For Sunderland Ladies, the start to their 2018 could not have been anymore different to the end of 2018. In January the lasses won 3-0 against Birmingham City in the old first tier, the Women’s Super League. However, their year ended with a 3-1 loss to fellow third tier club Blackburn Rovers in the National League Cup match.
These results illustrate how SAFC Ladies have experienced football at two opposite ends of the spectrum. For the Ladies, 2018 has seen a dramatic fall to third tier football after an FA reshuffle of the women’s football league structure.
The first half of 2018 saw the lasses reside in the former first tier “Women’s Super League”, finishing in May in a comfortable seventh place. The second half of this year sees them sat in third place in the new third tier of women’s football, much like their male counterparts.
Needless to say, it’s been a rather difficult year for our lasses. Regardless of your opinions surrounding the decision which resulted in their demotion to third tier football, the lasses have gritted their teeth, pulled up their socks and given the Northern Premier Division a fair crack. As stated earlier, they finish 2018 in a solid third place with eight wins and three losses under their belts, a total of 24 points to carry them into 2019. Above them are only Huddersfield with 27 points and an unbeaten Blackburn Rovers with 30 points.
SAFC Ladies have only lost to Fylde, Stoke City and Derby County in the league this season. However, they’ve only lost these games by one goal in each instance. Although it’s incredibly disappointing to lose with one goal as the difference, it’s also a positive to take into 2019 as the lasses haven’t been absolutely annihilated in the third tier.
In fact, the Black Cats have handed out some thrashings this year to their league rivals.
The 2018-2019 season has seen four games in which the lasses have scored five or more goals. This includes a 5-0 win over both Morecambe and Doncaster Rovers Belles as well as a 5-2 win against Derby County.
However, the standout result must be a whopping 8-0 victory over Nottingham Forest. Sunderland’s leading goal-scorer, old guard veteran and Captain Kiera Ramshaw led by example by netting a hat-trick against Forest. Additionally, Emily Hutchinson scored two and Anna Young, Faye Mullen and Bridget Galloway scored one each respectively.
Despite a torrid second half to 2018, SAFC Ladies have got a lot of positives to take into 2019. Whilst they’ve finished this year in a very good position in the league table, the squad they’ve got is strong. Kiera Ramshaw is doing a fine job as captain - not only has she established herself as the club’s top goal-scorer but she’s also won seven of the opposition player of the match awards.
This clearly illustrates the impact Ramshaw has on the game, and this can only continue to inspire those around her on the pitch to put in solid performances.
Additionally, this season has seen younger players demonstrate their worth to the side. Bridget Galloway has influenced the lasses’ season, being a permanent starter and scoring nine goals to establish herself as the second top-scorer in the side. Furthermore, Mollie Lambert has also been a consistent force for SAFC, starting in nearly all of the lasses’ games and netting three herself.
Another thing to note for 2019 is the depth of scoring abilities in the squad, they are not entirely reliant on one player to score. So far this season ten different players have scored goals in all competitions, with six of these players scoring more than one goal each.
The key clashes next year for the lasses will be against the teams sat above them, Blackburn and Huddersfield. Sunderland have already beaten Huddersfield this season, 2-3. However, the lasses have only encountered Blackburn once so far this season in a cup match, which they lost. Furthermore, Fylde have proven to be a thorn in the side of the lasses, beating Sunderland twice so far this season in all competitions.
2019 is the year that SAFC look to solidify their promotion hopes into the Women’s Championship. They’ve proven in 2018 that they are more than capable of bouncing back up the tiers.
With a strong start to life in the third division and ending 2018 in a very good position in the league table, the lasses will be starting 2019 at home to Bradford City. Bradford are sat rock bottom of the Northern Premier Division, having not won or drawn a game this season. SAFC will be looking for a victory to kick-start their 2019 and to fulfill their promotion hopes.