The story of Sunderland’s Ladies’ demotion and subsequent series of setbacks is now a well-known tale, and one that only grew more frustrating when England’s national side fielded a host of former Wearside talent in a team that went all the way to the semi-final in the Women’s World Cup this summer.
Despite the challenges the team faced this time last year and the understanding of the disruption they could cause, Melanie Reay’s side are not accepting any excuses as they attempt to rocket through the leagues and begin on their journey of writing a whole new chapter that will hopefully put to bed the stresses of the previous eighteen months.
That said, last season was in no way a failure. Had it not been for some impeccable form from last season’s League champions Blackburn Rovers, the Lasses could have quite easily been celebrating promotion at the first time of asking themselves. Yet despite the disappointment of finishing second their record of fifteen wins, three draws and only six loses in a season that was stacked with difficulties was a true test of the team’s character - and this season they are showing the form that could allow them to go one better.
With three wins and fourteen goals already the Lasses sit in second, level on points with their next opponents Huddersfield Town, whilst you can also add in an impressive derby cup victory over Newcastle United Women without key player Keira Ramshaw into the mix.
Where much of the focus on the team came in their National League Cup win over neighbours Newcastle, it’s the league form that has shown the quality Sunderland possess within their ranks this season, and Melanie Reay’s clever summer recruitment policy of blending youth with experience appears to be reaping rewards.
Whereas wins over West Brom and AFC Flyde were good, solid, professional victories to open the campaign, it was Sunday’s clinical 9-1 win over Hull City Ladies that showcased the unadulterated quality Sunderland’s side has.
Striker Bridget Galloway has brought her terrific pre-season form into league, hitting an impressive six goals in her first four league games, with her hat-trick against Hull City on Sunday maintaining a 100% scoring record having notched in every game so far. There can be no doubting that Galloway is far and away the most lethal finisher in the division on current form.
Further up the field, captain and mainstay of the squad Keira Ramshaw seems to have returned this summer with a renewed hunger in the advanced midfield role, leading by example on the pitch and showing her undeniable quality to open up opposition defences, almost at will.
When Ramshaw performs she lifts the level of quality throughout the side, having already shown how capable she is at a level far higher than where Sunderland are currently forced to play.
Defender Grace McCatty has began to form a solid defensive partnership with experienced summer signing Charlotte Potts that looks watertight, and the likes of Abi Cottam and Mollie Lambert are showing encouraging signs that they will both be hugely important to the make-up of the squad this coming season.
As a team, there’s competition right across the park and an abundance of quality that is beginning to stamp its authority on the Northern Premier Division.
When it comes to individual praise it’s hard to look past the exciting talent of 16-year-old Jessica Brown. The young attacker has taken the Sunderland team by storm, showing maturity far beyond her age, and the hope is that she could be the next player to come through the club that has the potential to play at the very top of the game.
She, alongside fellow teenage newcomer Neve Herron, are both products of our Regional Development Centre and have been heavily involved with England Lionesses at under 15/16 level. Brown in particular has turned out eight times for the national team already.
The teenage winger has taken the majority of the headlines with her pace, trickery and love for a long-range screamer. She is making people stand up and take notice only a month into her career and is looking increasingly like the type of player that can hit the higher echelons of the Ladies game, which is only growing in popularity.
The team itself won’t be getting carried away just yet, but you wouldn’t blame manager Melanie Reay and her side if they were encouraged by the opening month of the campaign. Through no fault of their own this team was made to struggle, yet on the field they couldn’t look any more determined and driven to get this club back to where it belongs, competing at the top of the game with a squad of players built around a core of local talent.
Signs this early into the season are encouraging - and for the people of Sunderland there can be no better time to get on board with what the team are hoping to achieve. With our backing they, like the men’s team, are sure to be a success and soon regain their place amongst the most successful clubs in the game.