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Southampton FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers go head to head in the Women’s National League play-off on Saturday, in a winner-takes-it-all confrontation

After winning their respective leagues at a canter, both Southampton and Wolves now have their sights set firmly on the FA Women’s Championship Division next season. Predicting a winner is difficult and defeat will be a very difficult pill to swallow for the losing side in this ‘battle of the Hamptons’.

Having been fortunate enough to report on the Saints’ south-coast derby match last month, against fierce rivals Portsmouth, I can offer some first-hand analysis of what I saw. On the positive side, I was particularly impressed with their technical ability in midfield, quality down the flanks, and their passing through midfield. However, in a 2-0 victory, where the Saints should have really cashed in on their first-half domination, Portsmouth very nearly got themselves back into the game as Southampton dropped ever deeper.

Manager, Marrianne Spacey-Cale, whilst openly praising her team’s discipline and resolve in the second-half, will be mindful of the need to avoid retreating into their shell again if things get tight on Saturday. In possession, Southampton are great to watch. In Sophia Pharoah, Leeta Rutherford, and the sublimely talented Lucia Kendell, they have a central midfield that can really take control of games and create goals from open play. Both full-backs like to push forward and, in Ella Morris and Milly Mott, they probably have the best two full-backs outside of the top two divisions of the women’s game.

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Wolverhampton, like their opponents on Saturday, have lost just once in the league all season. Their only defeat came away at Burnley at the end of a couple of difficult weeks, although Wolves manager Daniel McNamara was keen to point out that he wasn’t making any excuses.

In Amber Hughes, Wolves have the second-highest goalscorer in the division. So far, she has banged in an impressive 24 goals in 27 appearances – an excellent return for the clinical striker.

The Old Gold’s bright and energetic midfielder Tammi George has enjoyed two spells at Wolves. She joined for the first time at the tender age of thirteen before moving to WSL side Tottenham Hotspur in 2020.

George gained valuable experience playing with Spurs under-23s and even experienced first-team training, before returning to Wolves in 2021. She is quick on the ball and described as a real team player. She loves to get her name on the scoresheet, which she has succeeded in doing 12 times already this season.

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Grabbing at straws, you could look to the matches that both teams have played against Huddersfield Town this season for clues. In the league, Wolves have been involved in two tight matches winning by a single goal both home and away. In contrast, ‘The Terriers’ presented little problem for Southampton in the FA National League Cup Final which The Saints went on to win by three goals to nil.

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But such logic never has won a football match and both teams will quite rightly be heading to Stockport on Saturday convinced that they can take the place of relegated Watford, in the Championship. These two clubs, who both boast teams in the men’s Premier League, will be anxious for equivalent success with their women’s teams. As the women’s game continues to gather momentum, the prize on offer this Saturday may be a far greater one than it at first seems.

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