THE newly formed Hashtag United Women continue their FA WNL Division One South East campaign tonight by making the short trip to Essex rivals Billericay Town.

And they'll have high hopes of securing the bragging rights in a crucial early season encounter.

While they are now playing under a new name following April's merger with Spencer Owen's one-of-a-kind club, whose men's side are currently enjoying a magical run in the FA Cup, Jason Stephens' side are all too familiar with their midweek opposition.

The Tags, formerly AFC Basildon, have enjoyed a fierce but respectful rivalry with Ricay in recent years, with the two sides meeting several times in the latter stages of the Essex Women's Cup before becoming league rivals last year.

Both sides scored a victory apiece in last season's league meetings, and are perfectly poised for another enthralling encounter at New Lodge.

Hashtag right-back Maddie Thomas, who scored the second goal in Sunday's 3-1 home win over Cambridge United, confirmed her excitement for the early season derby and said: “This is the game we all look forward to.

“Billericay are a strong side and you can always expect a good game from both teams.”

In addition to local bragging rights, the two sides will be desperate to stay in touching distance of title favourites Ipswich Town, who coincidentally have beaten both of Wednesday's rivals in the opening two matches of the season.

Despite their respective setbacks, both Billericay and Hashtag will be fancied to compete at the upper echelons of the division and can view the derby as an opportunity to fire a real signal of intent.

For Hashtag in particular, it offers a chance to set out an early stall as they embark on a new chapter.

Hashtag have inherited a new army of fans following the merger while they have caught the eye with a number of impressive signings during the off-season, including striker Evie Clarke and goalkeeper Imogen Riches.

The Park Lane outfit are finally in great health off the pitch, and Thomas believes those successes can be replicated on the pitch too.

The attacking full-back added: “There is definitely something special about representing Hashtag. It’s brought a whole new sense of pride to the team.

“We had such a good pre-season, with some really positive results against big teams. So we entered the season with a lot of confidence.

"We knew a season opener against Ipswich would be difficult but, after losing three points against them, we could not let the confidence and positivity drop on Sunday.

“The performance on Sunday really demonstrated this team's resilience. This time last year, going down 1-0 would have seen heads drop.

"We’re not that team anymore and we really showed that Sunday with the quick turnaround after conceding. Getting on the score sheet is always a good feeling too!”

As well as being the flag-bearers of senior women's football in South Essex, both clubs can be immensely proud of their respective development pathways and is something that, despite their intense competitiveness on the pitch, is something that unites the rivals.

Thomas agreed, stating: “girls involvement in football is what we all want; the more options they have, the more girls can be involved in the local area.”

None of that will matter once the whistle blows, however, and securing the three points is the only thing on the agenda.

Thomas concluded: “The last two times we’ve played them [including last season's cup clash], we’ve come out on top. So, we shouldn’t expect anything less.”