Preview: Watford Ladies (H), Sunday 15 April 2018
Sheffield FC Ladies face Watford for the first time this season in what is a hugely important match for both teams.
This Sunday's match marks the start of a busy period for both teams, with eight matches to fit into the final five weeks of the season. If either is to make a move towards the top half of the table, points need to start being amassed quickly, and both Sheffield and Watford will be desperate to bag maximum points from Sunday's contest - which should make for an exciting and intense match.
In spite of a positive start to the season with two wins in their opening three matches, points have not been easy to come by for Sheffield in spite of strong performances against some of the best teams in the division.
A frustrating run of single goal defeats was ended with a thrilling 4-3 win against Tottenham Hotspur in January, but the hosts were punished 4-1 by a rampant Brighton & Hove Albion in their last outing at the end of March, and will be keen to improve on their poor performance that day. With other teams around them picking up points in recent weeks, Sheffield currently find themselves in eighth place.
Watford were last in action a fortnight ago and impressed in spite of losing 3-1 against league leaders Doncaster Rovers Belles at the Keepmoat Stadium. The performance will have given the visitors a huge boost in self-belief, and a match against Sheffield comes at the perfect time for the Hornets if they are to kick on from that display.
Watford are currently bottom of WSL 2, with one draw against Tottenham Hotspur from their ten league matches played to date, but the Continental Tyres Cup rendered better results, however, with the Hornets registering a draw v London Bees and a very good win over high-flying Millwall Lionesses.
Its almost a year since the team's last met, when Sheffield's trip to King's Langley proved an unhappy one as the team returned empty handed on the back of a frustrating 2-0 defeat in the Spring Series.
Sheffield won both fixtures in the 2016 season - the only other previous meetings between the sides. A 3-0 win at the Home of Football Stadium was followed up with a 3-1 win in the reverse match, two results which contributed to Sheffield's fifth placed finish in their debut FA Women's Super League season.
Watford have won once in the league since their win against Sheffield in April 2017, a match from which just four players remain in the current Hornet's squad, but the hosts will be hugely wary of a team who, in spite of their difficulties this season, show a dogged determination and unquenchable spirit in every game.
ONES TO WATCH
The departure of striker Rinsola Babajide to Liverpool in the transfer window has removed one of Sheffield's most respected adversaries from the Watford side, but the visitors will need to be wary of Welsh international, Helen Ward, who provides bags of experience for a generally youthful Watford side. The forward who started her career at Watford, has been at a host of clubs across WSL1 and 2, including Arsenal and Chelsea, and returned to Watford at the start of the sason , and Sheffield will be well aware of the forward's goal scoring prowess and influence on her team.
Talented young goalkeeper, Frances Kitching, on a season long loan at the Hornets from Chelsea, is well-capable of being a thorn in Sheffield's side and definitely one to keep an eye on for the future.
Watford captain, Anneka Nuttall, is a hugely influential player and the current squad's longest serving player behind Helen Ward. A hard-working defender who leads by example, Nuttall has also been a regular scorer for the club, bagging against Doncaster Rovers Belles in her last appearance.
Sheffield manager, Zoe Johnson, has a full squad available from which to select her team, but will be expecting a much improved performance from her players following their last outing v Brighton:
"We weren’t good enough all over the pitch against Brighton. We looked extremely rusty and failed to do the basics well enough, and I’m hoping that improves this afternoon. There’s been a massive lack of consistency this season - we’ve got players who show the talent one week, and then not the next - and that has got to improve for the remainder of the season if we're to improve our postition."
"We've had some unfortunate narrow defeats this season, but we don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves, and we must look to put it right and improve our performance drastically from last time to be able to get any points out of the fixture this Sunday."
"All the staff and players have reflected and have worked hard in the last couple of weeks with a view to getting a more positive performance today. That said, we know exactly how difficult this game is going to be, and we will be more than happy to take something from the match."
The match kicks off at the slightly later time of 3pm on Sunday 15 April, at the Home of Football, S18 2GD. Tickets can be bought on the day at the turnstiles priced £5 and £2, or purchased at slightly reduced priced in advance here.