Darby relishing cup tie against former club Forest

It’s the Darby derby as central defender Kelly Darby prepares to line up against former club Nottingham Forest in Sunday’s FA Cup second round tie, which in a first for Wolves Women is set to be live streamed on Wolves TV.

Ex-Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion player Darby captained Forest for two years ahead of a brief stay at Derby County before joining Wolves last summer.

And after impressively stepping into her new team’s defence in their 100 per cent record before the pandemic-enforced curtailing of the Women's National League Division 1 Midlands season, she is looking forward to the challenge of facing a Forest side who were in the top half of the Northern Division – a tier higher than Wolves – as the campaign was brought to its premature close.

“It’s always nice to play against one of your old clubs,” says Darby, “and I’ve been looking forward to this match ever since the second round draw was made.

“There’s a number of girls still at Forest from when I was there, but they’ve also signed some brilliant new players. I think they would have been be pushing for a top two or three place in their division if the season had continued, so we know what a difficult game we’re in for against them.

“But although I’ve got total respect for Forest, I do think we can beat them and that’s obviously the aim – and we’d love to have a good FA Cup run.”

Darby knows all about good FA Cup runs, having reached the quarter-finals and fifth round in successive seasons while she was skipper of West Brom.

And not just reaching those rounds, but then facing Super League opponents, first Manchester City in 2015/16 then Birmingham City in the following campaign.

Both games were lost 2-0, but each of them was a great experience for Darby and her colleagues – current Wolves goalkeeper Becky Thomas among them.

“The Man City game in particular was a very special day for us,” recalls the 26-year-old defender. “Albion made a big deal of it with coaches laid on for parents and RTC players; and superb facilities like the dressing rooms at the Man City Academy Stadium were something none of us had experienced before.

“As captain I said to the girls, ‘make sure you enjoy the day,’ and that’s exactly what we did despite losing the game. I was up against (Scotland striker) Jane Ross and had a few battles with her, and I also had the job of marking (England captain) Steph Houghton at corners, so I had quite a day.

“When we played Birmingham the next season, I was up against (England striker) Ellen White, who’s the best player I’ve ever played against in terms of physicality and the ability to find space and to make the right runs.

“Not many players at our level can say they’ve come up against that calibre of opponent, and they were both brilliant experiences for me.”

If Darby is to have the chance of similar experiences in the current campaign then Wolves have to start by bucking the odds to beat a Forest team that will undoubtedly go into the tie as favourites to progress.

But she points to a couple of friendlies in the not too distant past, against Forest themselves in pre-season and another Northern Division outfit, Derby County, more recently, as evidence of Wolves’ capabilities against higher-ranked teams.

“We lost 3-2 against Forest,” she says, “but after going 3-0 down we pulled a couple of goals back and showed we can compete with them. And we beat Derby 2-1, which was a great result against a team who were sitting higher in the table than Forest were when the season was ended.

“An FA Cup tie will obviously be more intense than a friendly and it’s going to be a very difficult game for us – but I believe absolutely that we can win it.”

Wolves versus Nottingham Forest will be live on wolves.co.uk, the Wolves App and the Wolves YouTube channel from 1.45pm on Sunday ahead of the 2pm kick-off.