Ladies ready for battle

Wednesday 1 May 2002

Excitement is mounting as Fulham Ladies get ready for their momentous Cup Final clash with the Doncaster Belles next Monday. Manager Gaute Haugenes is the man charged with keeping the squad's feet on the ground and making sure that everyone keeps focussed on the team's biggest game of the season.

Looking calm and relaxed after a hard training session with his players, the Norwegian looked forward to Monday's game and discussed his team's chances.

"Preparations this week won't be very different from normal," said Haugenes, "We'll focus very much on our style of football and on playing our game. It's the way we've been working throughout the season, and we'll carry on concentrating on the same things.

"Doncaster Belles are a good side - they have to be to beat Arsenal 4-0 like they did recently - so we have to take some consideration of the way they're playing. They play a lot of long balls to their very good forward up front, Karen Walker, the England international, and she is strong in the air and provides plenty of chances for her team mates. So we will need to watch her carefully.

"They are a physical side, but we won't change our game because of that. We will be prepared to battle, but we have to do that in normal games and any team going out to play in an FA Cup Final know that they have to fight no matter what. Even if they aren't professionals the Belles have brilliant players and they are a quality side.

"But I'm very positive about that side of our game. I have no concerns about our girls being able to battle out there."

Watching Rachel Yankey limp out of a practice match earlier must have put Haugenes' heart in his mouth. Yankey's injury turned out to be nothing to worry about, but there must be a temptation to wrap the squad in cotton wool for a week. Haugenes agreed that with such an important game coming up, making sure everyone is fit and motivated but without overdoing it is quite a balancing act.

"I have reduced the number of training sessions this week so that we aren't too tired - it's the end of a long season," he said, "So we are concentrating on short sharp sessions. Of course we don't want any injuries in the last couple of days, but injuries are part and parcel of the game and you have to accept that. Everyone is fit now and we want to keep it that way. We will definitely rest some players for the game on Wednesday but we will make sure we field a team good enough to win the game so that we can keep our unbeaten record.

"We are very, very happy with the way things are right now and the way the season has gone so far - we've won the London County Cup, won the League and won the League Cup - but the FA Cup is the big event of the year for us. There is a lot of focus on it, there's a lot of media attention, so it's a perfect way to showcase the good work that we are doing at Fulham, and it's important to us after losing 1-0 to Arsenal last year to go out and win it this year.

"I've been in a couple of Cup Finals myself and the difference between winning and losing after the game is enormous. I've known both emotions and I know how bad a feeling it is to lose. The players know that as well, they definitely want to be on the winning team this year, and they're going to work very hard for it.

"It will be a bit different this year; because Arsenal are a London side they brought more fans last year than the Doncaster Belles will do this year. It's really important that the Fulham fans show up in numbers and give us lots of support. They can really give us a lift - when we beat Arsenal, the team was tired after a long tournament in Germany and we had to play extra time, and the supporters were fantastic. They were like a twelfth player for us."

Fulham Ladies have scored 327 goals in all competitions this season, so they don't have any trouble finding the back of the net. What is more problematic for them is having to cope with such different standards of opposition that can see them scoring twenty goals one week and then find themselves up against a team of the quality of Doncaster the next. But without getting at all carried away, the team are quietly confident that their name is on the Cup this year.

"We definitely think we can do it," Haugenes said, "In fact we know we can do it as long as we do our job properly. It's up to us, but we're not over-confident - if we don't do our job properly then the Doncaster Belles will win the Cup and we are determined not to let that happen."

Don't forget - Fulham Ladies take on the Doncaster Belles in the AXA F.A. Women's Cup Final on Monday May 6th at Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park, kick off 1.00pm.