Watford FC Ladies travel to Middlesbrough Women this Sunday, looking to secure a place in the final of the FAWNL Plate.
The action in the competition is coming thick and fast, with this weekend's semi-final taking place just a fortnight after the Golden Girls progressed against Chichester City in the previous round.
In order to set up a final against West Bromwich Albion, the Hornets will first have to navigate a tricky tie in the North East.
Watford and Middlesbrough met last season in the Women’s FA Cup, and the Golden Girls triumphed 7-2 in Billingham that day, with Helen Ward’s four-goal performance earning her the Player of the Round award.
Views from the Head Coach
It had been a frustrating 2020 for Watford due to postponed fixtures, although you wouldn’t have known that against Chichester.
The Golden Girls put in a fine team performance despite a recent lack of game time, with the signs looking really encouraging going forward into an important end to the season.
“I was very pleased with what I saw against Chichester,” said Clinton Lancaster. “It was an excellent professional performance where we dictated the pace of the game and dominated possession.
“Considering we hadn’t played for such a long time, I was really impressed with how everyone performed. We know we have goals in the team. We have players in every position who can hit the back of the net. We also know that we are a threat from set-pieces as well. No team will feel comfortable playing against us.
“Defensively we have been very good, we want to keep as many clean sheets as possible by staying disciplined.”
Now Watford have reached the semi-final stage of the Plate, the competition is no longer regionalised. Watford know if they can successfully navigate the long trip to Middlesbrough, a final awaits.
“We don’t look beyond Boro. However, we want to get into the final and win a trophy,” explained Lancaster.
“Everyone at the club wants to win the competition and we will go all out to make sure that we can do that. We have been on the road a lot in the cup competitions this season! We are used to the travelling and will treat this like any other game.
“It’s a long journey for us, but we know how to manage the long away days and it won’t be a problem for us, it comes with the territory.”
The coaching staff and players will have some insight into Middlesbrough, having faced them last season, although Lancaster insists the focus is on what his side does.
“We haven’t looked into them too much and have just focused on us and the things we need to work on,” he said.
“I just want us to continue where we left off against Chichester. We have an excellent squad and whoever starts will be expected to go out there and do the job.
“I’ve no doubt Boro will want to get to the final as much as us. It won’t be easy, but we are as prepared as we can be.”
Middlesbrough 2-7 Watford (January 6, 2019)
A stunning attacking display saw Watford net seven times and progress to the Fourth Round of the Women’s FA Cup.
The Golden Girls got off to a perfect start as Danielle Scanlon’s header put them a goal to the good early on. That lead was then doubled in the 10th minute as Helen Ward beat the opposition goalkeeper at her near post.
Emily Scarr pulled a goal back for the hosts, but the Hornets responded immediately. Adekite Fatuga-Dada threaded a ball through to Ward and, just 13 seconds after kick-off, the two-goal advantage had been restored.
It’s safe to say the opening half-hour was eventful. Middlesbrough made it 3-2, Eleanor Dale getting the last touch to Holly Manders’ header.
That wasn’t the end of the scoring in the first half. A cross was looped up towards Katie O’Leary at the back post and she made no mistake with her header from close range.
Watford continued to apply pressure going forward in the second 45 and got a fifth just after the hour mark. Samantha Hallsworth drove forward and her cross-shot beat Ashleigh Trainer in the Boro goal.
Fatuga-Dada was having an influential afternoon and she set up Ward again, the captain showing good composure to place the ball past Trainer and secure her hat-trick.
The skipper wasn’t done there. Having been played through on goal, she calmly finished for her fourth and Watford’s seventh to round off the scoring in the cup tie.
GOLDEN GIRLS | Baranowska, Hallsworth (Baker, 66), Edwards, Hill, Huggins, Scanlon (Kettle, 82), Stojko-Down, Fatuga-Dada, Carid (Bell, 51), O’Leary, Ward (C).
Goals | Scanlon (7), Ward (10, 20, 81, 84), O’Leary (39), Hallsworth (61).
Since winning promotion back in 2015/16, Middlesbrough have been one of the top sides in the Northern Division of the FAWNL. They continued the momentum by finishing second in 2016/17, and that was then followed up by a third-placed finish.
Middlesbrough dropped to fifth place in 2018/19, although their point tally was still remarkably consistent. While the number of teams did change, they either ended up with 42 or 43 points over those three seasons.
Unfortunately for Boro, they haven’t been able to maintain that this year. They’ve struggled a bit this campaign, averaging less than a point per game so far. It means they’re currently in seventh, although they’ve played more matches than anyone else in the division.
They started the season really well, taking seven points from a possible nine. This included an impressive 5-2 win against Nottingham Forest and a draw versus Sunderland. Middlesbrough remain the only side to have taken a point from the Lady Black Cats this season.
One of the big reasons behind results taking a downward turn after that was issues defensively. They conceded at least three goals in the next eight league fixtures, although Boro did manage to secure a point against Fylde and a win over Hull City in that span.
The defensive woes were put to one side at the turn of the year. Forest were forced to grind out a 1-0 win, but Middlesbrough managed to build on that, defeating the same opposition 2-1 in the Plate quarter-final, and then beating Fylde 1-0 in the league.
Unfortunately, the issues have re-surfaced in recent weeks, conceding six away at Sunderland and seven at Derby County. It’s worth mentioning that the trip to the Midlands saw them without a recognised goalkeeper.
Going forward is a different issue though, as that Derby game was only the fourth time they’ve failed to score this season, and they’ve found the back of the net 45 times. Tyler Dodds is currently their top scorer with 12.
Watford will be well aware of their threats, with the two having featured in the Women’s FA Cup fixture last year. Of those who featured that day, nine are still involved with the club.
Last time out
Chichester 0-4 Watford
GOLDEN GIRLS | Wilson, Hill, Beckett, Richards, Bell (Huggins, 65), Scanlon, Chandler, Vyse, Harney, Ward (C) (O’Leary, 52), Fatuga-Dada (Carid, HT).
Goals | Beckett (9), Ward (10), Chandler (25), Scanlon (63)
Derby County 7-0 Middlesbrough
MIDDLESBROUGH | Bell, Bass (C), Brown, Dale (Dixon), Dobson, Dodds, Luke, McQuade, Newton, Wilson, Young
Middlesbrough Women v Watford FC
FA WNL Plate semi-final
Sunday March 8, 2pm
Billingham Town FC
Adults - £3
Children - Free