HOPE POWELL is convinced the gap between the Women’s Super League and Championship is getting narrower as Albion bid to avoid becoming victims of a giant-killing.

The Seagulls’ women kick-off the first of two games against arch rivals Crystal Palace this week when they head to Bromley tonight to take on the Eagles in the FA Cup fifth round.

Palace may be in the Championship but Albion coach Powell has stressed they cannot be underestimated, especially with the incentive of a home tie against WSL outfit Birmingham City awaiting in the quarter-finals in mid March.

Championship Leicester knocked out WSL top-six side Reading last Thursday and although the cup always produces upsets, Powell also believes there is no longer a gulf in class.

Powell said: “I think (the gap) is closing. If you look at the investment, such as with Leicester and Aston Villa, they have invested well and that is why the gap is closing.”

She added: “Also, you relax in your play when you have absolutely nothing to lose. Palace are not expected to win so, therefore, they will really just go for it.

“That in itself helps narrow the gap between the two leagues and that is why we have to be careful and we know it will be a tough contest.”

The WSL has 12 clubs at present and Powell could see that number increasing in the future - but warns that should not happen to the detriment of the standards.

“We have to be careful that it doesn’t get diluted,” she said. “There is a gap already between the top three and four, then there is middle block and then there is a group at the bottom.

“If you add to the league then you have to also ensure you add to the strength of the competition and not dilute it and that is the biggest challenge.

“But, with the investment going into the Championship from some of the big clubs, I am hoping those teams that come up, or if they choose to expand it, will make it more competitive.

“It has certainly got more competitive year in, year out.

“When we play some of the bigger clubs, certainly when we played Chelsea, if you talk to some of the players they say the league is a lot more competitive than it was last year. That’s encouraging.”

Powell is sure Albion will need to dig out a result tonight.

She warned: “It will be challenging, it will be gritty and a bit of a dogfight.

“The expectation is we should win because we are the WSL team but we saw the beauty of the FA Cup with Leicester beating Reading. Who would have thought that would happen? We have to be prepared and on our game and cannot afford to take anything for granted.

“We want to be in the cup for as long as we possibly can but we have to get over that first hurdle and beat Palace.”

Midfielder Emily Simpkins accepts the pressure is all on the Seagulls but says that is nothing new after the previous round’s win at Championship side Aston Villa.

Simpkins said: “We have found that in the cups that the pressure has been turned on us.

“We pulled through at Villa but we shall take nothing for granted because you only have to look at Leicester beating Reading which is a Championship side beating a Super League side.”

Simpkins is confident progress is being made both on a personal and team level.

She featured in the frustrating 1-0 defeat to Tottenham at Crawley on Sunday when Albion played with ten after Lea Le Garrec saw red after 32 minutes.

Simpkins reckons the team’s development is clear to see.

She said: “If we look back from the start of the season, we have come on leaps and bounds.

“I think that is just from game experience and our last season in the Women’s Super League.

“As a team we reflect and we’re finding our consistency now.

“In some games we would be up there and then we would let it drop.

“We’ve found a good balance now and want to keep pushing on.”

Powell will rotate her squad against Palace and Simpkins says being in and out of the team is something the players must deal with.

She admitted: “It is difficult, and as players we have to manage that, but at the same time I feel I am developing.

“I am becoming a better midfielder and I just embrace the challenge when I get to play.

“My overall game is developing, both reading the game and also technically.”