Notts County Ladies star Jess Clarke could hold the key if the Lady Pies are going to hit even greater heights this season, insists England legend Kelly Smith.
Rick Passmoor’s side defied the odds and the giants of women’s football to reach the finals of both the SSE Women’s FA Cup and the Continental Cup last term, but failed to lift any silverware as they were beaten on both occasions by Chelsea and Arsenal.
But 26-year-old Clarke – who has been capped 49 times by England – was one of the stars of that campaign with 14 goals in all competitions, and Smith believes she is still going from strength to strength.
The 37-year-old still plies her trade in the FA Women’s Super League with Arsenal, and is confident that if Clarke keeps up her form from last year, Notts County can be a surprise package once again in 2016.
“Especially for Arsenal, Notts County have always been a bogey team,” said Smith. “They are really difficult to play against; physical, intense, well organised – their style is quite different to some of the other FA WSL teams to be honest.
“And when you’ve got Jess Clarke in the team they are always going to be dangerous. She is very quick and runs in behind your defenders, and she’s clearly clinical in front of goal as she scored 14 goals last year.
“Rachel Williams is their target player as well, plus they are really solid at the back with the likes of Laura Bassett there too, so they have some very good players.
“They seem united under Rick Passmoor so I think they will be looking to push on up the league next year.
“Obviously they got to two cup finals and will be disappointed to have lost both, but it’s good experience and I imagine they will have learnt a lot from that.
“So if they start well I imagine they could be a lot higher up the table this year.”
Smith headed down to St Joseph’s RC Junior School in Wembley to help out with the fourth-round draw of this year’s SSE Women’s FA Cup competition, as the FA and SSE announced that all children will be able to attend this year’s final for free.
The striker has enjoyed more than her fair share of success in the competition in her three spells with Arsenal, lifting the trophy five times overall in her astonishing 21-year career.
However, last season’s SSE Women’s FA Cup saw Arsenal dumped out by eventual champions Chelsea at the quarter-final stage, and after missing out on the first ever final to be played at Wembley, Smith insists she is not about to let lightning strike twice.
She said: “Obviously we need to get back to winning ways this year, both in the league and the SSE Women’s FA Cup.
“We didn’t deserve to be in that final last year, but having played for Arsenal for many years I know the club is all about winning trophies.
“We’ve got a great incentive this year to get back to the final as a result. That is such a special day, as soon as you wake up you’re buzzing because you know it’s the one trophy in the women’s game that you want to win. It’s magical.”
To buy your tickets to The SSE Women’s FA Cup Final, visit www.thefa.com.