Big-Name Fixtures: Forces Women Look To Kick Off From Strong Pre-Season

The UK Armed Forces women footballers are preparing for what they hope will be their most successful season ever, building on the feel-good...

The UK Armed Forces women footballers are preparing for what they hope will be their most successful season ever, building on the feel-good factor of England's World Cup success.

Under the guidance of their coaches, led by RAF Sergeant Paddy O'Brien, the squad has had two highly-encouraging results in friendlies against quality opposition.

The players took on second-tier women's sides Leicester City and Aston Villa after a week-long training camp, with the forces women showing their capabilities early on in their first pre-season match against the Foxes.

There was a lovely flick from star player Kelly Aldridge to the Navy's Rosie McDonnell, whose cross was aimed perfectly on to the head of Army striker Libby Dixon to give them an early lead.

UK Armed Forces women's football team 2018

Soon after it was 2-0, with Dixon capitalising on a goalkeeping catastrophe to slot the ball home.

The Leicester players were soon back in the hunt, however, with UKAF and RAF keeper Nicki Davies given no chance for the East Midlands side's first.

Before half-time, the City players were level, after some lovely individual skill from the talented Melissa Johnson, who found the top corner.

Johnson then showed off more of her skills to put the Foxes 3-2 in front, making the rest of the game a real test of UKAF's resolve and fight.

They were determined to hit back, however and were rewarded right at the end of the game.

Hayley Sloan hit the sweetest of volleys after a cross came in from the right, to level the game at 3-3 and give the forces women a deserved draw.

Double goalscorer Corporal Dixon told Forces Network she was very happy. She said:

"I think it's very positive. We've worked very hard on the training ground [and] we've put everything into practice today."

"We've worked hard as a team and we've not got a bad result."

Team captain Petty Officer (Physical Trainer) Nat Bavister said her side has plenty to build on:

"There's a lot that we want to go on and achieve. We've got a great bunch of girls here, great talent and a lot of potential and we just want to try and reach that."

Matches like this, against professional and semi-professional players, are invaluable in helping the coaching team assess and develop the forces players. 

Their manager, Sergeant Paddy O'Brien, said:

"I'd like to take them as high as we can go. We're always going to challenge the girls.

"It's been a building process over the last few years... We're now pushing towards the civilian teams.

"They're playing civilian football, which is a massive bonus. We've got players that have played international football as well... It just really boosts the image of the Armed Forces as a whole."

The team went on to complete a 2-1 win at Aston Villa thanks to two first-half goals from the Navy's Ciarra Boylan.

It's about as good a start to the pre-season as they could have wished for.

Their aim, however, is to go on and match the success of the men's team, which beat the German military last month and the Irish Defence Forces earlier in the year, while also winning the Kentish Cup for the third time in a row in October.

Sgt O'Brien said: "They set the standard, which is fantastic. They're always very supportive of what we're trying to do.

"For the ladies to see what the men are achieving, that does nothing but drive them on. We're really working towards a big, one-team approach across the male and female game."

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