The FA Women’s Super League 2 teams kick off the one-off Spring Series competition this weekend as the league transitions to a new format for the 2017 season. The Spring Series involves every team in the league playing each other once.
Although the competitions existence is to fill the gap until the 2017 season begins, each team will want to make their mark in history by becoming the only team to win the Spring Series. The competition will also be a chance for clubs to show their merit as the new season approaches.
London Bees - Brighton and Hove Albion
London Bees host newcomers Brighton and Hove Albion in the first match of the Spring Series this Saturday. The Seagulls are newly promoted from the FA Women's Premier League Southern Division following a successful season. Both teams will want to start on the front foot and get a head start over their fellow competitors.
Last season’s campaign portrayed the potential that London Bees have; They finished their highest WSL 2 league position, and reached the semi-finals of the FA WSL Continental Cup. This success will surely put the Bees in high spirits as they approach the match as favourites against Brighton and Hove Albion, who have had no experience in WSL 2.
However, Brighton & Hove Albion shouldn’t be ruled out of this matchup. Their underdogs status may place them in good stead as they have the opportunity to play without fear.
A busy transfer window for London Bees has seen an expansion in the depth of their squad. Particularly in the midfield, the Bees have improved their options – skillful midfielder Laura May-Walker joins from Reading, and Jordan Littleboy, who manager David Edmonson describes as a “technically able midfielder” will bring a youthful asset to the centre of the park. The Seagulls’ interim manager, George Parris, has also added to his squad with the likes of the Chelsea trio Laura Rafferty, Jenna Legg and Alessia Russo that will all play an important role in the Seagulls’ Spring Series campaign.
Durham - Millwall Lionesses
Millwall Lionesses travel North as they face Durham in the opening weekend of the Spring Series. The two teams finished in opposite halves of the table, with Durham grabbing fourth place compared to Millwall's eighth, showing a massive improvement to the Wildcats 2015 league campaign.
Durham will look to further last season’s success and will see their first Spring Series match as an opportunity to capitalise. Forward Zoe Ness will be back in blue and she makes a return to her former club and hometown. Ness joined Swedish side Mallbackens IF for the 2015-16 season which allowed her to gain vital experience that will be useful to the Wildcats as they look to improve on their goal scoring record.
The Lionesses’ disappointing league finish last season will be inspiration as they look to turn the tables in the Spring Series and prove their worth. Many players have committed their future to the club, such as the likes of goalkeeper Sarah Quantrill and winger Amber Gaylor, by putting pen to paper as they extend their contracts that will help Millwall's wishes in the forthcoming seasons.
A win for either team could be crucial with both sides wanting to demonstrate what they are capable of. Despite Millwall's discouraging season, Durham won’t have it easy as they have to get past the hands of Quantrill who performed impressively in 2016.
Aston Villa - Watford
In the 2016 league campaign, Watford won a mere two games out of 18 which placed them at the bottom of the table. They play Aston Villa on Sunday.
Looking on the bright side, you’d think that things can only get better for Watford as they will use the Spring Series to try and bounce back from their disastrous season. However with no new signings and the departures of six players, it begs the question to whether The Lady Hornets will be able to do any better. A managerial shift may change things though – Keith Boanas was appointed head coach earlier this week which could indicate signings being made within the upcoming months.
Aston Villa will be pleased with their opening Spring Series fixture, as they will be seen as favourites coming into this match. The Lady Villains have extended 14 contracts with an obvious emphasis on maintaining a close-knit squad. However, Watford could capitalise on this as they have knowledge on their style of play, which could cause a shock result if Villa play with arrogance considering they are expected to win.
Oxford United - Everton
Signings and departures for both sides could result in an interesting matchup as Everton travel to Oxford. The Toffees had an impressive last league campaign as they finished third, narrowly missing out on a promotion position. Despite Oxfords penultimate place finish in 2016, they will look to push on and make an improvement on their performances.
Everton will approach this match in high spirits as they are one of the favourites to win the Spring Series competition. The momentum built from their success last season will be vital if Everton wish to live up to expectations. A laid-back performance could backfire, as giving Oxford's Ini-Abasi Umotong any sight of goal may make them concede considering the Nigerian internationals lethal scoring ability.
Oxford will be striving for any improvement on last season, and although Everton will definitely be a challenge, it would be wrong to dismiss them of any chance. The last meeting between the two sides resulted in a 1-0 loss for the yellow and blue, however this conveys that not much can separate the two sides.
Sheffield FC - Doncaster Rover Belles
Doncaster Rover Belles return to the WSL 2 following a far less than satisfactory 2016. They face Sheffield this Sunday, who held one of the best goal conceding records from last season’s league campaign, which will test Donny Belles.
A mid-table finish and winning most of their games is an achievement that will put Sheffield in high spirits as they enter their second season in the WSL 2. Former Manchester City player Natasha Flint joins the side to give Sheffield more attacking options - if she plays on Sunday, she could be vital if Sheffield want to gain anything from the match.
Doncaster will look to prove a point and aim for promotion, with the Spring Series being the perfect chance for for the Belles to regain their status. However, losing 15 out of 16 league games last season won't put the squad in the best of spirits.
Improving their confidence is a must if they want to have success in this competition, but the additions of Sophie Walton and Maz Pecheco, who had an impressive loan spell last season, will shore up the backline. Yet a lack of attacking signings could be a problem and prevent them from taking points from this game.