Both teams have already secured their own places in club folklore with ‘best ever’ runs in national competitions. Three weeks ago Woodley women made it through the qualifying rounds of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup for the first time ever in dramatic style. It will be even more notable an achievement at Bulmershe Pavilion on Sunday afternoon if the Kestrels can get past Tier 3 Oxford United.
Woodley captain – long serving Ellen Surtees – reflected with us on that incredible cup tie last month. “We went into the last round not really knowing what Aylesford were like” admitted Surtees. The PE teacher at Hugh Farringdon School in Reading continued: “If we’re honest, we started slowly. We couldn’t get our passing game going and nothing was flowing. Aylesford scored first which hit us. After a firm talk at half time we came out stronger in the second half and got the goal we deserved. We should’ve won the game in full time but it went to penalties. I always think that penalties is such a horrible way to end the game. But I applaud all players who stepped up to take one and also Sophie Cheadle for her fantastic display in goal! We were absolutely buzzing at the end as we knew we’d just made club history by making it into the First Round proper.”
Woodley remain in good form since promotion back to Tier 5, suffering just one defeat in league and cup as they go into one of the biggest games in the history of the club. They come into the match on the back of a 3-1 victory against Winchester Flyers last Sunday and Ellen admits: “Last week was dramatic, but out of nowhere! We had a lot of possession in the game but just couldn’t create the chances. Winchester always looked in the game but the back four controlled it well. Red cards in a game is always bound to have an impact and in previous years the team would’ve lost their heads. But this seemed to spur us on. We scored to make it 2-1 right from the restart after the red cards. At that point is was all about game management and we have ten leaders on the pitch then. We didn’t get carried away, stayed relaxed and the third goal came from a great free kick!”
The match will be a ‘Gemma Sims derby’ as the Woodley full-back takes on her former club, the club at which Sims is now General Manager. There is extra spice as well, as Sam Rose will take the helm of the U’s for the first time, the former assistant manager at WSL outfit Aston Villa appointed to the role of team manager this week. Surtees however wants her team to concentrate on themselves however rather than their prestigious opponents: “We know that we’re the underdogs but that’s what The FA Cup is all about!” she said. “If we get too caught up in the moment, thinking about who we’re playing, then we’ll lose our focus. As crazy as it is, we just need to treat Oxford as any other team. Obviously our game plan needs to change slightly but we’ve trained twice this week and have identified what we want to do on Sunday. We just want to go out there on Sunday, put our all in and prove that we can fight for the win!” On the basis of the Kestrels efforts so far this season you can bet your life that they will fight to the last against the FAWNL Southern Premier side.
FA Vase Second Round
Meanwhile, there will be no such home comforts for the Woodley men on Saturday as they travel to Step 5 side Egham Town in Round 2 of the FA Vase. On paper they look up against it when they take on The Sarnies, but having come through Round 1 against a side a division above them, manager Jordan Blake will be insisting that his side show no fear. Reflecting on the tie in the previous round, Blake recalled: “Collectively it was a combination of joy and relief. Virginia Water played extremely well that afternoon and we knew we were going to have to be very good in all areas, which we were. We had to stand up to the challenge but ultimately we dug in really deep against a really good side. That was the most pleasing thing for me even when they were on top for long periods of the second half.” Like their female counter-parts, Woodley men dug in and made history via a penalty shoot-out.
Blake and the Boys face another Step 5 play-off chasing side when they head to Surrey and Blake admits: “I have watched them live once and watched a couple of videos of them in preparation ready for Saturday. We have a training session on Thursday that we will be using to prepare for Saturday, working on a number of things that I have identified to give us the best chance in getting into the next round. We have spoken a lot about togetherness and sticking together no matter what happens, so collectively we are all on the same page pulling in the right direction to give ourselves the best opportunity of getting into the hat for the next round.”
Woodley United are made of stern stuff this season, across the board. It would be a complacent side which would take either Woodley team for granted this weekend.