THE Suffolk Women’s Cup Final promises to be a ‘fantastic showcase’ for the county.
AFC Sudbury meet Needham Market in the final at the Jobserve Community Stadium, home of Colchester United FC, on Friday night, kick-off 7.30pm.
It will be Needham Market’s third final in four years, but for AFC Sudbury it is their first since losing to Ipswich Town in the 2017-18 season.
Both teams have enjoyed successful seasons in the East Region Women’s Football League – Needham winning Division One North and AFC Sudbury sitting fourth in Division One South with games in hand on the three teams above them.
Manager Luke Mallett explained what it meant to AFC Sudbury to reach the final.
He said: “It means a lot to everyone at the club. Sudbury as a club have really got behind women’s football and given young players so much opportunity through the Academy system and upwards.
“To make it to the final just proves how much it’s all paying off. It’s a really great place to be for women’s football right now and it’s only getting better.”
AFC Sudbury won the cup in 2013-14, beat Brandon Town 5-0 in the final, and have twice lost in the final since, while Needham lost in the 2018-19 final and again last season.
Both of those were to Ipswich Town, who had won the last seven finals in a row before deciding not to enter this season’s competition.
Mallett continued: “I think we can all agree that Ipswich aside, these two teams are the best teams in the area and it’s going to be a great game for all watching but even bigger for women’s football in the Suffolk area.
“It will be a fantastic showcase and if you look at both teams’ league standings and results, it shows how close this game will be.”
Mallett will be telling his players beforehand to ensure they embrace the occasion.
“I will just tell them that games like these don’t happen very often, it’s a fantastic opportunity to show everyone watching what we as a club/team are about and what they are all about as individuals.
“Embrace it, take it all in and just leave everything you have out on the pitch. There’s no better feeling than lifting a trophy with your friends in a big stadium, so give it your all.”
With promotion the aim this season, Needham Market manager Warren Lewis-Claxton said reaching the final was a bonus.
“It’s a great achievement to reach the final again – it’s our third in four years, with the other still making the semi-final. That’s not bad seeing as we’ve only been running for four years.
“Our aim was promotion this year, and we gained that, so reaching the final of the cup is already an added bonus. I’m really proud of what we have been able to achieve this season, so this is the icing on the cake!” he said.
Needham defeated AFC Sudbury Reserves 5-0 in their semi-final, with Lewis-Claxton pleased just to reach the final.
“When you start to reach the latter stages of the cup competitions, and then you have neutral grounds and the final starts to be in sight, the pressure builds, so the fact we were able to win the game and make it to the final, pleased me the most,” he said.
After twice losing heavily to Ipswich Town in their previous final appearances, Lewis-Claxton said it was important to focus on their opposition and doesn’t consider they will start favourites.
“We have to play who’s in front us, and in this game that is against AFC Sudbury. Of course, it will be a change of opposition to the last, but it won’t make the game any different for us, we want to win this game and we will prepare to do so.
“One-off matches are always so much different, and anything can happen in them, even if we do have a little more experience of cup finals.
“I have great confidence in my team to go out and play well, and I will reiterate that to them, it will be all encouragement and belief in my talks ahead of the game.”
Needham Market (red shirts) are pictured above in action against AFC Sudbury Reserves (yellow shirts) in their semi-final at Hadleigh United FC.