Double disappointment for Sunderland AFC at the Stadium of Light

Sunderland Women 0 Birmingham City Women 4

Originally published in the Sunderland Echo on Sunday 28 August 2022

There was double disappointment at the Stadium of Light as both Sunderland’s men’s and women’s teams were defeated in the same afternoon.

Following the lunch time kick-off, which saw the Black Cats lost narrowly to Norwich City, Mel Reay’s Lady Black Cats were hoping to end a difficult couple of days on a positive note when they faced Birmingham City.

Despite a promising performance in the opening 45 minutes where they matched Darren Carter’s side, Harriet Scott’s volley in stoppage time halted their momentum with the Blues running riot in the second half.

Siobhan Wilson doubled the lead with a superb strike before Ashley Hodson and Jamie Finn completed the rout for the visitors.

Head coach Reay named the same team which held Durham to a draw in the opening game of the season, winning the ball back quickly and breaking with pace through the front three of Tyler Dodds, Emily Scarr and Nicki Gears.

But the trio saw little of the ball in the first 15 minutes or so as Birmingham controlled possession and created the better chances, Tara Bourne and Libby Smith forcing smart saves from Claudia Moan and the latter dragging her shot wide from a good position. When they did put the ball in the net, Smith was flagged offside.

Sunderland stood their ground and worked their way back into the game – Gears having two shots blocked by Louise Quinn and a corner scrambled away by City’s defence. There were loud shouts for a penalty at the other when Scarr was bundled over in the box, but referee Melissa Cairns waved away the protests.

It looked as though the stalemate would continue into half time until Birmingham found a way through the hosts’ defence. Moan did well to save from Jade Pennock, but Christine Murray’s corner was met by the defender whose volley looped up and into the far corner.

Reay rallied her side during the interval and started on the front foot, Dodds collecting the ball 25 yards out and firing a powerful, swerving shot straight at Lucy Thomas who then kept out Scarr at the near post.

However, the Blues showed why they will be looking for an instant return to the Super League with a dominant 15-minute attacking display which overwhelmed the home side.

First, Pennock collected Lucy Quinn’s pass in midfield and played in Wilson who raced through and lashed the ball across Moan and into the top corner.

Shortly after, they had their third. Moan reacted well to keep out Louise Quinn’s header from a corner but palmed straight to Hodson who tapped in to an empty net.

With seven minutes remaining, Jamie Finn compounded a miserable 48 hours on Wearside from close range.

Sunderland toiled as the clock ticked down to pull a goal back but were unable to find the goal their hard work deserved.

They now have two weeks to regroup and recharge before facing Sheffield United at Eppleton in September following the international break.

Sunderland: Moan; Griffiths, McCatty, Westrup (Beer 46’), Holmes; Danielle Brown, Emma Kelly ©, Ede (Joice 55’); Dodds (Manders 80’), Gears (Brown 55’), Scarr.

Subs: Cowling, Mullen, McInnes, Watson.

Sunderland Women claimed a deserved point at Durham in their opening match of the FA Women’s Championship season

Durham 1 Sunderland Women 1

Published in the Sunderland Echo on Sunday 21 August 2022

The hosts took the lead in an entertaining Wear Derby at Maiden Castle when Saoirse Noonan nodded in from close range early on. The Black Cats hit back minutes later through Brianna Westrup’s powerful far post header from a corner.

The Scotland international was one of five new signings in Mel Reay’s line-up who added experience and strength to her talented young squad in the summer. Young midfielder Grace Ede, who was outstanding against Nottingham Forest last week, was also handed a start against tough opposition which demonstrates her stellar progress.

Conceding early was a regular problem for Sunderland last season and, despite having the first chance of the game when Tyler Dodds flashed her 25-yard strike wide, they fell behind within the opening 10 minutes.

Durham worked the ball out to Ellie Christon on the right whose whipped cross was missed by Claudia Moan and turned in by Noonan who beat Abby Holmes to the ball.

But Sunderland are nothing if not resilient and immediately went pushing for the equaliser, their front three closing down the home side’s defence with a high press. It was this tactic which forced a series of corners from which Westrup eventually converted.

After hitting the bar, the defender was in the mix again to meet Dodds’ delivery far post delivery which bounced low past Tatiana Saunders and into the net.

Now firmly on the front foot, they pushed forward in search of more goals – Dodds reaching Holmes’ cross but firing straight at Saunders who then bravely dove at the feet of Emily Scarr, and Emma Kelly firing past the upright from the edge of the area.

Sunderland survived a penalty scare when Mollie Lambert was bundled over moments after Noonan failed to find the target following a smart exchange with Beth Hepple.

Within minutes of the restart, Moan was called into action to brilliantly tip Lambert’s shot around the post, and the midfielder went close again but stabbed inches wide. Moan then did well to palm a low free-kick out for a corner when Hepple was fouled by Louise Griffiths.

With play becoming a little frantic as the game wore on both managers made changes – the most notable was Malta international Maria Farrugia coming on against her former club after moving down the A690 in search of full-time football.

Although there were some half chances in the final stages, both sides seemed happy to play out the draw – a result which highlights Sunderland’s progress from last year when they were steamrollered by a more experienced and stronger Durham side.

Mel Reay and her squad will be hoping to carry this performance into Saturday’s double header at the Stadium of Light when the Women take to the field against Birmingham City after the Men’s clash with Norwich City.

Sunderland: Moan; Holmes (Beer 82’), McCatty, Westrup, Griffiths; Kelly ©, Danielle Brown, Ede (Watson 66’); Scarr, Dodds (Joice 66’), Gears.

Substitutes: Cowling, McInnes, Manders, Jessica Brown, Mullen.

Cats round off pre-season with impressive win

Sunderland Women 3 Nottingham Forest Women 0

Originally posted in the Sunderland Echo on Monday 15 August 2022

Sunderland Women rounded off their pre-season preparations with a 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest at Eppleton Colliery Welfare.

The visitors edged a slow-paced first half in played in hot and difficult conditions, but it was the Black Cats who opened the scoring after 25 minutes through Grace McCatty’s cool finish. Fellow defender Louise Griffiths doubled the lead with a bullet header after the hour before Katy Watson put the result beyond doubt late on.

More than 700 supporters took up the club’s offer of free tickets and turned out to see new signings Brianna Westrup, Danielle Brown, Abby Holmes, Nicki Gears and Tyler Dodds in red and white for the first time – or, in some cases, return to Wearside for second spells.

Mel Reay named a strong line up but was without captain Keira Ramshaw and Neve Herron who are out with foot injuries, midfielder Abbey Joice and long-term absentees Abby Towers and Emily Hutchinson.

In the build up to the game, dozens of youngsters and parents were invited onto the pitch to wave flags and welcome their heroes with a guard of honour before the action got underway.

In soaring heat, it was Forest who had the best of the early chances, but they were unable to find a way past Claudia Moan. Then, perhaps against the run of play, Emma Kelly’s freekick struck Gears and fell to McCatty who coolly slotted into the bottom corner.

With numerous stops and water breaks neither side could find their rhythm, although Forest almost found the equaliser with a long-range effort which whistled over Moan’s crossbar. At the other end, Kelly and Holmes trying their luck from distance but unable to find the target.

Sunderland stepped up after the break, slightly tweaking their formation which saw Dodds begin to find space down the right. And they took full advantage as Grace Ede’s pass over the top found the former Glasgow City forward who curled an inch perfect cross into the path of Louise Griffiths at the far post who headed home.

With both managers making changes, the contest became a scrappy affair, with Emily Scarr’s freekick and Katy Watson’s blocked shot the only chances of note as the clock ticked down. There was a flare up on the Forest bench when manager Andrew Cook was shown a yellow card for dissent.

With 10 minutes remaining Watson, whose pace and movement were a constant threat since coming off the bench, showed tremendous strength as she stormed into the box and smashed the ball into the net.

The score line could have been even wider if not for the Forest goalkeeper, who pulled off two magnificent saves in the closing stages.

One blemish on a solid performance for Sunderland was an injury to Emma Kelly was came off with an ankle problem but is expected to be in contention for the weekend’s Championship Wear Derby opener at Durham Wildcats.

Sunderland: Moan (Cowling 45’); Griffiths, Holmes (Jessica Brown 75’), McCatty, Westrup, Mullen (Ede 45’); Kelly © (McInnes 35’), Danielle Brown, Gears (Manders 75’), Dodds (Watson 75’); Scarr.

Subs: Mallaburn.