Argyle Ladies welcome a powerful Oxford United to the Manadon Hub in the FA Women’s Southern Premier League this weekend.
While it represents a big challenge, the Pilgrims returned from lockdown with a hugely encouraging display at Crawley last weekend, despite going down to a defeat.
“Oxford are a strong side and they have a chance to go top of the table if they win their game in hand,” said Argyle manager Ryan Perks.
“It is a big test for our ladies but they worked really hard over lockdown, following a tough fitness programme and they have come back looking sharper than before. Training has been very good and they look in very good shape.
“Even though we lost at Crawley last Sunday, the performance was very good and probably played some of the best football we have produced all season.
“We created a number of chances, their ‘keeper made a fantastic save and we hit the crossbar. We went in 2-0 down at half-time and it could have easily been 2-2.
“We had a decision go against in the second-half, when we felt there was a foul on our goalkeeper for the third goal, which did kill the momentum we were building.
“Overall, I was pleased with the performance from a very young squad. We ended the game with nine under-18 players on the pitch, which shows how we are building for the future.
“The message for Oxford will be the same as it was for Crawley. We want the players to be confident, get on the ball and play their game. We are judging them on performances, rather than results, and this young squad is learning with every single game.”
Argyle Ladies enter the New Year with a trip to Southampton in the second round of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup.
It is a tough draw for the Pilgrims and represents a massive week in their season, as the cup game on Sunday, 3 January is followed by a decisive meeting with Hounslow in the FA Women’s Southern League, with both sides fighting to stay in the division.
“Southampton are in a league below us in the football pyramid but they are a very good side in that division,” said Ryan.
“They are unbeaten and a club with serious ambitions. They’ve had some money pumped into the club and probably one of the hardest draws we could have been given at this stage of the competition.
“If you wanted a team lower down, you would not have asked for Southampton. It will be a measure of where we are as a team.
“We follow Southampton with a big one against Hounslow a week later. They are two big games and it will give us a clearer indication of what we can achieve this season.
“We’ve had a difficult run against five or six of the top teams in the division recently and this will show us how much the players have progressed.”
Elsewhere, the Ladies have been drawn at home to Bideford in the Devon Senior Cup in February.