Hayes: We want it back

Emma Hayes has warned her Chelsea Ladies players not to underestimate the threat posed by Doncaster Rovers Belles when the two sides meet in the Women’s FA Cup fifth round today.

The WSL2 side are the opponents for the Blues’ first competitive fixture of 2017, which takes place at Wheatsheaf Park.

Chelsea have enjoyed a strong run in the Women’s FA Cup in recent years and won the competition for the first time in 2015. A goal from Ji So-Yun secured a 1-0 win over Notts County in the first final to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Having finished as runners-up last year, the manager has set her sights on reclaiming the trophy this season, but she knows they will have to get past a solid Donny side first.

‘It’s a massive game because it’s a trophy we want to win back, it’s as simple as that,’ Hayes said. ‘In the past three years we have reached at least the semi-finals, and I don’t want that to change this season.

‘It’s important to note this Donny group has been together a while now, they improved in the second half of last season, and this is the FA Cup – it’s their opportunity to get a massive scalp against one of the biggest teams in England.

‘It’s absolutely crucial we manage the game properly, otherwise it’s going to be a struggle. We want to progress to the next round and make our intentions for the season perfectly clear.’

The game comes a week after her side’s final pre-season match, a 1-0 victory over Swedish side Kristianstads, and there were plenty of positives for Hayes to take from the performance.

‘The fitness levels were better, the group as a whole is getting much closer to the benchmark that we’ve set.

‘They were a tough team to break down, so we had to be patient, and I think we struggled a little with the pitch. But we’ve got so much quality at our disposal and I was able to make some changes and bring players off the bench that were able to fashion a chance to get us over the line. It was a really close game and good opposition for us to play against.

‘The girls are ready for the season to start. We’ve had a great pre-season but this is when it starts to count, it’s what we’ve been working towards. I’ve got some difficult decisions to make because I can only select 16 players.’

However, two members of her squad, Gilly Flaherty and Fran Kirby, are not ready after recovering from injury.

‘They’re not quite there yet, they won’t be involved against Donny, but they played for the development side last weekend and got some valuable minutes under their belt.

‘I’ll assess both of them after the weekend to see how close they are to making a first-team return, but at the moment they’ve still got to keep improving their fitness.’

Kick-off at Wheatsheaf Park today is 2pm.