Sunderland manager Mel Reay hopes Thursday’s dramatic Continental Cup penalties victory over Sheffield United will provide a platform for her team to get their stuttering league campaign back on track.
Despite a promising performance in the first half, the Black Cats fell behind to Courtney Sweetman-Kirk’s far-post strike after the break but Kiera Ramshaw’s spot kick deep into added on time took the game to a bonus-point deciding a shoot-out.
Ramshaw, Emma Kelly, Neve Herron and Emily Scarr all converted from 12-yards to give the visitors a much-needed boost following a difficult recent run of results which has included successive defeats to Bristol City and Durham Women.
Reay said: “We’re really pleased, especially the first half where I thought we were good. We played some lovely football out from the back into midfield but were just missing that little end product in the final third which we’re working on.
“We stayed in the game tonight, and they put pressure on us in the second half, but we found a way. We got the penalty at the end by putting a good cross in the box and from there the confidence showed in the penalty shootout.”
Heading into the game Reay promised there would be changes to her squad, with five players coming into the starting XI. Youngster Libbi McInnes was drafted into makeshift backline which was missing central defenders Charlotte Potts and Grace McCatty, with Eve Blakey and Alison Cowling making their first appearances of the season.
“We mixed it up tonight, gave players opportunities to show what they can do, and they showed us.
“We’ve got real depth to the squad and hopefully we can use this as a catapult to push on in the league.”Mel reay
Recent signing Grace Ede came on in the second half to make her first appearance for the senior team, joining teammates Keira Ramshaw, Jess Brown and Neve Herron, as well as Lionesses such as Steph Houghton, Jill Scott and Lucy Bronze, as notable graduates of the Sunderland AFC Regional Talent Club system.
“We’re absolutely delighted for Grace to make her debut for the club,” Reay said. “It’s so important we have that pathway underneath the first team. She played 20 minutes tonight and showed what she can do against the big guns.
“She was always going to play tonight; she was always going to get on the pitch. She went on in midfield, which was competitive, but she got the ball and showed some nice touches.
“She was nervous, of course she would be, she’s 16-years-old, but we’ll see more of her from now until the end of the season.”