When the Ladies stepped onto the pitch on Sunday, it will be the biggest game for a lot of the players as well as manager Dean Perrett himself. We caught up with him at training on Wednesday as he previews our FA Cup tie with Ipswich Town.
Before England slumped into another lockdown, Harlow had travelled to the Len Salmon Stadium as they faced Bowers & Pitsea Ladies on the last day before the lockdown. November 4 was the day and the Hawks had ended their Bowers Blues with a 3-0 win as a Davina Smith Double and a well taken finish from Tayla Handscomb took the wind out of Bowers sails. It was time when the players had started to pick up form, looking to push on and were due to play Ipswich Town Ladies sooner but that was out of the question when the non-league footballing world came to a halt.
The first available Sunday to play came last week but Harlow were left without a game. They were due to play Luton Town Ladies in the Eastern Region Women’s Football League Premier Division, but due to their involvement in the FA Women’s Cup, they needed to play their postponed fixture against Enfield Town of the National League. Dean had hoped he would line-up for a friendly, but that soon fell through, giving the Ladies only training sessions to prepare.
“Coming out of lockdown, we could have done with a game,” he said, “but unfortunately, we were scheduled to play Luton. The girls have kept fit during the lockdown period, working on strength and conditioning. They look good in training [as we speak]. We know it’s going to be tough but preparation wise, they will give it their best.”
Having no game was not ideal. While many clubs were brushing off their cobwebs. It would have boosted their match fitness that you couldn’t pick up in training but with no game possible, they had to make-do. Dean felt this could have hindered their preparation. “Possibly. I would have preferred a game and that would have been better preparation but the girls still look good in training and they are looking fresh.”
Ipswich Town of the National League [Division One South East] were certainly favourites going into the game. Not only because they play at a higher level, but simply for what they achieved last season in the competition. The Tractor girls had progressed to the Fifth Round Proper, beating teams in the higher division like Portsmouth and Huddersfield Town before being drawn away to Manchester City. Dean Perrett was well aware of this but was still feeling the pressure. “I think there is pressure because it’s the First Round [Proper]. Our target when we entered into the competition at the Extra Preliminary Round stage was to reach this round and we’ve had to play 5-games to be here. When we were in the draw, we knew we’d pull a massive team. What they achieved last season was incredible and a dream for teams like us.”
He continued. “Yes, we are underdogs, but underdogs can have their day and we will certainly give it a good go on Sunday.”
Two qualities that Ipswich process are their lethality in attack as well as they international squad. During last seasons competition, they scored 29 and conceded 3 over the space of 6-rounds before they were thrashed by WSL Champions Man City. Their squad is also full of youth internationals at different age groups, something that was a huge benefit of the academy. “They are a very good side. We had one of their players on loan with us last season after I had spoken to Joe [Sheehan] and they were great in getting that done for us. They are a fantastic side and we can only study them as much as is possible, but it comes down to both sides on the day. When they come at you [in attack], they can score from all over the pitch and they are quick. Saying that, a lot of the girls in our squad have played at that level [the National League], so the girls should be ready. They’ve had massive scorelines, but I’m not going to say if we keep the score down, we’ll be happy because ultimately, we want to try and win the game.”
“It comes down to them being in academies and training 3-times a week [that they have internationals]. They have a lot of under 18’s and 19’s in their squad, so it’s a great position to be in and Joe is very lucky to have those players. It will be an honour to play them.”
Ahead of the game, most players might need to be motivated ahead of such a huge game but he didn’t think he needed to do that. “The girls are very much up for it. We had BBC Look East here tonight [Wednesday] and it’s massive for the club for them to come down to see how we are preparing. There is a buzz around the Town. I don’t think they need much motivation as they know how huge the game is and they will give 100%.
He also felt the backing of supporters would give the girls an extra boost. “The social media stuff has already started and it will be great to get as many down to cheer us on. Ipswich will bring a lot of support themselves too because they have a good following, but if we can get behind the girls. You never know!”
Photo: Liana Murphy (@notlenny_)