Argyle / Football

Argyle Ladies ready for big game at Home Park against leaders Watford

HOME PARK is the place to be on Sunday as Plymouth Argyle Ladies face their toughest challenge of the season when they entertain National League Southern Division leaders Watford (2pm).

Pilgrims manager Dave Leonard is fully aware of how big the occasion at the Theatre of Greens is for his team, who have won 11 straight league and cup games.

But he said: “It’s the old cliché, but don’t play the occasion, play the game. Fingers crossed we will and be all prepared to go out there and get a good result. Getting the three points is the main thing.”

Watford, just like last week’s opponents Oxford United, recently dropped out of the Super League and are making great strides to try and get back to their former glory days.

Argyle are in a rich vein of form and are looking to make it 12 straight wins while Watford have won their last eight games so a titanic struggle is expected.

One person the Pilgrims have to be careful of is Wales international striker Helen Ward, who is her country’s all-time top scorer with 42 goals in 70.

The striker started her career at Watford before playing at the highest level for Arsenal, Chelsea and Reading before returning to Watford two seasons ago and has scored 51 goals in 132 league appearances, including nine this term.

Another player Argyle will need watch is former Spain youth and futsal international Andrea Carid, who has netted eight times this season. They will also need to keep an eye on ex-London Bees, QPR and Tottenham Hotspur player Kate O’Leary, who has seven goals to her name.

But Argyle are not short of class of their own.  They have their own Wales international in Helen Bleazard, who has 43 caps for her country, while top scorer Natasha Knapman has netted 178 goals in a stellar career, including an eye-catching 20 already this season.

Another boost for the Greens is the return of midfield dynamo and England under-20 international Jessica Jones.

Sunday’s match will be a special occasion for flying winger Amber Pollock, who, if selected will make her 100th appearance or the Pilgrims at Home Park.

Captain Kate Middleton missed out on last week’s FA Cup win at Oxford United and, while Ben Kyle is still sidelined through injury, she will once again don the goalkeeping gloves, with Vicki Fannon, who did a great job between the sticks at Oxford, returning to her coaching duties.

The match is the first test event for Argyle’s new grandstand and a four-figure gate is expected.

Argyle have twice played at Home Park in the last couple of years. In May, they beat Poole Town 6-1 to gain promotion, while last season nearly 900 fans turned up to see them draw 2-2 against Portsmouth in the Dockyard Derby.

Argyle squad: Kate Middleton, Bow Jackson, Ebony Dover, Leah Burridge, Helen Bleazard, Zoe Cunningham, Becky Dandridge, Steph Beck, Amber Pollock, Kayley Lane, Natasha Knapman, Mollie Taylor, Lydia Huntley, Jessica Jones, Faye Ivall, Beth Everson.

Meanwhile, Plymouth Argyle’s development team, who top of the South West League Western Division, travel up the A38 again on Sunday to take on Exeter & Tedburn Rangers, who they have already beaten twice this season.

The young Pilgrims have a few injury concerns and will be missing Rachel Heron due to an ankle injury and Leah Johnson, who has a groin injury. Young midfielder Kiara Robins trained in midweek despite limping off in the first half of last week’s game. The team welcome into the squad Greece international Panagiota Papaioannou, who is getting back to match fitness after injury.

Manager Rob Bonney said: “The girls were pushed to the limits in training this week and they all looked sharp. They are all pushing for a starting place which is a great problem to have.”

Bonney and goalkeeping coach Dan Tecza will be joined on the sidelines by the coaching duo of Gary Bottomley and Ryan Lawton for the first time this season.

Bonney said: “Gary and Ryan have a very successful track record in girls’ junior football and now the club feels it is time for them to dip their toes into the senior game.”

The development team beat Alphington 2-0 last Sunday in the Bristol SoccerWorld League Cup. It was thought they would be playing Plympton in the Western Division final but they have now found out that only the early rounds were regionalised and so they will now play Bristol Ladies Union at home on February 2 in the quarter-finals, while Plympton, the only other Western team left, will travel to Swindon Spitfires.

Argyle’s development squad to face Exeter & Tedburn Rangers: Maddie Walsh, Rachel Javan, Isla Brumhead, Maisie Williams, Kiara Robins, Hannah Brock, Nicola Champion, Beth Cowd, Panagiota Papaioannou, Maddy Leppard, Dani Wyatt, Maisie Frickleton, Nelinha Barros, Chardonnay James, Lucy Solloway, Dee Newman.

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