It’s a bumper weekend for women’s football in the county as the FA Cup is back for the Preliminary Round with six Berkshire teams in action. Football in Berkshire’s Women’s Football Correspondent Abi spoke to the managers ahead of the fixtures.
Darrel Evans of Ascot United, Marc Surtees of Woodley United, Tony McConnon of Newbury, Rob Page of Tilehurst Panthers, Craig Gareppo of Slough Town Ladies and Martin Elcox of Eversley & California Ladies.
How have preparations gone for the upcoming fixture?
Darrel Evans: Preparations for the game have gone well, We have made some great additions to the squad over the summer on and off the field and we now have great strength in depth and everyone has responded in a positive manner. The coaches have been putting on great sessions under the restrictions since we restarted and everyone is pushing themselves to a maximum in training as they have recognised there will be no guarantees of a starting place this season. We are seeing the effect of competition for places, in our pre-season fixtures where we are unbeaten in 6 games. For Sunday’s game we have 3 players out injured Hannah Evans achilles, Katie Vince Hamstring and Claire Couzens foot injury but despite these injuries we still have a strong squad all available for the game.
Marc Surtees: We had a good training session last week which involved a good fitness session thanks to Amie Benton at Fuel Fitness and a friendly on Sunday which gave us an opportunity to try a few different things. We have a few more players available that did not play in the previous game so we have good competition for places.
Tony McConnon: We are always up for any game that gives us a chance of giant killing.
Craig Gareppo: Preparation is going well, we had a great win in our first league game of the season, the weekend just gone. We have quite a few new players that are gelling in nicely.
Rob Page: Like everyone we entered, we started training as soon as the authorities and our club gave us the green light, so we’ve done a lot of pre-season fitness training when the initial restrictions were in place. After months without any form of football though, we picked up a few injuries along the way which has caused some concern with such a small squad. With that said, most players are almost back to full fitness now, we’ve had a decent pre-season with friendlies and good wins in our first competitive match in the league last week, so we take those positives into this one.
Martin Elcox: Preparations have gone well on the whole, we had two good pre-season games, with wins against Down Grange and Rushmoor Community, both Hampshire Division 1 teams, followed by an 8 – 1 away win last Sunday against City Belles in the first League game of the season. So the results have been really positive. More importantly though, we have been playing some really good footballers, especially in the game against Rushmoor. The new players we have in the squad are settling in well and we now have some real pace in the team, which is always a good thing. Training has gone well and we have been concentrating on trying to move the ball quicker in preparation for Sunday, as the ladies won’t have as much time on the ball playing a side like Wycombe Wanderers.
How are the team feeling ahead of this weekend’s game?
DE: After such a long period without a competitive game and the hard work put in during pre-season you really can sense the excitement within the group. With the occasion being made that extra bit special with an FA Cup fixture, they really can’t wait to get out on the pitch.
MS: The team is looking forward to it again, they are relaxed but we will make sure they are not too relaxed, they will be put through their passes at training again this week. They all know that they are not guaranteed a starting place so they will be working hard at training to give Nuno and I selection problems.
TM: Preparations are going ok with a training session on Thursday to finalize team selection and formation. Everyone is really looking forward to the FA cup.
CG: We know we’re playing a team a few leagues higher than us, but we go into every game confident that we can win. If we can get the ball down and play to our strengths then at this level we can match anyone.
RP: Excited and maybe obviously a little nervous! It’s our first ever game at our home ground in a fantastic stadium; the pitch is superb too which should suit our playing style. I think everyone just wants Sunday to be here now.
ME: I believe everyone is looking forward to it, albeit with a certain amount of nervous anticipation. Bar two or three of the squad, this will be the first time the Ladies have played in a competition like the Women’s FA Cup, but it just goes to show how far they have come as a team. Obviously we don’t fully know what to expect on Sunday, especially playing a team from two steps higher, but everyone is determined to enjoy the occasion and do themselves justice whatever the result.
Who would you most like to be drawn against should you progress through this round?
DE: It doesn’t matter who we get there will be no easy games, should we progress all we would hope for is a home draw. Albeit home or away we will be giving it our best shot to progress further in the competition.
MS: It would be good to be drawn against a team that does not play in the same league as us, especially a team from a different area that we know nothing about. It is always good to play different teams. A home game would be good again.
TM: As for the draw, don’t mind who but would like to play at home.
CG: Not thinking about the next round, just focused on the next game. If we get through this tough fixture then that would be great.
RP: Manchester City. We’ve heard they’re not all that! Seriously, just being in this competition is a great step for our club and we’ll enjoy every minute no matter what happens.
ME: It will be a tough game on Sunday, but to be honest, should we progress through to the next round, I don’t really mind who we play in the next round. It would be nice to get another team from Step 7, if any others also get through, otherwise any Southern Region Div 1 side. Basically, any team that gives us the best chance to get to the next round. However, we do have to be realistic, winning on Sunday will only get us to the First Qualifying Round, three games away from the First Round proper, now that would be an achievement.
Anything else you’d like to add ahead of this game?
DE: We are looking forward to welcoming Swindon Supermarine to the Racecourse, this will be the 4th time we have played them in just over a year and we will be expecting a tough game. Hopefully we will get a good crowd down for the game and tickets are available on line at www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ascot-utd-ladies-vs-swindon-supermarine-fa-cup-tickets-121203285289
MS: We know this weekend will be a tough game, Milton United had a good win at the weekend against the team we played in the previous round. We are looking forward to it and hopefully we can put in a good performance that will take us through to the next round.
TM: We are going through a transition both on and off the pitch but are confident we will progress as a club.
RP: A big thanks to Reading City FC for allowing us to play at such a nice venue. More importantly, I plead with anyone who attends to please, please keep to the social distancing measures. Now is not the time to lose sight of the seriousness of this pandemic. Please all play your part.
ME: The only thing I want to add, is that the Ladies have come a long way in the last couple of seasons and it would be really good to see them take the next step and really show everyone what they are capable of. Reaching the Hampshire Trophy Final and proving they were ready to enter the Women’s FA Cup is a testament to this. We have some really good young players in the squad and I believe The future is very bright for the team. But let’s take one step at a time, starting on Sunday against Wycombe Wanderers Ladies.
Fixtures are as follows:-
Ascot United vs Swindon Supermarine
Abingdon United vs Newbury
Woodley United vs Milton United Ladies
Tilehurst Panthers LFC vs Slough Town Ladies FC
Wycombe Wanderers Football Club vs Eversley & California Ladies
We’d like to wish all the teams competing the very best of luck on Sunday. In other FA Cup news, Maidenhead United Women see themselves exempt to second round qualifying, whilst Reading FC Women will make their first appearance in the competition when they enter at the 4th round qualifying.