PLAYING at Portman Road in the HomeStore Self Storage Suffolk Women’s Cup Final will be the ‘cherry on the top’ for Needham Market this season.
So says manager Freya Louis, whose side face holders and hot favourites Ipswich Town in the final at Portman Road on Tuesday evening, kick-off 7.30pm.
Needham Market Women only formed before this season, but have finished runners-up to East Bergholt United in both the Suffolk Girls’ & Women’s League and also the League Cup.
Now a final appearance at the home of Ipswich Town awaits and Louis said: “It’s a massive achievement for the Market Women to reach the final at Portman Road. It’s a huge experience for not only the club and management team, but the girls who have put in so much hard work week in and week out.
“We’ve gone above and beyond what was expected of us and I couldn’t be prouder of all involved in helping us reach this stage. To have the level of success we've had in our first season together is outstanding.
“Eight months ago, our team didn't know each other, we literally started from scratch and over the season we’ve grown not only as a team, but a club. No matter what the score, playing at Portman Road will be the cherry on the top for all of us.”
Needham Market Women. Back row (left to right): Robbie Walker (Assistant Manager), Warren Lewis-Claxton (Head Coach), Isabel Chaplin, Abbie Wilkinson, Boni Shepherd, Ashleigh Goddard, Megan Stock (Captain), Amber Leeks, Niamh Thomas, Emily Steward, Milly Carter, Elysia Young, Jemma Mortimer, Freya Louis (Team Manager). Front row: Jemma Wessels, Lois Balfour, Amber Sparkes, Francesca Rainbird, Amy Dunn, Maria Smith, Amy Tenter, Nicola Henderson, Charley Mussle-White.
Louis does not feel that last Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to East Bergholt United in the League Cup Final will impact on their preparations for Portman Road.
She said: “We take every game as it comes. It doesn’t matter about the past, it doesn’t matter about the future, it’s about the now. We have a very young team, some who have never been in a final before, and the League Cup Final was a good way to introduce the sort of pressure and nerves the team can be exposed to.
“It wasn’t our night last week and unfortunately we couldn’t grab the win, but that doesn’t take away the incredible football Needham Market Women have played all season. The reason we’re in the county cup final proves it. If anything, it gives us more fire to come back and prove ourselves at Portman Road.
“Since last Tuesday the girls have put 100 per cent into sessions leading up to the county cup final and the passion the girls have for the game has just been enhanced.”
Louis will be telling her team to enjoy the occasion and said being underdogs will not be a disadvantage.
She continued: “The girls need to enjoy it. I have no doubt they’re going to put everything into it, and play the best possible football they can, but the must do it with a smile.
“To play at Portman Road is quite possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, they need to take it all in, digest and go out fighting. Being the underdog isn’t a disadvantage, it means the opposition won't expect what’s going to happen.
“It’s always better to shock people and change people’s expectations than to give them exactly what they think you can do. Battling with the underdogs is risky, we have nothing to lose.”
Louis said she could not be prouder of her team and is honoured to be part of such a close-knit club.
“This is my first official season as a manager; I certainly didn't expect to be leading the team to Portman Road. Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, if you’re in control, they’re in control.
“I set out to win, always have with everything I do, but this will be the icing on the cake for my own achievements within the game. I could not be prouder of all the hard work everyone has put in to help us reach this far.
“No matter what happens, I’m honoured to be part of such a close-knit club, manage a team of passionate, talented, friendly girls and have fans who support week in week out, win or lose,” she added.
Ipswich Town, who play in the FA Women’s National League South East Division One, will be appearing in their fifth consecutive final, having won all of the previous four.
Ipswich Town Ladies. Back row (left to right): Alex Beavens (Fitness Coach), Paige Shorten (Assistant Coach & Secretary) Amanda Crump (Captain), Nicole Pannifer, Harriet Petley, Lindsey Cooper, Danni Clarke, Sian Fagg, Natasha Thomas, Paige Wakefield, Aimee Stretch, Ciera Flatt, Joe Sheehan (Manager). Front row: Flo Cage, Georgia Box, Amy Nash, Sophie Welton, Zoe Cossey, Charlotte Kellett, Eva Hubbard.
Manager Joe Sheehan admitted he does not know too much about Needham Market, but his team will not take their opponents lightly.
He said: “I know they are fairly new and have had quite a positive season which will no doubt give them some confidence and momentum going in to the cup final.
“It’s just another game; we’ve applied ourselves pretty well in all our fixtures since I have been in charge so this will be no different and we will be taking Needham just as seriously as we have taken all our league opponents so far.”
Sheehan, who took over as manager earlier this season, added: “I am looking forward to the opportunity to lead the team out at Portman Road and hopefully put in the type of performance that will entertain as well as get a positive result.”
Admission to the final will be £6 for adults, £3 for concessions (over 65 or in full-time education) and £1 for children under the age of 12.
A souvenir programme, priced £1, will be on sale inside the ground.