Sunderland Ladies travelled down to Coles Lane ground on Sunday as they faced West Bromwich in the Northern Premier Division.
Before the game, Sunderland were sat in eighth in the league with nine points, hoping to build from their wins against Fylde and Sheffield.
The Baggies were up in fourth, yet, only a point separated them and the Black Cats. They too were looking to continue their good run of form after winning 4-0 against Hull City last weekend.
In another welcome improvement in coverage of the Lasses by the Sunderland AFC media team, Captain Keira Ramshaw was interviewed for SAFC.com in advance of this crucial game:
The morale has been fantastic from the start of the season. ...Everyone is getting on really well – we’re always laughing - but at the same time sticking in, and we know what we need to do on the pitch.
It didn’t start off as well as we would have liked it to and I think everybody knows that, but the fact is that we’re now winning and hopefully we can win on Sunday. ...We even know what we need to improve on from last week, and that’s what we’re planning to do.
Assistant manager, Trevor Atkinson, said before the game that the side have to be confident regarding the way they have progressed over the last couple of games.
We do feel confident going into Sunday’s game that - providing we perform to our ability - we’re capable of getting the points and charging to the top end of the table where we hope to be for the remainder of the season.
Results haven’t always reflected the performances we’ve put into recent games, but now we’re starting to build a bit of momentum.
'We’ve got supreme confidence that our players will perform to the best of their ability...'#SAFCLadies assistant manager Trevor Atkinson previews tomorrow's game— Sunderland AFC Ladies (@SAFCLadies) October 24, 2020
The West Brom Women’s social media has been very active in advance of the game, encouraging their fans to purchase tickets for the match and posting highlights of their impressive win last weekend.
In the build-up to the game, Baggies’ forward Natalie Murray spoke about how the side were starting to come together.
I think it’s been a good start, we’ve had some good results and some of the results we want to change as the season goes on. But as a team, we’re really starting to come together with the team spirit and hopefully we can build from Sunday’s performance for the rest of the season.
These two strikes from Keeley Davies and Nat Murray helped us to a four-goal victory over Hull today.— West Bromwich Albion Women (@WBAWomen) October 18, 2020
See our other goals from Trina Greaves and Jade Arber in the highlights ➡️ https://t.co/feIBLyW0VH#WBA pic.twitter.com/uMq2JIG0wy
Following on from last week’s win against Sheffield FC, Mel Reay named a largely unchanged side. Faye Mullen returned to the starting line-up this week, with Eve Blakey dropping to the bench.
The Baggies kept their winning formula and named an unchanged side from their win against Hull last Sunday.
Sunderland had the first chances from kick-off, with Emily Scarr teeing Keira Ramshaw up, heading the ball just wide of the post.
However, it was the home side who began to see more of the ball, and Grace McCatty was forced to make a last ditch tackle to prevent a clear-cut chance. Shortly afterwards, Natalie Murray attempted an overhead kick, which didn’t trouble Claudia Moan.
The Baggies had a good chance to draw the first blood in the 25th minute with a threatening in-swinging free kick but was dealt with by Moan.
Maria Farrugia continued her good spell of form and had a couple of sniffs at goal in the first half. Her best chance came just before half-time, rattling the cross-bar with a half-volley whipped in from Scarr.
The Lasses came out the more dominant side in the second-half. Ramshaw tested the Baggies’ ‘keeper early on with a long range effort which was comfortably saved.
Holly Manders came on mid-way through the half to boost the Sunderland attack and try and find the first goal of the game.
West Brom came close in the 68th minute with Hannah Baines failing to capitalise on the rebound frmo Keeley Davies’ blocked shot on goal.
Moments later the Baggies did find the back of the net when a Hannah George corner found Baines’ head to be headed home and go 1-0 up.
However, Sunderland responded instantly and in a similar style to their opponents after a corner ball reached substitute Manders, who headed in the equalizer.
Momentum ran with the Black Cats soon after with Abbey Joice firing over the bar and Ramshaw hitting the post after a shot in the box.
Despite the good response from the Lasses, it was the Baggies who found the back of the net next after Davies smashed a volley into the top of the net to snatch the three points.
Lasses’ gaffer Mel Reay reflected on the lack of finishing chances throughout the game in her post-match comments:
We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing and ensuring that we’re finishing these chances off. I think we’ll probably keep doing a bit of shooting practice this week in training!
We’re getting in the right areas just not hitting the back of the net this moment in time.
Despite the loss, Reay was full of praise for her side’s response in the second half of the match.
I am proud of their efforts today, we asked for a reaction at half time and got that so I was delighted with the way that we controlled the second part of the game.
We just need to be more switched on and not concede from set-pieces especially.
Grace McCatty was also on post-match interview duty and thought that Sunderland deserved at least a point from the match:
I think in hindsight we’d have loved to have won, to go home with nothing is quite hard to take.
The way we performed in the second half we deserved to come away with something, three points would’ve been great, but at least a point would’ve been fair.
It’s quite disappointing but I think we know we have to build on that and that’s what we have to take into training this week.
McCatty is also relishing the challenge of taking on Nottingham Forest next Sunday:
Nottingham are obviously doing really well this year and I think it’ll be our hardest game we play this year.
I think as Mel said, we’ve got to take it game by game, all we can do is focus on the game in front of us, focus on learning from today, what didn’t go right and what did and build on that.
It’s another challenge for us but we’re ready to go.
Opposition players and fans took to Twitter to reflect on the game.
Sunderland fans also tweeted their support for Mel and the Lasses after the narrow loss.
When our Roker Reporters reflected on the game, Rich Speight suggested that this could be a result that proves costly further down the line for the Black Cats:
This result will be hard to take after the two previous wins for Mel Reay’s side, and it sounds like it was a very good away performance against one of the better teams in the division.
With four more games against the Midlands sides to come, there’s still a way to go in the division but I can’t help thinking that this result will come to be pivotal in the season as a whole. Let’s hope we can get back to winning ways next weekend.
Lasses’ fan, Graeme Field shared his concerns about the competitive nature of the FAWNL Northern Premier League:
Although difficult to say at the time of writing, what I saw on Twitter and heard in the interviews online suggests that we should have at least gained a point from the trip to WBA.
It’s a shame that we conceded so late on, but we can take a lot out of the game going into next week against high-flying Nottingham Forest.
The highly competitive nature of the league means that next week’s game will be a tight affair that the Lasses are more than capable of winning.
Graeme also went on to comment on the increased media coverage of the Lasses:
So glad that the club have really stepped up their coverage of the team, which was quite frankly, overdue. Loved listening to the thoughts of manager, Mel Reay, and experienced defender, Grace McCatty. Keep up the good work.
Ant Waterson also praised the club for yesterday’s media coverage:
Well what a welcome move to see Sunderland giving the Ladies more coverage. They deserve it and a hell of a lot more.
On the game I’m absolutely gutted for them as it sounds like they played very well in the second half. Goals win matches though and Sunderland still lacked the cutting edge I’m afraid. Still a good way to go and the signs are good. Ha’way the Lasses!
Rich Speight spoke to Chris Waters, the club’s Supporter Liaison Officer, last week to raise many of the questions our readers and contributors have been asking regarding the future of the Ladies team focusing on encouraging the club to improve their offering to supporters. On Sunday morning, we learned the welcome news from Oscar Chamberlain that the club would be providing the video highlights of matches (which, unfortunately, haven’t been released at the point of publication of this article), and Chris has taken the other questions and concerns back to the club and we expect to hear something more in the next few days, especially regarding getting fans back into games.
Meanwhile in the rest of the FAWNL Northern Premier Division, Fylde and Huddersfield continued their run at the top of the table with wins against Loughborough Foxes and Sheffield FC, respectively. Additionally, North-East neighbours Middlesbrough were on the receiving end of a 4-1 thrashing at home to Derby County.
Next up for the Lasses are Nottingham Forest, who were held to a 2-2 draw against Hull City yesterday, leaving them third in the table.
Ha’way the Lasses!