Oxford United Ladies are preparing for the biggest game in their history...again. After overcoming Newcastle United in the fourth round of the FA Women's Cup, the ladies now find themselves up against WSL side Everton in a match which could be of crucial importance to their bid for a place in the expanded Women's Super League next year.
More than 700 turned out for the Newcastle game and Oxford fans are now being urged to come out and show their support for the ladies with a crowd topping 1,000. This would be a hugely impressive crowd for women's football – only three WSL matches broke the 1,000 barrier in last year's competition and to get such a figure at Oxford would be an impressive demonstration of the level of potential interest in the women's game here in Oxford. Of course, an unlikely Oxford victory would also be a strong statement of intent and if the ladies are going to do that they will need all the help they can get from a large and supportive crowd.
That Oxford have even reached this stage of the competition – the first time in the club's history – is quite an achievement. Oxford, as the lowest-ranked side still remaining in the competition, are the only club from the Combination leagues to have reached this stage after knocking out two sides (Charlton and Newcastle) from the Women's Premier League.
But this is just the latest in a series of impressive forward strides that this side has made. They were only promoted last season and are challenging this year for a second successive promotion, having only been beaten twice this season in all competitions. Anyone who saw the Newcastle game can testify that they play attractive football and are a good side to watch and the prospect of a remarkable cup upset should be tempting for anyone.
But before we get too carried away with Oxford's prospects, we should remember that we are coming up against a professional side who finished last season as the third-best club in the whole country. Three of the Everton players – Jill Scott, Toni Duggan and Rachel Brown – have just returned from England duty, fresh from winning the Cyprus Cup. Oxford have never faced a side of this quality before and Everton are sure to be incredibly tough opponents.
Oxford captain Sahara Osborne-Ricketts is an injury worry, after picking up a knock in the Newcastle game. Without her, the ladies fell to a surprise defeat in the League Cup to Swindon but recovered in style last weekend by dishing out a 9-0 thrashing to Keynsham Development.
This is a match that any Oxford fan should make an effort to get to and the ladies will need as much support as they can get. But a shock win and an impressive crowd will send out a message to the whole of women's football, and with the announcement of the clubs selected for the expanded WSL due in June we could all play our part in bringing professional women's football to Oxford.
Adult tickets cost just £5 and are available from the ticket office before the Chesterfield match and also on the day. Bring as many people as you can!