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Oxford United await for Cambridge United Women in the SSE Women's FA Cup

Amy Howlett and Mollie Coupar had the definitive say to close the drama on the SSE Women’s FA Cup, first-round match between Cambridge United Women and Cambridge City Ladies.

When the tie was plucked out of the hat in early October, even allowing for the rivalry between the two, no-one could have predicted the roller-coaster ride that was to follow.

The original match was won by City 2-1 in extra time, but United were back in the game when the Lilywhites’ home pitch at Trinity Old Field was ruled too small by the FA and a replay was ordered.

It meant FA Cup take two for the duo, and in the opening 45 minutes, no-one would have noticed a division separated the sides in a fiercely-contested match.

Both teams had chances to open the scoring, United with possibly the clearer opportunities to break the deadlock.

Coming out after the break, the U’s were playing down the Mildenhall slope – the momentum very much flowing with them. On the hour, the pressure eventually told as United drew first blood.

Howlett crossed towards the near post and Jade Bell was quickest to react, most importantly, a second or more so than Lilywhites keeper Tee Mhunduru, who brought Bell down.

A penalty was awarded despite Mhunduru’s protests and Howlett had no trouble in slotting the ball home from the spot.

In the original tie, United had also taken the lead, so with a switch to three at the back, could City boss Tim Rapley conjure up another comeback for his side?

U’s striker Coupar emphatically answered the question on a devastating counter-attack.

Marauding down the right with two City defenders to beat, she evaded one tackle, rounded the next and with great composure doubled the lead to put the tie to bed with eight minutes to play

Cambridge United manager Kevin Hoover was delighted that Coupar, who has not been getting the minutes she would have liked this season, took her chance on the big stage in the 2-0 win.

“It was quite personal for Mollie,” he said. “I’m so pleased for her because she’s been in and out of the development squad, but we kept telling her to trust us and it’s probably the beginning of something special for her today.”

The controversy over the past two weeks has created some terrific theatre, raising the profile of both sides to national interest.

And Hoover was full of pride about the way his players have handled the situation.

“They’ve conducted themselves really well,” he said.

“They’ve kept off social media and held their tongues and they’re a credit to the club.

“It’s galvanized them (the criticism to replay the game), it’s helped us as a team. I can’t praise them enough and I am really proud of them.”

Rapley was left to bemoan City’s performance rather than the scoreline and claimed it was difficult having to play the fixture again after being on such a high following the previous encounter.

“It was always going to be a tough game coming here especially with the game played a couple weeks ago and the euphoria after winning that,” he said.

“But my overall feeling is disappointment because I don’t think we performed anywhere near what we can.

The target now for City, who were suffering their first loss of the season, is to focus on the league and the possibility of playing United next season if the Lilywhites gets promoted.

“Let’s hope so,” said Rapley. “We’ve got a week off so we’ll have a bit of a rest but we’ve had a fantastic run of form, lots of wins, lots of good performances and lots of goals, so we’ll try and get back to it a week on Sunday.”

The U’s now face a trip to FA Women’s National League, Southern Premier Division side Oxford United in round two on Sunday (December 2).

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