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Ipswich Town Women ready for return to action after lengthy lay-off in Women's FA Cup against Billericay Town

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Ipswich Town Women boss Joe Sheehan admits that Sunday's FA Cup tie away at Billericay Town takes on greater importance due to their league season being curtailed, writes Mikey Hale.

Earlier this month, the FA made the decision to end tiers three-six of the Women's game with immediate effect.

The Tractor Girls have already knocked out Peterborough Northern Star, Norwich City and Harlow Town to set up the weekend's second round tie in Essex.

Ipswich Town Women will be in FA Cup action this weekend. Picture: Ross Halls
Ipswich Town Women will be in FA Cup action this weekend. Picture: Ross Halls

Sheehan says that, with the senior players only having returned to training this week in line with government guidelines, team selection will be about finding the right balance of youth and experience.

"Our seniors came back in on Monday," he told the Ipswich club website. "Our academy have been in for about eight weeks. We’re going into Sunday’s game with players who have only trained for a week or some who have a trained for a few weeks more.

"The situation we’re in is quite a challenging one because we’re wanting to minimise risk of injury to our senior players but we also recognise that some of our academy players are inexperienced. It’s a big game to try and find the right balance.

"We know that Billericay will be experienced, they’re really competitive at our level. It’s a challenging one for us in terms of our squad selection.

"We want to try and progress as far as we can in this competition to give our seniors every opportunity of being part of the next eight weeks of the season. If we lose then that’s our season finished from a competitive football aspect so we want to try and stay in for as long as we can."

Before the decision to curtail the season, Town Women had won all four of their Women's National League Division One South East fixtures without conceding a goal.

They were also top of the table in the 2019/20 campaign before the Covid-19 pandemic saw the season declared null and void.

The FA have confirmed that clubs will have the opportunity to apply for upward movement this time around, something the boss believes the Tractor Girls have proved their are ready for on and off the pitch.

"We went though a period where we wasn’t sure whether it might continue or might stop. They came to the decision that they were going to curtail the season. Initially, that was obviously something we were disappointed with," he added.

"There could be an opportunity for upward movement which would be something we’d involve ourselves in through an application to go up. We’re waiting for that the criteria to be sent out so we can apply for that. We obviously wanted to finish the season and play the games but we might still find ourselves in a position where we’ve got the desired outcome of promotion.

"The criteria will look at the last two seasons on results, your club structure and on-field performances. Looking at the last two years, there’s nobody that has pipped us from our division. We are in a really strong position, without taking it for granted.

"There will be a lot of clubs in our division who will also apply. I think it’s a win-win for everybody though because a lot of clubs will then fancy themselves next year if we are not in the division. It would certainly help everybody else."

Sunday's game will be played behind closed doors however supporters can watch live on Billericay Town's Youtube channel. Kick-off at New Lodge is 2pm.

Should the Tractor Girls progress, they will travel to Cardiff City or Oxford United on the following weekend in round three.

The winner of that third round tie will host Women's Championship side Charlton on Sunday, April 18.

* For pre-match interviews with Ipswich's Georgia Allen, Eva Hubbard and Eloise King, stay across Suffolk News sport over the next couple of days.

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