Oxford United Women 2022/23 season preview

The U’s have their sights set on promotion in what promises to be a pulsating FA WNL Southern Premier Division title race.

With the anticipation of the new season building to a fever pitch across the country, we take a look at the last season’s Southern Premier Division runners-up ahead of the opening day of the 2022/23 campaign on Sunday, 21 August.

The U’s are one of 12 teams vying for the title in a season that will see Cheltenham Town and Billericay compete in the third tier for the first time in history after winning promotion last season and Watford return to the division following a one-season stint in the Women’s Championship.

Last season

Oxford United finished last season in second place after leapfrogging Ipswich Town on the final day of the season to clinch the runners-up spot, taking 60 points from 26 games, with a record of 19 wins, 3 draws, and 4 losses. Nine points behind champions Saints and two points better off than Ipswich in third place.

Court Place Farm proved to be a fortress during 2021/22 and the foundation of Oxford’s strong season, as the Yellows went the entire campaign unbeaten in league action on their own patch, producing the best record of the results on home soil in the Women’s National League in the process.

Attacking duo Carly Johns and Beth Lumsden netted 39 goals between them during the 2021/22 Southern Premier Division season, making them the joint-first and joint-second highest scorers in the division, while Rose Kite and her formidable backline were only breached 15 times.

United’s campaign was understated. And while most people were backing Southampton and Ipswich Town to capture the top spots in the division, Liam Gilbert’s side went quietly about their business, stringing together a run of strong results on their way to a second-place finish.

On an individual level, three players – Sophie Baker, Lauren Haynes, and Cat Beaver – all passed 100 game milestones.

Transfer business

Key departures: Kayleigh Hines (Loughborough Lightning), Beth Lumsden (Southampton FC), Merrick Will (Coventry United), Emily Wallace (Watford), Gemma Sims (retired), Cheryl Williams (retired), Megan Alexander.

New signings: Naomi Cole (Crawley Wasps), Leah Burridge (Wolves), Jaime Gotch (Portsmouth), Shelly Provan (Southampton FC), Erin Hartigan (OUWFC Development), Taome Oliver (unattached), Lois Joslyn (Reading).

Pre-season

United faced a total of eight teams as part of a pre-season programme that spanned over six weeks, including matches against Stoke, Aston Villa, Selsey, Arsenal U21, and Loughborough Lightning.

While results were mixed, it was largely considered a successful albeit tough schedule that afforded U’s boss Liam Gilbert the opportunity to experiment with personnel and formations before reverting back to a more familiar 4-3-3 formation ahead of the new season.

In their most recent outing, they produced arguably their best result of pre-season, beating Division One South East title contenders Hashtag United 3-0 in the searing heat at Court Place Farm. A great result against a strong side and a performance that Liam Gilbert will believe puts his side in good stead ahead of Sunday’s league opener against Bridgwater United.

2022/23

The aim is clear for the Yellows next season: secure promotion back to the second tier.

But it won’t be easy. Because while Ipswich Town and Watford are considered the biggest obstacles to United’s title ambitions, the rest of the division has never been more competitive following the relegation of the bottom four teams and the promotion of the two Tier 4 champions last season.

There are no easy matches and no team with title ambitions wants to be part of the chasing pack from the offset, which is why a strong start to the season – something United have struggled with a little historically – is so important.

If they can start well and are able to mirror last season’s home form in their first eight league fixtures – six of which are at Court Place Farm, including matches against Ipswich and Watford – they’ll find themselves in a strong position and have every chance of winning the league. Especially as they’re a side that tends to get stronger as the season progresses.

While not a priority for United, Liam Gilbert’s side will also look to capture the Oxfordshire County Cup and progress as far as possible in the FA WNL and FA Cup, especially with the increased prize money on offer from next season. There’s no overstating how important that extra cash will be to clubs – and the U’s are no exception.

Oxford United get their season underway this Sunday against Bridgwater United at Court Place Farm.