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South West Combination leaders Oxford United get a chance to show their credentials this Sunday when they travel to play Charlton Athletic in the Third Round of the F.A.Women's Cup.
The U's had a fine Cup run to the Fourth Round last season where it was halted by Manchester City but this is the first time they will come up against National Division opposition. Striker Lauren Allison, who has played a big part in the club's rise through the leagues in recent seasons, admitted to Women's Soccer Scene that the team cannot wait for the occasion.
"We're all buzzing," said Lauren. "It's a massive game for us and should be a good day out!"
But does Lauren think that Oxford are capable of pulling off an upset on the day? "Well, take a look at the recent results in the men's FA Cup and the Capital One Cup," she replies. "Anything can happen and I don't doubt that we could pull off a similar performance."
Oxford reached this stage with a victory over league title rivals Keynsham Town in the last round and now face what, for them, is the unusual position of playing a match as underdogs. "It's easier for underdogs because they have nothing to lose, so in a way it's better for us," says Lauren. "If I'm honest, I felt a lot more pressure going into the Keynsham game because it was almost a practice game for the title decider, whereas with this game all the pressure is on Charlton so all we can do is play our game."
The experience of playing Manchester City last year is sure to be of some benefit to Oxford though and having the likes of Natasha Caswell and Sahara Osbourne-Ricketts - both of whom have top flight experience - in the squad will be a boost to the younger players. "City was definitely a learning curve in terms of physicality and dealing with the continuous movement, but we are a much better side this year," admits Lauren. "We have progressed technically and mentally so I don't think we can keep comparing this fixture to the Man City one, but we'll certainly keep it in mind.
"Natasha and Sahara are crucial in every game we play but they will be exceptionally important in this game in particular. The two of them have obviously got the professional experience, but even their presence in the changing room and at the training ground is a contribution in itself.
"We all love the FA Cup and it's nice to forget about the league for a bit, but it's pretty much the same - we have to win every game in the league and we have to win every game in the FA Cup if we want to progress further, so the pressure is still on slightly."
With that in mind, Lauren is convinced that good results in the Cup will give the team an extra boost in their title challenge: "Definitely, we all buzz off the FA Cup anyway so when you get draws like this one it's enough to give anyone a boost. The more games you win the more confident you are as a team, so if we can continue to win for as long as possible it will only reflect in our league results too."
For Lauren herself, this is her first chance to come up against a team at this level and the 18-year-old is savouring the opportunity. "For me it's almost mind blowing to think that ten years ago I was watching Charlton Ladies play against Arsenal in the FA Cup Final, and now I'm playing against them myself in the same competition," she enthuses. "So it's an easy motivator for me and I'm highly looking forward to it."
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