DONCASTER Rovers Belles are in the best shape ever and raring to go ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup curtain raiser at Barnet, according to boss John Buckley.
This weekend’s fifth round tie - Belles’ first competitive fixture of their 2012 campaign - marks the end of a long pre-season for Buckley’s squad.
And the former Doncaster Rovers winger has been delighted with his players’ efforts over the winter.
Buckley said: “I’m really pleased with the condition that the girls are in - it’s probably the best it has ever been during my time in charge.
“Every year it has been getting better and better in terms of fitness.
“But it’s not just the fitness side of things that has impressed me.
“I think the penny has finally started to drop and the girls are understanding the game a lot better.
“Barnet will be a tricky tie this weekend but we’re all itching to get started,” he added.
“I know a few of their girls and they’re not a bad side.
“Some of the women’s football magazines have tipped us to be on the wrong end of a surprise result - and they’re mid-season which might give them a bit of an advantage.
“But I just want our girls to play to their strengths and not overcomplicate things.
“I want them to go out there and enjoy it.”
Buckley is set to hand debuts to England forward Sue Smith, defenders Leandra Little and Tanya Oxtoby, and Irish winger Julie-Ann Russell at Barnet, who currently sit fourth in the Women’s Premier League.
Canadian international Alyssa Legonia is also vying for a starting spot after joining the Belles this week.
The 22-year-old midfielder has arrived at Doncaster from the North American W-League, where she played for Ottawa Fury.
Defender Shelby Hills, who joined from Watford, is a major doubt with a hip injury.