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Sunderland Ladies’ winless run in the Women’s Championship stretches to five games

Sunderland Ladies’ winless run in the Women’s Championship stretched to five games as they were beaten 2-0 by Lewes.

Isobel Dalton fired the hosts into an early lead with Ellie Mason doubling their advantage just before half time. Despite an improved performance in a fiercely contested second half in which both sides went down to 10 players, the Black Cats were unable to halt their mid-season slump.

There was positive news heading into Sunday’s game with the signing of defender Grace Boyes from Middlesbrough who went straight into the squad, and the return of Megan Beer who has missed the past few weeks with injury.

But, in a similar vein to last week’s defeat to London City, the visitors made the worst possible start and were behind within the opening five minutes. The Sunderland defence failed to clear a throw in and, after ricocheting around, the ball was played to Dalton who took a touch and lashed a left-footed strike into the top corner.

Their response was encouraging, Emma Kelly seeing her shot blocked after Abbey Joice had danced through the Lewes back line and cut the ball back to the edge of the box. At the other end, they still looked shaky and were lucky not to fall further behind as Dalton’s freekick from wide flashed across the face of goal.

All the visitors’ good play was coming through Joice, the midfielder drawing players out wide to create space for Kiera Ramshaw who shot inches wide of the far upright.

Moments later, Lewes should have extended their lead. Freda Ayisi beat Grace McCatty to the ball down the left and found an unmarked Lucy Ashworth-Clifford yards out, but Alison Cowling pulled off an unbelievable point-blank save to tip the ball wide.

After Maria Farrugia had tested Tatiana Saunders from distance, the Rooks did find the net. Mason drove into the opposition half, continuing her run after playing the ball wide and was in the right spot to fire home after Ayisi’s shot was stopped by Cowling.

Early in the second half the Sunderland’s hopes of mounting a comeback were boosted after Ayisi was shown a second yellow for a high challenge on Neve Herron, but Lewes continued to create chances, Zöe Cross clipping the outside of the post with a speculative effort.

With players picking up knocks and hoping to make the numerical advantage count, Mel Reay changed things up with Holly Manders, Jess Brown and Libbi McInnes entering the fray in place of Eve Blakey, Farrugia and Grace Ede.

The triple change almost paid off immediately as Ramshaw headed against the post from Brown’s deep cross with the home defence frantically clearing the loose ball. But six minutes from time, a bad day got worse as McCatty was shown a straight red for a robust challenge on Georgia Timms.

Sunderland are now without a win in the league since November, but are still well placed to achieve their target of avoiding relegation with Reay’s side still to face Blackburn, Watford, Coventry United and Sheffield United.

They have a better recent record in the cup competitions and with Birmingham City coming up in the Women’s FA Cup, the Black Cats will be hoping for a confidence boosting display at St Andrews from her side to carry into the coming weeks.

Mel Reay demands Sunderland Ladies improvement after winless run continues

Sunderland Ladies head coach Mel Reay has challenged her team to improve fast after they suffered a 2-0 defeat at Lewes to extend their winless Women’s Championship run to five games.

The Black Cats have not won in the league since October and although they have reached the Women’s FA Cup fourth round, their mid-season slump continues.

Reay’s side conceded another early goal when Isobel Dalton put the hosts ahead within the opening five minutes, with Ellie Mason doubling their advantage just before half time. Despite an improved performance in a fiercely contested second half in which both sides went down to 10 players, Reay and her side were left frustrated.

She said: “We started slowly, and I’m really disappointed with the first goal. It’s come from a throw in and we’re not tight enough, somehow, they have managed to have a shot which flew into the back of the net.

“We’ve addressed it during the week, and we’re still not organised. From that there was a positive reaction and I actually thought we were the better team in the first half without actually posing too much threat on their goalkeeper.

“Again, it’s something we need to be better at if we want to stay in this league.”

Early in the second half Sunderland’s hopes of mounting a comeback were boosted after the talented Freda Ayisi was shown a second yellow for a high challenge on Neve Herron but they were unable to break down the Lewes defence.

Reay added: “It’s hard when everyone is behind the ball but, again, I don’t think we were very patient on the ball and didn’t use the width well enough to probe and get round them.

“We started to get a little bit desperate and went that little bit longer which maybe that’s inexperience and having a young side. We keep saying we’re going to learn from it, but we’ve got to learn quick as we need to win points and we need to win them quickly.”

“We came here looking for a win, but they were the better team on the day. They managed to score two and we haven’t. It’s really that simple.”

Reay disappointed with Black Cats performance

Mel Reay has expressed her disappointment at her side’s performance and result as Sunderland Ladies lost 3-1 to London City Lionesses on Sunday.

Atlanta Primus and Karin Muya gave the hosts a deserved lead at half time with Amy Rodgers putting the game beyond doubt on the hour. Although Kiera Ramshaw pulled one back from the spot in stoppage time, it was an afternoon to forget for the Black Cats.

And Reay pulled no punches in an honest assessment of Sunderland’s slow start and display at Princes Park and conceding what she described as ‘preventable’ goals.

“We’ve travelled a long way to get here and to not show up in the first half like we did was really disappointing,” Reay told FA Player. “We’ve ended up giving ourselves a mountain to climb in the second half.

“We conceded really early in the half and then 10 minutes before half time, it was a bit of a sucker punch and really preventable as well.

“The way we came out in the second half we had more of the ball, we got the consolation goal at the end, and it was a much more positive performance.”

Reay faced a defensive crisis heading into the game following Charlotte Potts’ release and injuries to full-backs Megan Beer and Faye Mullen, with midfielders Neve Herron and Jess Brown tasked with filling in.

Despite being overrun at times in the first half, Sunderland were much better after the break with their hard work rewarded with Ramshaw’s consolation goal.
And it’s that resolve the head coach will be hoping to see more of in this weekend’s clash against Lewes.

Reay added: “That’s a positive in terms of the spirit we’ve got within the camp. There’s a determination to keep going and improve and they showed that spirit in the second half.

“But we need that for 90 minutes, not just 45.”

Sunderland Ladies start 2022 with a disappointing 3-1 defeat to London City Lionesses

Sunderland Ladies started 2022 with a disappointing 3-1 defeat to London City Lionesses in the FA Women’s Championship.

Atlanta Primus and Karin Muya gave the hosts a deserved lead at half time with Amy Rodgers putting the game beyond doubt on the hour. Kiera Ramshaw pulled one back from the spot in stoppage time of an afternoon to forget in Kent.

Head coach Mel Reay faced a defensive crisis heading into the game following Charlotte Potts’ release and injuries to full-backs Megan Beer and Faye Mullen, with midfielders Neve Herron and Jess Brown tasked with filling in.

The Black Cats and their makeshift backline were caught out by the Lionesses’ rapid start and found themselves behind within minutes of the kick off. Harley Bennett’s cross was touched into the path of Primus who found the bottom corner beyond Alison Cowling’s dive.

Moments later a swift counterattack from a Sunderland corner found Lucy Fitzgerald on the edge of the area, but her dipping effort was superbly tipped onto post by Cowling. The American barely had time to breath before being called into action again, parrying Karin Muya’s low cross out to Jamie-Lee Napier who was denied by Brown on the line.

After weathering the early storm, the away side began to see more of the ball – Emma Kelly trying her luck from distance after a good passing move before heading Herron’s floated freekick over the bar.

But the respite was short-lived as London poured forward once more. Alli Palisch’s ball over the top was taken well by Moya near the touchline who shrugged off Herron, but her shot flashed across the face of goal.

On the half hour, the hosts deservedly doubled their lead. Napier drove into the box and her strike off the post fell straight to Moya who prodded into the empty net. As the half ended, Napier and Mollie Rouse had chances to make it three from distance either side of Ramshaw heading a Kelly corner narrowly wide.

Although Sunderland started the second half strongly after regrouping during the break, London scored again with 30 minutes remaining as Rodgers tapped in after skipping past the onrushing Cowling.

Both sides made changes in the final stages and the home naturally took their foot off the gas, gave Sunderland the freedom to push forward – Ramshaw breaking free and forcing Shae Yanez to save at her near post after Abby Joice sliced wide.

In stoppage time, the Black Cats got the consolation their hard work deserved. Joice was tripped in the area after being played in on goal by substitute Grace Ede and Ramshaw coolly found the bottom corner from the spot.

The defeat sees Sunderland remain in ninth, but 16 points clear of bottom club Coventry United who were hit with a points deduction after entering voluntary administration.

With games in hand and still to play teams around them, Reay is confident of bolstering her squad this month which will provide a timely boost and hopefully secure another season in the second tier.

Sunderland: Cowling; Brown, Herron, McCatty, Griffiths; Kelly, Joice, Manders (McInnes 65’), Farrugia (Ede 65’), Ramshaw ©; Scarr (Blakey 82’)

Subs: Moan

A year of challenge, a long overdue promotion and building the foundations of a promising future

A look back at the past 12-months for Sunderland Ladies.

January/February

Heading into 2021 the Covid pandemic continued to impact everyday life in unprecedented ways.

Although football was allowed to continue – albeit behind closed doors – ‘non-elite’ sport was suspended from 4 January, bringing a temporary halt to Sunderland Ladies’ season.

The possibility of history repeating would have been another devastating blow for Mel Reay and her team who were still overcoming the bitter disappointment of the 2019-20 campaign being curtailed which had denied them a shot at promotion and potential league cup win.

Sitting in mid-table, a run of four wins from five games heading into the festive period had raised hopes of catching leaders Huddersfield Town.

March

But with 80% of fixtures still to be played and responding to feedback submitted by leagues and clubs, the FA confirmed steps 3-6 of the women’s football pyramid would be declared null and void with immediate effect.

There would also be no promotion or relegation, but a process of upward club movement – by application – would be considered to ‘protect the integrity of the women’s game’ following two years of disruption.

On the pitch, the Women’s FA Cup did return with the Black Cats facing Sheffield FC at the Academy of Light in April in the second round.

April

Three months of no football and only five days training was hardly ideal preparation, but Reay spoke of her pride of her players’ resilience in overcoming setbacks and their strength as a group.

“I think they are just grateful to be back doing what they love,” she told the Echo.

They’ve overcome barriers both personally and as a team, and they’re a credit to themselves with that. I’m proud to coach them and proud to lead them.

“I just hope we build a good cup run because it would be a reward for all that hard work.”

They couldn’t have hoped for a better start as goals from Keira Ramshaw and Holly Manders added to Eve Blakey’s hat-trick as the Black Cats swept aside Sheffield to set up an away tie with Burnley in the next round.

Reay also revealed she had an encouraging meeting with sporting director Kristjaan Speakman to plan the team’s growth in the coming years as part of the club’s overall philosophy including providing access to the first teams data scientists and a swift return to the Women’s Championship.

She added: “There’s going to be a vision in place and a strategy in place to achieve it, which is all we want and all we need. To know that everything is going to be in place for us is all that we can ask.”

The season would be brought to a heart-breaking end as Sunderland were beaten 3-1 on penalties by Burnley to exit the FA Cup in a fiercely contested game in a snowy Lancashire.

May

If April ended on a downer, the announcement Sunderland had applied for promotion to Women’s Championship via upward club movement certainly raised spirits.

Speaking to safc.com, chief operating officer Steve Davison, said: “I am delighted that we have the opportunity to apply to join the FA Women’s Championship, as it is critically important that, as a collective club, we represent all of the people within our wonderfully diverse community.”

The Black Cats also kept things ticking over with a 5-1 friendly victory over Leeds at the Academy of Light which included a ‘perfect’ hat-trick from Kiera Ramshaw.

June

In June ‘unbelievable scenes’ greeted the news that Sunderland had been successful in their bid to win promotion to the Women’s Championship, with their application accepted based on their on-field record, unrivalled youth development through the Regional Talent Club, facilities and structure.

“[Securing promotion] represents a tangible reward for Mel and her team for their stellar record over the last 24 months,” said Kristjaan Speakman. “We now look forward to delivering on our plan and building an infrastructure to support the players and staff during the upcoming campaign.”

Those plans were ramped up throughout the month, as Keira Ramshaw and Malta international Maria Farrugia both committed their futures to the club, with the captain delighted to extend her stay on Wearside.

On the transfer front, experienced defender Charlotte Potts returned to Wearside on a free transfer, joining the Black Cats for the fifth time.

July

On the pitch, Mel Reay’s side would kick off their pre-season preparations against Celtic and Nottingham Forest at the Academy of Light. Despite holding their own against the Glasgow giants in the first half, Sunderland naturally tired in the second and narrowly lost 1-0.

Three days later they recorded their first win, coming from behind to beat Forest 2-1 with Holly Manders and Eve Blakey scoring quickfire goals after half-time.

There was a notable change off the pitch as Durham first team coach Steph Libbey replaced the long serving and popular Trevor Atkinson as assistant manager.

Supporters could hardly contain their excitement ahead of fixture release day, with Sunderland starting their Women’s Championship campaign away to Coventry United, while the first home game against Blackburn Rovers at the Stadium of Light would take on extra significance as they would be allowed to watch a Ladies’ game in-person for the first time in over two years.

In other fixture news, Sunderland were drawn alongside Liverpool, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield United in Group A of the Continental League Cup.

Rounding off a hectic month was the arrival of a former Black Cat, Emma Kelly, who joined from Women’s Super League outfit Birmingham City.

August

Pre-season continued with an impressive 4-2 win away to Derby County but ended on a down note with a 2-0 defeat against Sheffield United before attention turned to the opening Championship game in the Midlands.

Despite a nervy start, Sunderland overpowered their hosts and a superb solo goal from youngster Jess Brown helped mark their return to the second tier with a deserved 1-0 win.

Behind the scenes, Gentoo Homes were announced as the club’s front of shirt sponsor for the 2021-22 season, with the Branch Liaison Council’s successful Matchday Mental Health Hub logo featuring on the sleeves and Everyone Active signing up as back of shirt sponsor, strengthening community support of the women’s game.

Steve Davison said: “Women’s football has a rich heritage within the North East and it has an equally important future, so it is fantastic to be able to partner with like-minded organisations to create exciting new opportunities for players, staff and supporters alike.”

September

With the club’s usual home ground Eppleton CW undergoing redevelopment to upgrade facilities, and to celebrate the return of supporters, the Blackburn match was switched to the Stadium of Light.

“We’ve waited such a long time for you to all be back watching the girls and having our support behind us is massive,” said Mel Reay in her programme notes. “It doesn’t get bigger than a match at the Stadium of Light in front of our fans.”

Almost 800 fans turned out in the sunshine to watch Reay’s side go top of the league with an impressive 2-0 win. Midfielder Neve Herron and Holly Manders gave the Black Cats a commanding lead in a scintillating first half performance which blew their opponents away.

The unbeaten start continued in London the following week as substitute Kiera Ramshaw inspired a brilliant comeback and earn a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace, while a late own goal rescued a point against Lewes at the Stadium of Light as the month ended.

“We’re absolutely delighted with the start to this season back in the Championship,” Mel Reay reflected.

“We weren’t quite sure what to expect coming into the season, but the girls have worked extremely hard physically and from a technical point of view, they’ve done exactly what we’ve asked of them on the pitch.”

Adding a bit of spice to October’s River Wear Derby against Durham, Sunderland announced the signing of former Wildcats forward Iris Achterhof on a non-contract agreement for the remainder of the season.

October

Before the derby, the Black Cats made the long trip to the South West to face Bristol City. In horrendous conditions which directly contributed to the Vixens’ second goal, Sunderland’s unbeaten run ended abruptly with a 2-1 defeat.

Things didn’t get much better a week later as Durham took the derby bragging rights with a 2-0 win in front of a bumper crowd of 865 at Eppleton CW.

To make matters worse, it was two players with Wearside connections – Sunderland-born Beth Hepple and former Black Cats midfielder Mollie Lambert – who scored in the second half to inflict a first home defeat.

With one eye on the future, England youth international Grace Ede was promoted to the senior squad from the Regional Talent Club, who said she was “over the moon” to start her new challenge.

The 16-year-old went straight into the squad for the Continental Cup clash with Sheffield United, but it was another RTC graduate, Keira Ramshaw, who stole the show by scoring a dramatic stoppage-time penalty against Sheffield United to tie the game 1-1 after 90 minutes. The SAFC legend – and one of Ede’s heroes – then repeated the trick in the resulting shootout as Sunderland claimed the bonus point.

Mel Reay challenged her team to use the Blades result to push on in the league and her side duly obliged with a 1-0 victory at Charlton Athletic to end October on a high note.

November

Back in Continental Cup action, first half goals from Grace McCatty and Holly Manders helped Sunderland move to the top of Group A with a 2-1 success over Blackburn but November would be a tough month in the league.

A week that started with a bang fizzled out with a frustrating 2-0 home reverse against London City Lionesses then, a week later, Kiera Ramshaw scored her third goal of the season at Watford, but the Black Cats would have to settle a draw on Women’s Football Weekend.

This would be the only point claimed during November as several long-haul trips began to take their toll. Next up would be league leaders Liverpool, who showed exactly why they are expected to be playing Super League football next season with a dominant performance.

Heeding Mel Reay’s pre-match rallying call to have a go at their illustrious opponents, Emily Scarr shocked the visitors with a goal inside the first 20 minutes, but the Reds hit back to head into the break 2-1 in front, with a fantastic strike from Melissa Lawley on the hour putting the result beyond doubt.

But looking back on the season so far, Reay told the Echo’s Phil Smith that she couldn’t have asked for any more from her players and was encouraged with their progress.

“When we look back on those games, we kick ourselves really, because it’s really been preventable mistakes that have led to us losing points,” Reay said.

“But we’re in a good place, with points on the board.”

November also saw Wearside welcome the Lionesses to the Stadium of Light for their penultimate 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier of the year against Austria.

Manchester City striker Ellen White marked her 100th cap with the only goal of the game as England made it five wins from five to strengthen their position at the top of Group D in front of 9,159 hardy souls who had braved Storm Arwen to cheer on Sarina Wiegman’s side.

With several former Regional Talent Club graduates including Jill Scott and Jordan Nobbs named in the squad, it was fitting Sunderland announced another potential star and England youth international – Daisy Burt – had made the jump to senior football.

After completing the deal, Burt said: “I feel I’m definitely ready for women’s football, and that I’ve progressed from the RTC well enough to show what I can do.”

The Black Cats would now be competing on three fronts as the Women’s FA Cup third round draw paired them with Brighouse Town who they would face in December.

December

December would be a rollercoaster month in more ways than one.

In the build up to the Aston Villa Continental Cup tie, the squad was rocked by the news that Emily Scarr had been spiked on a night out and Kiera Ramshaw was suffering from concussion after being involved in a car accident.

Although Scarr was able to face the Villans, other players being unavailable due to personal reasons, illness or injury meant that Mel Reay was only able to name four substitutes in her squad as they were crushed 7-0 by the Super League side.

Two positives to be taken from the game were the performances of Grace Ede and Daisy Burt – making her senior debut – who impressed during second half cameos.

“With all the injuries we’ve had, it doesn’t really help that we couldn’t make any changes so the team picked itself almost,” Reay told safc.com after the game.

“It was a tough game. When you concede that early on it was always going to be an uphill battle.”

Scarr’s spiking came as Northumbria Police confirmed a rise in cases across the region in November and emphasised the importance of highlighting the dangers.

“It can happen to anyone and that you have to have your wits and your guard about you wherever you are,” Steph Libbey told the Echo.

“It will be something we can all learn from and hopefully, it doesn’t happen to anyone in the near future.”

As key players returned, results improved, first a 1-0 win over Brighouse securing Sunderland’s place in the FA Cup fourth round where they will face Birmingham City, and then a 4-2 penalty shootout win against Liverpool in the Continental League Cup.

Maria Farrugia calmly scored the decisive spot kick to secure the bonus point after the tie finished goalless after 90 minutes as the Black Cats finished second in Group A but would narrowly miss out on a quarter final place.

Hopes of carrying the feel-good factor into the league were dashed after the clash with Sheffield United was postponed due to Covid reasons, as the virus continues to ravage the sporting calendar and everyday life.

With a well-deserved rest over the festive period, Sunderland will be heading into the New Year with optimism, hoping to cement their place in the Women’s Championship for another season. Currently sitting in eighth, they will be looking up instead of down with a promising 2022 ahead.

Sunderland Ladies boss Mel Reay reacts to Liverpool shoot-out win and Sunday’s trip to Sheffield United

Sunderland Ladies head coach Mel Reay says the penalty victory over Liverpool has given her side ‘real belief’ heading into Sunday’s game against Sheffield United.

Maria Farrugia was the shoot-out hero as the Black Cats won 4-2 in their final Continental League Cup group match to claim the bonus point after the tie finished goalless.

Despite the Reds controlling possession for large parts throughout the 90 minutes and creating the better chances, Reay was pleased with the determination and effort from her players to match their opponents.

“We were really happy,” she told safc.com after the game. “We tweaked the shape slightly because we knew how they set up with the three at the back.

“I thought to every person on the pitch they put a real shift in and understood their roles and responsibilities in possession and out of possession, and we matched the best team in the league for 90 minutes and that’s something that we need to be really proud of.”

Mel reay

“I think it was pretty even. They probably had a little bit more of the ball than we did, but in terms of the chances, I think we created a lot more chances than we did last time we played them, and that was a real positive as well.”

Despite the Black Cats finishing second in Group A with seven points, they are unlikely to qualify for the quarter finals as best placed runners up due to results in the other group games and Manchester City still to face Leicester City after their match was postponed.

However, the season’s target has always been survival for Reay and her side can now focus on cementing their place in the Championship for another season starting with Sunday’s trip to Sheffield United.

Sunderland will have most of their squad available for the trip to Yorkshire, welcoming back Charlotte Potts and Abbey Joice on Wednesday alongside Grace McCatty who has been unavailable for several weeks due to work commitments.

Reay added: “They’ll take some real belief from [the Liverpool game] and that’s really important going into Sunday.

“It’s been a really tough week, but we’re delighted to have some bodies back in amongst the squad, and it’s really important that we keep everyone fit. “It’s a real team effort this week with all three games and we’re going to need everyone to step up. We’ll rest and recover and come back in on Friday, and we’ll see what team we can put out on Sunday again.”

Maria Farrugia the penalty shoot-out hero as Sunderland Ladies beat Liverpool 4-2

Maria Farrugia was the penalty shoot-out hero as Sunderland Ladies beat Liverpool 4-2 in their final Continental League Cup group match.

The Malta international calmly scored the decisive spot kick to secure the bonus point after the tie finished goalless after 90 minutes.

But, despite the Black Cats finishing second in the table to the Reds with seven points, the result is unlikely to be enough for them to qualify for the quarter finals as best placed runners up.

With Group A wide open, Mel Reay was able to name a strong squad with Charlotte Potts and Abbey Joice – who both missed Sunday’s FA Cup victory over Brighouse Town – returning to the starting XI alongside Grace McCatty who has been unavailable for several weeks due to work commitments.

Following a similar pattern to November’s league encounter which ended in a comfortable win for Liverpool, the visitors controlled possession in the early stages but failed to really test Claudia Moan within the first half an hour.

When they did threaten, they were wasteful in front of goal – first Yana Daniels blazed over Rachel Furness’ dangerous cross from yards out and then Charlotte Wardlaw cleared the goal from the edge of the box.

Sunderland made sure their opponents didn’t have it all their own way, pressing in the final third and creating chances of their own through Farrugia, Joice and Neve Herron who saw long range efforts saved by Charlotte Clark.

After the interval, Liverpool once again set the tempo with Sunderland’s harrying and harassing high up the pitch almost paying off on the hour mark when Farrugia stole the ball from Furness in midfield, drove forward but arrowed her shot just past the far post. Then Eve Blakey, who ploughed a lonely furrow upfront for most of the evening, cut inside on her right foot but she too fired wide of the upright

The away side finished the game strongly and would have claimed all three points if not for an unbelievable goal line clearance from Herron which summed up Sunderland’s determination to hold on to their clean sheet. Rhiannon Roberts’ shot looked destined for the top corner, but the England youth international appeared from nowhere to acrobatically head the ball away from under her own crossbar. Seconds later, Potts turned away Ceri Holland’s follow up with some courageous last ditch defending of her own.

There was still time for Holland to hit the woodwork and Leighanne Robe to flash a speculative 40-yard drive inches over as Liverpool desperately searched for the winning goal but with neither side able to break the deadlock, the game headed to penalties.

Reay shuffled the pack in stoppage and brought on Keira Ramshaw and Emily Scarr for the shootout, with Clarke saving the former’s opening kick. Despite Missy Bo Kearns and Holland’s success from 12 yards, Sunderland scored their remaining four kicks with Farrugia sparking wild celebrations when she coolly found the bottom corner.

Due to results in other groups and with Leicester City and Manchester City still to play each other after Wednesday’s Group B clash was postponed due to COVID reasons, the Black Cats will narrowly miss out on progressing to the knock out stages. However, the season’s target has always been survival and Reay and her side can now focus on cementing their place in the Championship for another season starting with Sunday’s trip to Sheffield United.

Sunderland: Moan; Beer, Potts, McCatty, Griffiths; Herron, Kelly ©, Joice (Ramshaw ’90); Ede (Manders 71’), Farrugia, Blakey (Scarr 90’).

Subs not used: Cowling, McInness, Burt.

Sunderland Ladies edged out Brighouse Town 1-0 to reach the fourth round of the Women’s FA Cup

Emily Scarr netted a stunning goal as Sunderland Ladies edged out Brighouse Town 1-0 to reach the fourth round of the Women’s FA Cup.

The young forward, who has endured a difficult couple of weeks, struck midway through the second half to book her side’s place in the draw for the next round and avoid a cup upset against the National League opponents.

Looking to bounce back from last week’s heavy defeat to Aston Villa, Mel Reay endured more selection headaches with Charlotte Potts (illness) and Abbey Joice (personal reasons) joining Grace McCatty, Faye Mullen, Jess Brown and Emily Hutchinson on the absentee list.

England youth international Grace Ede was handed her first senior start in a strong line up which included captain Kiera Ramshaw but, with the squad down to its bare bones, only three substitutes were named on the bench.

In the early stages there were chances for both sides – Brighouse forcing a good save from Alison Cowling and then rattling the crossbar either side of Ramshaw heading over and having a low strike well held by Imogen Maguire.

Sunderland struck the woodwork themselves on the half hour through Holly Manders with Ramshaw reacting first to tap in the rebound which was ruled offside. In stoppage time, Emma Kelly fired wide after skipping past two defenders as the first half ended goalless.

The midfielder was involved again immediately after the break, collecting Maria Farrugia’s pass in the box, but her shot was saved by the goalkeeper.

With 25 minutes to go, the breakthrough arrived in spectacular fashion – Farrugia strode forward from midfield and found Scarr who took a touch to steady herself and smashed the ball into the top corner.

Brighouse toiled to find an equaliser, Cowling making another good save to palm a speculative effort away for a corner. At the other end, Scarr almost returned Farrugia’s favour by cutting the ball back into the box from the left but the Malta international couldn’t keep her shot down.

The draw for the fourth round will take place on Monday 13 November at 7pm live on talkSport’s Women’s Football Weekly show, where Super League sides including 2021 FA Cup winners Chelsea and runners up Arsenal, as well as Manchester City and Manchester United, will enter the competition.

Sunderland could also face a North East derby with Durham and Newcastle also in the hat after both enjoyed big wins against Leeds and Chorley respectively.

Sunderland: Cowling; Beer, Griffiths, Herron, Kelly; Manders (Blakey 77′), Farrugia, Ede, McInnes, Ramshaw (Burt 77′); Scarr.

Subs not used: Moan

Reay reacts to heavy Villa defeat

Sunderland Ladies head coach Mel Reay has given her reaction to her side’s heavy 7-0 Continental League Cup defeat to Aston Villa.

In the week leading up to the game Reay lost several key players such as Keira Ramshaw and Grace McCatty either through injury or personal reasons which disrupted preparation heading into the clash with their Women’s Super League opponents.

Although Emily Scarr was cleared to play after a drink was spiked during a night out, the Black Cats squad was further depleted when Megan Beer fell ill before kick-off meaning only four substitutes – including teenagers Grace Ede and Daisy Burt – could be named.

“With all the injuries we’ve had, it doesn’t really help that we couldn’t make any changes so the team picked itself almost,” Reay told safc.com after the game.

“Players had the chance to play, we got 90 minutes under our belt. It was a cup game which was always going to be difficult against WSL opposition, and they’re a really good side.”

They couldn’t have hoped for a worst possible start and found themselves two down inside the first 10 minutes as Laura Blindkilde and then Ramona Petzelburger capitalised on the Villa’s early dominance. Remi Allen’s goal just before half time all but finished the match as a contest but four goals in the second half, including a double from player of the match Alisha Lehmann, compounded a miserable afternoon and difficult week.

Reay added: “It was a tough game. When you concede that early on it was always going to be an uphill battle.

“I think we felt sorry for ourselves. It was a fluke goal, there wasn’t much we could have done about it, so we just needed to forget about it and move on.

“I was disappointed with the first half. I thought they came out fighting in the second half and showed what they were about.”

There were positives for Sunderland: Burt came on for a promising senior debut with fellow Lionesses youth international Ede also impressing in a 25-minute cameo.

Sunderland will be aiming to get back on track this weekend when they travel to Brighouse Town in the FA Cup third round, hopefully buoyed by the return of the likes of Ramshaw, McCatty, Jessica Brown and Beer before Liverpool return to Wearside in the Conti Cup the following week. A trip to Sheffield United in the league will be Sunderland’s final fixture of 2021 ahead of the winter break.

Reay said: “We were really short in terms of numbers, but they stepped up and really had a go and I’m delighted that the two youngsters got some minutes.

“We’ll go again this week and hopefully we’ll get a few more bodies back to give everyone a boost to play our FA Cup game on Sunday.”

Sunderland Ladies crushed 7-0 by Aston Villa in the Continental League Cup

Sunderland Ladies were crushed 7-0 by Aston Villa in the Continental League Cup at Eppleton CW to round off a difficult week for the club.

The Black Cats were two down inside the first 10 minutes as Laura Blindkilde and then Ramona Petzelburger capitalised on the visitors’ early dominance. Remi Allen’s goal just before half time all but finished the match as a contest but four goals in the second half, including a double from player of the match Alisha Lehmann, compounded a miserable afternoon for Mel Reay’s side.

With key players such as captain Keira Ramshaw and Grace McCatty missing through injury or personal reasons, Reay selected a strong starting XI but could only name four substitutes which included academy graduates Daisy Burt and Grace Ede.

In horrendous conditions at Eppleton, Villa raced into an early lead as Blindkilde combined well with Allen down the right and her mishit cross clattered the far post and bounced into the net. Minutes later, it was two – this time Blindkilde teeing up Petzelburger on the edge of the area who calmly finished beyond Claudia Moan into the bottom corner.

The shellshocked hosts struggled to keep possession and Blindkilde almost claimed her second on the half hour with a powerful swirling effort which Moan did well to tip over the bar. Despite glimpses of goal for Emily Scarr and Abbey Joice, the Super League side controlled the ball for much of the half and extended their lead four minutes from the break. A deep corner hit a Sunderland player in the box and fell at the feet of Allen who bundled into the net from yards out.

As the rain continued to fall heavily, referee Magdena Goldba conducted a pitch inspection at half time but gave the go-ahead to continue after a long deliberation. Villa, in a commanding position and not wanting to make another trip to the North East, continued where they left off as Lehmann’s effort was scrambled off the goal line by Neve Herron and Maz Pacheco fired wide of the upright.

Lehmann scored her side’s fourth with 20 minutes to go as she nodded in Chaney Boye-hlorkah’s pinpoint cross from close range. The Switzerland international, who tormented the Sunderland backline throughout, then claimed another as she broke clear and prodded the ball past the onrushing Moan.

Substitute Boye-hlorkah slotted home Gemma Davison’s pass to make it six for relentless Villa and Allen added a seventh with a minute to go.

However, there were positives for Sunderland: Burt came on for a promising senior debut with fellow Lionesses youth international Ede also impressing in a 25-minute cameo.

The Black Cats will be aiming to get back on track this weekend when they travel to Brighouse Town in the FA Cup third round, before Liverpool return to Wearside in the Conti Cup. A trip to Sheffield United in the league will be Sunderland’s final fixture of 2021 ahead of the winter break.

Sunderland: Moan; Kelly ©, Potts, Herron, Griffiths; McInnes, Joice, Manders (Burt 84’), Scarr (Ede 64’), Farrugia; Blakey.

Subs not used: Cowling, Beer.