By Leigh Bailey

History beckons for Billericay Town Women as the tier four side ready themselves for a crunch fourth round FA Cup tie with Championship team, Coventry United. Victory would send them into the last sixteen, further in the competition than they have ever been, and set up the possibility of a mouth-watering tie against one of the big guns from the Super League.

The underdogs from Essex have displayed plenty of pedigree in reaching at least the third round of the competition over the past three years. Attaining the fourth round two years ago against second tier, Lewes Women, was the previous best. After a sterling performance taking in extra-time, only a solitary missed penalty in the shoot-out denied progress.

FA Cup success against the odds reflects the advances made within the ambitious Billericay set-up. Promoted in 2018 to the Women’s National League, competing in South East Division One, the team is thriving at the new level. Under manager, Scott Chickelday, in his role since April 2020, another successful League campaign is well under way.

Centre-back, Lucy Jones has reason to appreciate the magic of the cup having featured in many of the matches since she joined from Writtle Ladies back in January 2018.

Whilst some of the magic of the FA Cup has supposedly eroded from the modern game, this is clearly not the case for Jones, or the team, as she underlines its importance to the squad.

“The FA Cup has been a staple of our season’, she emphasizes. ‘We have tended to go to the 3rd or 4th round proper. I’ve never really heard of a club at our level doing that year on year.”

She adds, “My favourite games played in a Billericay shirt have been in the FA Cup.”

The loss to Lewes Women remains a bittersweet memory but the disappointment of defeat is partly mitigated by the confidence gained from an equal contest against a higher ranked team.

Jones adds, “Taking on a Championship team of that stature that far just shows the grit and determination that we’ve got when it comes to Cup games. Hopefully we can do that again and go on further on Sunday.”

Progress to this stage has been impressive with comfortable wins against Needham Market, Luton, QPR, and a stunning 10-0 win away at Chesham recorded in the current FA Cup run. The toughest test now awaits with the visit of the tier two, Coventry United outfit.

That has not stopped the excitement from building within the Billericay Women squad as the FA Cup provides a new focus of attention and a break from league action.

Jones relishes the challenge ahead, “Playing against a Championship side is an opportunity that you don’t get many times at this level. It’s something we are going to look forward to.”

At one stage, it had looked like there would be no match with Coventry United. In financial difficulty, the Midlands side announced just before Christmas that it was entering voluntary liquidation and all employee contracts would be terminated. A rapid fan fundraiser and the timely arrival of investment from a new owner saved the club and the Cup campaign.

For the test ahead, and indeed the quest for promotion, Jones takes the view that the Blues have the ideal qualifications.

She adds, “It’s great the mix that we’ve got, and I think we’ve been perfectly balanced this season. We have so much experience and we’ve got the youngsters coming through.”

As Billericay’s joint longest serving player, with Courtney Lumley, Jones, 23, seems to offer the ideal combination of youth and experience. Now in her fifth season, the one-time rampaging left-wing back has settled on a change of role to left sided centre-back.

Clearly enjoying her football, she confesses that the position switch suits her perfectly. Letting slip that she prefers making a goal-saving tackle to scoring a goal, Jones seems to have the right mentality for a defender. Not that she isn’t acquainted with the scoresheet, netting twice in the previous round including a swerving thirty yard goal against Chesham.

The thrill of the sporting task ahead is matched by the sense of occasion provided by the enthusiastic local crowd. Well attended for the home league games, the FA Cup match is sure to draw a lot of support with the club actively promoting attendance in the town.

Jones, who is inspired by Billericay’s backing, feeds off the energy of the supporters as she explains,

“I’m lucky as I get a few of the family down to watch games as they are all quite local. The noise from the crowd really spurs you on too. That’s something I’m really looking forward to on Sunday.”

Even with the recent memory of the Lewes penalty shoot-out elimination, Jones is not scarred by the experience. Should it come to penalties again on Sunday, she would be the first to put her hand up to take one. Penalties are clearly not something that phase her.

The young defender is happy to dream about going further in the competition but is sensibly adamant about not getting too carried away before the job is done.

“It would be great to make that kind of history for the club and get an even bigger tie. That’s always what you look towards and dream of putting yourself up against the best of the best. We’ve still got Sunday to get through and that will be a big challenge in itself.”

For Jones, and indeed the owners, the priority is promotion and winning the league. In second position, one point behind the front runners, the Women are well placed.

For the weekend, the League will take a back seat as focus falls on the Cup. There is no denying that qualification for the fifth round would be both remarkable and historic.

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