Despite just missing out on promotion last season, Sunderland Ladies are preparing for another stint in the National League Northern Division. So far in their pre-season the Lasses are unbeaten, with a 6-0 win against Norton and Stockton and a 5-0 win against Redcar. With another three pre-season games before the season kicks off against West Brom on August 18, just what is to be expected for the Lasses this season?
It’s been a busy summer concerning transfers as Sunderland have continued to expand and develop their squad as they push for promotion this next year.
This includes striker Abi Cottam, who has played for Durham the last two seasons but is also experienced in this league after playing for West Brom a few years ago. Furthermore, experience also comes from centre-half Charlotte Potts, who returns for her fourth stint at the club.
Whilst recruiting experience, coach Melanie Reay has also opted for a mixture of fresh, young talent to add to the ranks. Two 16-year olds, Neve Herron and Jessica Brown are both graduates of Sunderland’s Regional Development Centre and have been signed for the upcoming season. Both are also involved with the England youth set-up, with Brown making eight appearances for the Lionesses at under 15 and under 16 level.
The new season sees the league reduced from 13 to 12 teams and also sees the absence of Guiseley Vixens following on from their liquidation, despite a solid mid-table finish from the side. Last season finished with an extremely tight bunching at the top of the table, and only six points separated second and sixth place.
One of the key games for Sunderland will no doubt be against Derby. Derby finished the league on the exact same wins, losses and draws as Sunderland, with only goal difference separating the two sides. Last season saw the Rams win 1-0 last September, before the Black Cats reaped their revenge in November with a 5-2 victory. This is a clash between two very evenly matched sides, and it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out this year.
Another side to test the Lasses is Fylde. Fylde finished sixth with 42 points, and they proved to be the bogey team for Sunderland - beating them three times in all competitions. They’re a side to definitely keep tabs on and I’m curious to see how they get on this season.
Additionally, Middlesbrough are also a team worth watching out for as Sunderland’s games against the North Yorkshire side are often rather gritty affairs. Sunderland beat Boro 3-1 at the start of last season, but the reverse fixture in February saw tight 3-3 draw. Boro came fifth overall last year with 43 points, only five behind the Lasses.
Keep an eye out for a few new faces this season too as Sunderland will face three new teams in the National League Northern Division (stick with me here as we’re about to delve into the unnecessarily complex structure of women’s football across the regions and divisions!).
Burnley Women won the National League Division One North league with 18 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses to earn promotion to the National League North. Additionally, West Brom topped their league, the National League Midlands with 19 wins and one loss.
Loughborough Foxes will also be playing in the National League Northern Division, despite playing in the Southern Division last season and finishing seventh. The FA have decided to move the Foxes from this league to their Northern counterpart for 2019/2020.
Old Foes Revisited
If your heart aches for not only a cup run but a Tyne-Wear derby, make sure you keep August 25 free in your diary as Sunderland have been drawn against rivals Newcastle United Women in the Women’s National League Cup.
The Magpies currently play in the National League Division One North, the fourth tier of football and the two sides haven’t met for seven years when Sunderland beat them 3-1 in 2012.