Crawley Wasps face their biggest challenge of the season on Thursday night when they take on Brighton & Hove Albion in the final of the Sussex Women’s Challenge Cup.
But, having faced the Seagulls in last year’s showpiece and put in a creditable second-half display despite losing 5-1, Wasps’ players and coaches are confident of doing the club justice once again.
With a stronger squad than last year, and an excellent season both in terms of results and league position, we go into the game in buoyant mood.
Kick-off at Sussex FA’s headquarters at Culver Road, Lancing, is 7.15pm. Tickets cost £5 for adults and £3 for students and those aged 65 or older, while under-16s go free.
Here’s what some of the club’s key figures make of the game.
First-team manager Paul Walker
“I’m delighted we’ve made the final again this year. It is the biggest ladies cup in Sussex and the Sussex FA do a fantastic job on making it feel special.
“We’ve had an extremely good season, so I’m hoping, with the squad of players that we’ve got, that we can be really competitive in the game on Thursday night.
“My bet is Brighton will play a mixture of their first team and their development side, so I think we’re going to be up against extremely stiff opposition.
“The first strategy is to stay in the game in the first 20-25 minutes – we don’t give the ball away cheaply, we try and close the spaces down, we play with confidence and most importantly we’re solid at the back and we’re compact.
“What I hope people will see when they come is a group of players who are extremely talented, who are comfortable on the ball and who will do the women’s game justice.”
Assistant manager Dave Cole
“I expect Brighton will take us a little bit more seriously this year. We’ve probably got more strength in depth than last season so I’m expecting us to have a go and show people how far this club has come in 12 months.
“Even the pros will tell you, it’s about getting rid of the nerves in the first 10-15 minutes. The girls that played there last year are coming back again so those nerves hopefully will have gone, and the more experienced girls that we have brought in have been there anyway, so I’m expecting us to be a bit calmer about it all.
“My brief, when I came in at the start of last season, was to help start pushing the club on. We’ve definitely moved the club on and year-on-year that’s what I hope to do.
“Off the pitch we need to build behind the scenes to push the profile on – that’s what Brighton have got, that’s what Chichester and Lewes have got. It’s not all about what happens on the field, it’s off the field as well, and nights like Thursday help.”
Captain Hannah Duncan
“We’ve come a long way from last season. We’ve made huge strides forward both on and off the pitch and the squad now is certainly a much stronger one, so we’ve got to take confidence from that.
“We’ve played Brighton in pre-season friendlies as well as in the cup final last year so we know what they’re all about. Those of us there last year know what it’s like to be in front of the crowd and everyone’s played on that pitch just a few days before the final, so there shouldn’t really be any surprises.
“We’ve got to go out with a positive mindset – we can’t look at it as damage limitation. We’ve played some fantastic football this season – keeping it on the ground, passing and moving, playing the strikers in – so we can certainly put on a show.
“Playing against a team of Brighton’s quality and experience will force us to raise our game as we did last year. We’ve just got to go out and do ourselves proud on the night.
Midfielder Suzanne Davies
“We played very well last year. Everyone worked very hard, pressed very well and defended very well, so that’s obviously something we’ll have to do again this time.
“We’ve got a stronger side this year so hopefully we can be a bit more attacking than last year and maybe we can surprise some people.
“If they’re going to put out a lot of Super League players then that’s obviously going to make it much more difficult for us, but we’ve always got a chance if it’s going to be the reserve team or the youngsters.”
For a match report on last year’s final, click here – and for highlights, provided by Football Exclusives, click here: