine, won six, drawn two, and lost one, the Robins will look to maintain pressure on the top spot. A position they themselves aspire to be come the end of the season.
The visitors have undergone a period of change in recent weeks after Jamie Sherwood announced his departure, with interim manager Jamie Harris tasked with the duty of building on Sherwood’s legacy. A task he has so far risen to after beating Pompey 0-2 last time out.
Although it’s not a case of win or bust for either side, there’s no disputing it’s a hugely important fixture as both teams chase the Southern Premier Division crown.
Oxford United v London Bees – Southern Premier Division
Old foes meet on a new staging ground when London Bees travel to Court Place Farm this Sunday.
The two teams are no strangers to each other and hold a small place in women’s football history, not only as two founding members of WSL 2, now known as the Women’s Championship, but as the two clubs that ushered in the new era in the opening fixture.
But a lot has changed since London Bees put three past the U’s back in April 2014. They have a new home in the Women’s National League and a new focus.
For Liam Gilbert and his Oxford United side, that means beginning an ascent up the table.
Currently seventh in the table with 13 points, United have at least two games in hand on the four teams immediately above them and will look to build on their recent 5-0 win against rivals Swindon Town and maintain their 100% home record this season.
Led by Lauren Heria, Bees experienced mixed results in their opening fixtures after undergoing a major rebuild following relegation from the Championship. But the London outfit has had an upturn in form of late, convincingly dispatching MK Dons and Gillingham in their last two outings.
Separated by goal difference, a positive result on Sunday would see Sian Osmond’s side leapfrog the hosts, putting an end to their unbeaten run on home soil in the process.
Brighouse Town v Loughborough Lightning – Northern Premier Division
An intriguing contest at the Yorkshire Pay Stadium pits divisional newcomers Brighouse Town against Issy Martin’s side in the first meeting between the clubs under Loughborough’s new Lightning umbrella.
Rob Mitchell would have been under no illusions coming into this season; without a glamorous name attached to his side, Brighouse Town could be seen as understated, maybe even unfashionable by some in the third tier.
But, rather than take it as an insult, Mitchell and his players have used it as a source of motivation, channeling it into a hard work ethic that has served them well so far this season.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine the Brighouse gaffer would have settled for league consolidation before the season got underway. But with his side sitting in seventh place with a game in hand over Burnley and Forest immediately above them, he’ll be excited to see far they can push themselves as the season plays out.
Meanwhile, the visitors have experienced contrasting fortunes this term.
After merging Loughough University’s performance team and the Loughborough Foxes to form Loughborough Lightning, things started brightly, with Issy Martin’s side taking four points from their opening two games.
Unfortunately for Lightning, things have gone awry having lost six consecutive league matches. Their only other win coming against Doncaster Rovers Belles in the Determining Round of the FAWNL Cup.
The alarm bells won’t be ringing quite yet – but with an increased number of teams facing the drop this term, it’s important that Issy Martin’s side start putting points on the board in such a fiercely competitive division.