Newly reformed AFC Fylde Women sat at the top of the Northern Premier Division table ahead of Sunday afternoon’s game against Sunderland AFC Ladies at the Academy of Light, a game which, once again, was held behind closed doors.
The Lasses’ opponents, who appointed appointed former Manchester City due Kim Turner and Danielle Young as joint managers back in May after their owner David Haythornthwaite, who had dissolved the club at the start of the coronavirus crisis in March, had a change of heart and funded the club’s reemergence during lockdown.
Online chatter about the build-up to clash with the Coasters had been muted after Sunderland’s 3-0 defeat to Huddersfield last week, and Sunderland’s preparations were eclipsed by the outpouring of thanks and good wishes that met the surprise news of the departure of Mark Craggs, who had taken care of the Lasses’ media for the last three years.
Fans clearly expected a difficult tie, taking into account the Lasses’ stuttering start combined with the excellent form of their opponents. Many would have hoped to avoid defeat at best as the regular 2pm kick-off approached, and we sat nervously awaiting the Twitter updates.
Mel Reay’s starting eleven had a familiar feel when it was announced, with the spine of Claudia Moan in goal, Louise Griffiths in defence, captain Keira Ramshaw in midfield, and Maria Farrugia in attack being maintained. The manager only made two changes to the team that struggled in West Yorkshire last weekend; Megan Beer and Faye Mullen came into the side with Olivia Watt missing out and Jessica Brown dropping to the bench.
Turner and Young looked to maintain consistency in their team too, making two changes to their starting line-up; Taylor and Donoghue made way for Fryer and Rowe, who had both started last week’s game against Hull City Ladies on the bench.
STARTING LINE UP— AFC Fylde Women (@FyldeWomenFC) October 11, 2020
Sunderland started the game on the front foot, with Farrugia having an early opportunity resulting in a corner, from which the Lady Black Cats then took the lead through the right foot of the ever-reliable Grace McCatty.
The Lasses went on to dominate for much of the first half, hitting the post at the midway point and limiting the Lancashire side to only a couple of shots on target, both of which were dealt with comfortably by Moan. Fylde forward Emile Hollinshead went close minutes before half time, but Sunderland held onto their lead to go in 1-0 up at the break.
But it was the visitors who started the second half the brightest, with Faye McCoy shooting over following some good play, before New Zealander Laura Merrin’s crossed corner was met by Mitchell, who equalised with a smart finish at the far post.
Mel Reay made a couple of changes midway through the second half, Jessica Brown replacing Ramshaw before Holly Manders came on for Eve Blakey.
The game could have gone either way, and Fylde had their chances; Jenna Carroll going close following a free kick and Jodie Redgrave missing a great opportunity to score on 77. The turning point came on 84 minutes, when a header from substitute Webster came back off Sunderland’s crossbar.
A minute later, hard work from the Lasses won them a corner and, from the resulting delivery, teenager Neve Herron scored from close range to give Sunderland a vital lead. Then, as Fylde looked to grab a last gasp point, they lost the ball in midfield and Manders was through on goal. The summer signing held her nerve to open her account for the club in the one-on-one with Smith and seal the victory for her team.
After the match, on social media, Mel Reay said that she was delighted for all the Sunderland players and staff and that it had been a team effort. The Lasses’ first goalscorer, Grace McCatty, also expressed her delight at the team’s return to winning ways in her customary post-match tweet:
Happy Sunday. Really important win for us today, with a big team effort throughout! Pleased to have played my part by bagging my first goal of the season too.
Maria Farrugia’s performances have started to gain her recognition back in her native Malta too.
Maria Farrugia played the full 90mins for Sunderland Ladies as they ran out 3-1 winners at home to AFC Fylde Ladies in the FA Women’s National League today. ⚽️ #MalteseAbroad— Pastizzi And Penalties (@PastizziP) October 11, 2020
For the opposition, Danielle Young was in reflective mood after Fylde’s first defeat of the season, taking to social media to give advice to her side:
Difficult one to take today but we live and we learn.. It’s a process.. Reflect, Regroup and Go again, on to the next one.
And her co-manager Kim Turner also took to Twitter to give words of encouragement to her defeated players, after what must have been a difficult loss to take coming in the last five minutes of very close match:
“Even the greatest teams are not infallible”: Feel the pain, experience fully the emotions connected with our loss, and then refocus; remember what WE achieved before this loss and that we can be successful again.
The result was celebrated by our gang of Lasses’ fans here at Roker Report. Rebecca Johnson argues that Sunderland must look to gain confidence from Sunday’s performance:
A class win for Sunderland this afternoon, especially against Fylde who have been a bit of a bogey team for the Lasses in the past.
It’s also great to the variety in goal scoring as well, with McCatty and Herron scoring, but also Holly Manders getting her first goal. Hopefully this is the momentum that the team needs!
The theme of needing to build on this result was taken up by Ant Waterson, who also repeated his impassioned call for fans to be allowed into Sunderland AFC Ladies games he made on this week’s Roker Rapport Podcast:
Well, what a result this was for the ladies today!
They went in to the game second favourites against a Fylde side who were top of the table. Sunderland showed grit and determination and got the right result in what sounded like a great game.
Again I must plea to the powers that be to let us in as the atmosphere would have been electric today. I’m over for moon for Grace to get on the scoresheet, and also Heron and Manders to seal it.
I am delighted and maybe that is the result we need to kick on now. Well done everyone.
And Graeme Field concurred with Rebecca and Ant’s assessment that beating what was, at kick-off, the top team in the League might be the start of a good run for the Ladies. He also reiterated the point about the need to have crowds back in the grounds, as we know is the case at Newcastle and Middlesbrough:
Well done to Sunderland Ladies with a great win, against a side that started the day at the top of the table.
It was brilliant to see Megan Beer back in the starting line up for the lasses. It’s excellent that the winning goals came late in the game when some sides may tire. This will be something the team will look to continue as the season progresses.
Also, some feedback from the club on its plans for when fans will be able to attend games would be really welcome for a fan base that is itching to see the lasses in action.
Next time out sees a home game against Sheffield, a side that has so far struggled this season.
Sunday afternoon’s other results in the FAWNL Northern Premier Division saw 28 goals across the five games, with Nottingham Forrest jumping above Fylde after their 7-0 win against bottom placed Loughborough Foxes, and Middlesborough losing 4-2 at home to Huddersfield.
This season is shaping up to be a lot more competitive, with Sunderland currently sitting eighth ahead of next weekend’s clash with second-from-bottom side Sheffield FC.