Whilst Sunderland men’s team encounter playing in the third tier for the first time in over thirty years, there’s also been a relatively new venture for their female counter-parts this season.
Sunderland Ladies are also playing third tier football after their disgraceful demotion by the FA from top tier football to the FA Women’s National League Northern Premier Division.
The start of the lasses’ footballing season had the potential to be blemished by off-field incidents. The decision made by the FA to demote Sunderland to the FAWNL Northern Premier Division meant that there was uncertainty over some players futures. However, they managed to retain some of their key players including youngster Bridget Galloway and experienced player Keira Ramshaw - who has captained the side for most of this season.
So, the question begs: how have the lasses been finding this league?
After losing their opening game, the lasses have redeemed themselves and have had a decent start to the season. It’s fantastic to see that their fighting spirit is still intact following on from the way their demotion took place. Sunderland have played four games so far this season and are currently fourth place in the league with three wins and one loss. Stoke City Ladies are sat at the top of the league table, with three wins and one draw.
Sunderland’s opening 0-1 defeat to Fylde Ladies was not great. The result itself was overshadowed due to an incident involving Sunderland player Courtney Stewart.
Stewart collapsed on the field leading to an hour-long delay in the match whilst she was treated. This terrible episode must have affected her teammate’s mentality, especially given how long she was treated. Fortunately, Stewart has recovered since and the possibility of her having diabetes is the potential reason behind the issue which marred the game with Fylde.
Thank you for your kind messages about Courtney Stewart after yesterday’s game. She was taken to hospital as a precautionary measure and is now home and feeling much better.— Sunderland AFC Ladies (@SAFCLadies) August 20, 2018
Following on from this, the lasses have shown their sheer determination to rip this league to shreds and reinstate themselves as a top-flight club. Since that opening-day defeat they’ve won four games on the bounce, including handing a 5-0 thrashing to Morecambe Ladies in the FA Women’s National League Cup. Sunderland’s hard graft after their initial opening loss indicates that they are out to prove that they have higher capabilities.
The priority for the lasses this season is promotion to the FAWL Championship. This aim was made very clear by their manager, Mel Reay, before the season started. Although Sunderland have recovered well from their opening season loss, their game against Huddersfield Ladies at the weekend was also an eye-opener for them not to underestimate any team in the third tier.
At half-time during the Huddersfield match, Sunderland were 2-0 up with goals from Emily Hutchinson and Emily Lambert. However, the girls conceded within the first ten minutes of the second half. Thankfully a late strike by Lambert saved the game for Sunderland for them to snatch the crucial three points in a 3-2 victory.
Full-time: Sunderland 3-1 Middlesbrough— Sunderland AFC Ladies (@SAFCLadies) September 13, 2018
We take three points from the Wear-Tees Derby with two goals from Ramshaw and one from Galloway giving us the win!#HawayTheLasses
Furthermore, Sunderland played fellow FAWL Northern Premier Division side and rivals Middlesbrough Women last night.
Boro were sat just a place below the lasses in sixth with the same amount of wins and losses under their belt before the game. Sunderland continued their winning streak with a 3-1 win with two goals from Ramshaw and one from Galloway. The lasses are now fourth place in the league.
It’s early days for Sunderland Ladies as they get a feel for third tier football. The underlying intention for the lasses is to prove that their best place is in the higher leagues.
I sincerely hope that they take this league apart and continue to be a vital component of the development of the women’s game. This is especially important as Sunderland Ladies have done so much in the past to produce and nurture raw talent straight from the North East.
It seems that both the Sunderland men’s team and women’s team are in the same boat - although both are in an undesirable position in their respective leagues, they have both shown the same determination to bring our great club back up to where they belong.