When the 2020/21 season was suspended, it frustrated those who were affected. The thoughts of a month long break was not what anyone wanted but the Government had made the decision based on the rising COVID cases. Like many teams, Harlow Town Ladies were just picking up form and had beaten Bowers & Pitsea on the Wednesday before lockdown to move themselves up to 4th after 5-games. The match with Bowers had been a tense start with neither side wanting to make a mistake. The deadlock was broken as a Davina Smith shot ricocheted off a Bowers defender and took it beyond the keeper before Tayla Handscomb added to the scoreline which an excellent finish into the top corner and Davina Smith rounded off the victory with a headed from a corner.
The performance delighted manager Dean Perrett but he knew that immediately after, there would be no football for a month. That had put a spanner into the works with Harlow Town excited for their FA Women’s Cup First Round tie with Ipswich Town which was put on hold. “I’ve very happy [its returning after just a month]. As I said after the Bowers game, it is such a shame because I think we were just hitting form and the girls were finding their tempo on the pitch. Thankfully, it has only been a month and the girls have kept themselves fit.”
On the first matchday, December 6th, Harlow don’t have a competitive game to play. They were due to play Luton Town Ladies but the Hatters are now scheduled to play their postponed FA Cup game and with no other league opponent available, Dean and the girls will have to play a friendly. That could make it hard to prepare for the biggest game of the season; Ipswich Town Women at home. Still, Dean was confident the ladies had maintained their fitness. “The girls have been doing their zoom sessions with strength & conditioning, fitness and setting them targets with their running. There are no excuses as to why they won’t come back fit because I can guarantee other teams would have worked very hard to get fit in the month away. It’s unfortunate we haven’t got a game [on the 6th December] but we’ll train or having a friendly a prepare for the two games before our Christmas break.”
“Our first competitive game back will be Ipswich in the First Round Proper of the FA Women’s, which was our target at the start of the season. We will be the underdogs because of the form they are in, the league they play in and purely for how far they got in last season’s competition. It was an amazing achievement for them but it will be great for the girls to go up against a side like that. As underdogs we have nothing to lose but we will be sure to give it our best. It will certainly be tough but the girls know exactly what they need to do.”
Dean’s mind was cast back to the 1-1 draw with Portsmouth during pre-season in which the Hawks held the National League South Premier Division side to a draw at home, and could have beaten them as Georgia Box had the ball in the back of the net but it was ruled out. Whilst he had to get the girls ready for the return, he too, had to get his mind set for the changes that the club would face before the New Year. “I don’t switch off as a manager. I try to keep the girls up to speed with what’s going on and try to put on different sessions in regards to their fitness. I’m simple preparing by getting the girls ready and ensuring we are in the best condition to face the Ipswich. I’m always think ahead to what games we have got coming up [beyond our next fixture] and whether I need to strengthen the squad [due to injuries]. I also check the girls are okay because everyone suffers differently so it’s good to check on each individual.”
The season had been a mixed one to date. Harlow had quite hit the heights of the previous season, going unbeaten with 2 draws and 13 wins but they still sat 4th after 5-games with a record of won 3, drew 1 and lost 1. Add to that the incredible FA Women’s Cup run that was started in the Extra Preliminary Round, it had not been a bad one for sure. “We are disappointed that we have lost a game. We had that incredible run last year and to be unbeaten was incredible but it was always going to take something special to replicate that. Having a month off and looking back now, I think we have done okay. We have added some very good footballers to a very good squad and already, it is a tight-knit squad which is a lot of fun. We can always do better but before the lockdown we were just hitting our form. The league will be tougher this season as each squad have strengthened massively over the summer.”
“It’s a strange season” he added. “We were beaten by Wymondham but a week later, they lost to Bowers. Its a league, this season, where clubs will take points off each other and that’s a credit to the league and the clubs within the league. The FA Cup run had been quality so to be in the First Round Proper, when you consider where we started, is brilliant.”
When it came to his favourite game this season, it was a tough one to choose. The pre-season game against higher opposition came to find as well as the league start against Peterborough. “We had a great pre-season and to get the draw against Pompey was great. When we went to Peterborough [on the opening day] which is always going to be tough and win it the way we did, was a totally different style to how we won games last season so that impressed me a lot. I was also impressed with the game against Colney [Heath] as well because we came back from losing, to level the game before nicking a winner. There have been a lot of tough games but one I think we clicked as a squad was Royston Town at home [in the league] and the same goes against a good St Ives side [winning 5-1 too]. The most pleasing was [the last game before lockdown] when we beat Bowers 3-0. We were going through any gears in the first half and it was a tough place to go but we managed to score and get a clean sheet.”
How is the squad looking ahead of the return?
“We have a few niggling injures and we lost Phoebe [Peters] early in the season so it’s a shame we haven’t been able to see her in action. As a manager, I have to just look around at who I have available. We brought in Hannah Porter which has been a massive signing for us but I’ll have a look at the girls at training and access who will be ready for the first game back.”
Photo: Matt Bacon (@Bacon0Butty)