The O’s women’s team kick-off their 2018-19 FA Women’s National League season with a visit to Luton Town Ladies at Stockwood Park Athletics Stadium this Sunday.
During the summer break, the FA announced a re-structuring of the women’s football pyramid with Orient’s division, formerly known as the ‘FA Women’s Premier League,’ becoming the ‘FA Women’s National League.’
As they did previously, the O’s will compete in South East Division One and will be looking to improve on an impressive fourth place finish from their Premier League debut last time around.
Chris Brayford’s side will begin their campaign away from home for the second successive season, having played out a 0-0 draw at Cambridge United this time last year, and will return to competitive action on the back of an extremely positive pre-season.
In July, the O’s defeated AFC Phoenix by two goals to nil thanks to efforts from Lisa Fulgence and Pinja Piira. A week later, they staged an emphatic 7-2 victory over Charlton Athletic’s Development Team in their second pre-season game.
To conclude their preparations, Orient hosted Southern Premier outfit C&K Basildon Ladies at Mile End Stadium last Sunday. Goals from Lisa Fulgence, Chanel Richards and Hayley Barton saw the O’s emerge from pre-season with a 100% record.
Luton enjoyed a successful 2017-18 season themselves earning a fifth-place finish with 35 points, just four behind the O’s in fourth place.
They will begin their campaign with a home fixture for the second season in a row after winning 5-2 against Stevenage Ladies on August 20th last year.
Last Sunday, Luton put the finishing touches to their pre-season campaign with a 3-1 victory away to Cambridge City Ladies & Girls FC.
Much like Orient, the home side will be aiming to compete at the top end of the table in what promises to be another entertaining season.
Orient will be without midfielder Lisa Holmback and winger Sophie Le Marchand who are missing through injury and absence respectively.
However, midfielder Tara O’Halloran could make a return to competitive action having been side-lined for the past 18 months due to ankle injuries.
Meanwhile, the O’s are hoping to include new signing Katharine Nutman in the match day squad for the trip to Luton. Nutman is a versatile addition to the team who can play in central midfield or defence. She has played for Colchester United and the University of Oklahoma, captained Oxford United in the Women’s Super League 2 and featured for England U-15s, U-17s and U-19s.
For the O’s, striker Lisa Fulgence has netted three goals in as many games during pre-season and will be keen to continue that good form into the new campaign. Fulgence made her Orient debut against AFC Wimbledon on 15th April and netted a first half brace in a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
Luton have former Orient striker Naomi Stirling in their ranks. She scored two goals in their last pre-season friendly and will come up against her former team mates when the sides meet this weekend.
During the 2017-18 campaign, the O’s came up against Luton on three separate occasions with two wins and one defeat.
On September 3rd 2017, Orient progressed through the FA Women’s Premier League Cup Preliminary Round with a 4-2 victory in Bedfordshire. First half goals from Sophie Le Marchand and Belen Ripoll Douton were added to by Ellie Davies and Ella Meadowcroft in the second.
Three weeks later, the O’s returned to face Luton in a league encounter and brought three points back to East London after a convincing 4-0 win. Two goals from Sarka Stryhalova and one from Sophie Le Marchand gave Orient a 3-0 lead at the break, before Chanel Richards netted a fourth moments after coming on as a second half substitute.
However, Orient were on the wrong end of a 4-0 score line when the sides met for the reverse league fixture at Mile End Stadium on February 4th. Goals from Stephanie Gale and Lisa Nixon complemented Natasha Fensome’s brace as Luton subjected the O’s to their first home defeat of 2018.
Reflecting on her good form in front of goal during pre-season, striker Lisa Fulgence talked about the confidence this provides and what sort of test she is expecting from Luton:
“I feel like every season starts with a struggle until you get that first goal. Scoring in every pre-season game makes the transition into the season much easier. Hopefully it can carry on in most games this season, I have a good feeling about the season.
“I think they will be a strong team looking to start the season well, they have as much chance of pushing for the title as we do this year. We won’t be heading into this game thinking they are the same team as last year, definitely expecting a hard game on Sunday, that’s the only way to start off a new season.”
Coming to the Game?
If you are making the journey to Bedfordshire this Sunday afternoon, the match will take place at Stockwood Park Athletics Stadium, Farley Hill, Luton, LU1 4BH with kick-off at 2pm.