It’s a welcome return to football for Southampton FC Women on Sunday, who host Plymouth Argyle in the second round of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup.
Saints vs Plymouth Argyle
Vitality Women’s FA Cup second round
Sunday 4th April, 3pm GMT
After over 15 weeks out of action due to government restrictions, Saints return to action this week with a much-anticipated FA Cup fixture.
Their last outing back in December also came in the competition, where Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side breezed past AFC Bournemouth CST 5-0 away from home.
Ella Pusey and Lucia Kendall each scored a double, whilst Rachel Panting got in on the act to cement a dominant afternoon for Saints.
In terms of Women’s National League action the season has been curtailed once more for Spacey-Cale and her side, but the FA Cup provides hope of a positive finish to what has been another eventful season.
Plymouth also suffered the fate of their season being cut short, with the FA WPL Premier Division falling under the same government guidelines as Saints’ league.
Argyle had played seven games this season in the league but had failed to grab a point in what was a competitive division.
FA CUP RUN SO FAR
Helston Atheltic 0-11 Saints – Second qualifying round
Saints’s 2020/21 FA cup journey started on the road in Cornwall, visiting Helston Athletic in mid-October. Spacey-Cale’s side dominated proceedings, coming away with a 11-0 victory away from home, their highest margin of victory this season. Panting was the most profitable, scoring four of the eleven goals.
Ilminster Town 0-4 Saints – Third qualifying round
It was another away trip for Spacey-Cale’s side in the final qualifying round, travelling a slightly shorter distance to Ilminster. Saints were tested during the 90 minutes, but ultimately came away with a 4-0 victory. Alisha Ware grabbing a double with goals from Phoebe Williams and Pusey either side.
AFC Bournemouth 0-5 Saints – First round
The away trips didn’t stop for Saints as they entered the first-round proper of the competition, but the travel distances shortened once more. In December the side beat rivals AFC Bournemouth 5-0 away from home, as Pusey and Kendall gained a double each either side of Panting’s early strike.
PLAYER FOCUS: ROSIE PARNELL
Defender Rosie Parnell is one of an eager group of players ready for the return to action this weekend.
Listing the St Mary’s debut in the FA Cup last season as her favourite memory as a Saint so far, the 26-year-old is looking forward to what the competition can bring the side this time around.
“We would’ve wanted to go on a good FA Cup run this season like we did last season,” she said. “So it was always a good motivation for us.
“But now it’s the only competitive games we have left of the season so the more we win, the more we get to play.
“We’re really looking forward to playing, obviously It’s been a very long time, but we’re all raring to go.
“I think it’s going to be a tough game, they’re [Plymouth] in the league above so I think we’ve got to be at our best to get something from it.”
PLAYER FOCUS: KAYLA RENDELL
Alongside Parnell, another key figure behind the four clean sheets so far in the FA Cup this season is goalkeeper Kayla Rendell.
Rendell, who has featured in two of the three FA Cup shutouts alongside every league game this season, is a product of the club’s youth system and is excited at the competition’s upcoming challenges.
“We’re massively looking forward to the game, I think all the girls are raring to go and get back on the pitch.
“We’ve done a lot of work from home individually and on video calls but I think after this first week back at training it’s made me realise how much hard work these girls have put in over lockdown.
“It will be a different challenge on Sunday, obviously they’re [Plymouth] in the league above.
“The FA cup is always a big challenge but we just want to test ourselves and just get through to the next round."
It’s been a testing time for Spacey-Cale and her coaching staff having to tackle government guidelines and continue the intensity of training sessions on a virtual level.
But the light is very much there at the end of the tunnel in the form of a return to competitive football this weekend.
“It’s been interesting because you’re just so used to being busy and being around the players,” she said. “We were stepping away from being that type of busy to being a different type of busy where you’re putting plans in place, thinking ahead.
“But the players, with what they’re doing online, have been superb. I can’t thank them enough for the work they’ve done because now that we’re back in you can see the rewards of what they’ve been doing.
“This week we’ve got the players back together and tried to get them back used to each other, being around a squad. It’s been quite a socially distanced social but with a purpose of looking forward to the game on Sunday.
“I think you’ve always got to treat a team who is in the higher league than you with an utmost respect because they’re [Plymouth] there and have been for so many seasons.
“We’re concentrating on what we can do, the way we think we can play based on the time off we’ve had and the three sessions we’ve had this week.
“It’s the FA Cup and they’re in a higher league so don’t want to get beaten by us, so there’s a lot o factors to take into consideration but our players are in good spirits.”