Sunderland Ladies returned to action behind-closed-doors in the FA Women’s National League against Derby County on Sunday at a windy, cold and wet Academy of Light. They were obviously chomping at the bit after a month-long break due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions
Last week’s 5-2 friendly victory over local rivals Newcastle had set the side up nicely for a game against one of this season’s strongest sides. The squad were back in training this week and captain Keira Ramshaw was confident about their preparations ahead of the return to competitive football:
I’m buzzing to be back, obviously we’ve had the second lockdown and it’s a bit frustrating to happen again, but it’s just life and you’ve got to get on with it. But to be back in the Academy and training hard, and to have a league fixture coming up, it’s just exciting.
We’ve been working hard in training this week, especially on our defensive responsibilities and also our attacking, making sure we finish the chances that we get, so hopefully everything we’ve worked on in training comes off on Sunday.
Derby County manager Sam Griffiths, quoted in a piece on the club’s website, predicted a tough afternoon on Wearside for her third-placed team.
If I’m being honest, we couldn’t have picked a harder match to start back with, I know Mel (Reay, Sunderland Ladies’ manager) well and she’ll have her team well drilled and ready to go from the off.
That means we’re going to need to be at the top of our own game if we want to come away with the points and keep ourselves in the hunt for promotion.
Manager Mel Reay named an unchanged Lasses side to that which beat Newcastle last week. We were without Maltese international and star of many victories this season, Maria Farrugia, but it was great to see Libby Corney on the bench. She’s a player we’ve seen in action while playing for Wallsend BC Women, an accomplished young defender who gave the manager a fantastic option from the bench.
Griffiths had an almost full-strength Ewe Rams squad to choose from on Sunday, with the return of Hannah Keryakopl to the starting eleven and new signing Precious Hamilton starting on the bench.
⚪️⚫️#EweRams TEAM NEWS— Derby County Women (@DCFCWomen) December 13, 2020
Here is your @DCFCWomen team for today's @FAWNL clash with @SAFCLadies
A return from illness for @HannahKeryakopl whilst new signing @preciousbyname starts on the bench with @EllieGilliatt absent
Come on #EweRams pic.twitter.com/gRh1uBSHJa
Two good sides, then, both looking to chase down their promotion rivals and lay down a marker for the rest of the season. The scene was set, amongst the gloom of the midwinter wind and rain, for an epic afternoon’s football.
And this match was absolutely breathless and likely to be one of the games of the season.
The lasses didn’t waste any time, and the game started with a bang; with Sunderland opening the scoring in the very first minute – a thirty-five-yard sensational strike from defender Louise Griffiths, deceiving Derby keeper Charlotte Clarke.
However, it didn’t take long for Derby to hit back, forward Hannah Keryakoplis slotting into the bottom corner after six minutes to bring the scores level.
After their equaliser, Derby got on top of the home side, with Sunderland keeper Claudia Moan making her second superb save of the game and Grace McCatty making a vital goal-line interception for the Lasses.
But then Sunderland went back ahead with a header from Scarr to make it 2-1 after 16 minutes. It was non-stop action as Moan was again called into action midway during the half with another great save to keep the Lasses’ noses in front. Moan was to go on to have an inspired afternoon between the sticks – soon after, she made a cracking double save to preserve their lead once again.
After 35 minutes of what was an absorbing contest in difficult conditions, Sunderland went 3-1 up thanks to none other than inspirational captain Ramshaw.
She finished well past the Derby keeper and on 43 minutes the Lasses extended their lead again to make it 4-1.
It looks like this one has been credited as an own goal from a Derby defender, but with fantastic work from Blakely to pressurise the defender into the error.
There was still time for the excellent Moan to make another exceptional save from a Derby free-kick, just before half time. The Lasses went into the break with a three-goal lead, but they knew that the game was far from over against a dangerous Derby outfit.
The second half started with the visitors on the front foot, the Lasses needing another timely intervention from the experienced and talented McCatty to preventing a goal for the away side. Derby did, however, get the goal they’d been threatening and it came in the 56th minute, Emily Joyce with the finish to take the score to 4-2.
Both sides then had clear opportunities, but it was Derby scored their third on the 73rd minute to set things up nicely up for a tense finish to the game.
Ramshaw gave the Lasses some daylight in the 76th minute, poking the ball into the net to make it 5-3, but Derby hit back once again after a further three minutes to make it 5-4, Jade Formaston with the goal.
There was still time for our Player of the Match, Claudia Moan, to make two more wonderful saves to give the home side three points and start the resumption of the Lasses season with a vital win.
NINE. GOAL. THRILLER.— Talking WoSo (@TalkingWoSo) December 13, 2020
The Lasses managed to hold out to claim a huge 3 points in a remarkable contest. #SAFC 1-0 #EweRams#SAFC 1-1 #EweRams#SAFC 2-1 #EweRams#SAFC 3-1 #EweRams#SAFC 4-1 #EweRams#SAFC 4-2 #EweRams#SAFC 4-3 #EweRams#SAFC 5-3 #EweRams#SAFC 5-4 #EweRams https://t.co/iA658FGAp0
The Sunderland manager Mel Reay was fulsome in her praise for her young side as they managed to pull off an important victory in particularly challenging winter weather on Sunday afternoon.
We’re absolutely delighted. We wanted to make sure we came away with three points and close the gap at the top of the table, and fair play to the lasses they’ve certainly done that in tough conditions.
The wind and the rain was absolutely horrific, it was blowing goal to goal. We went with the wind in the first half and we wanted to do damage in the first half and get plenty of goals because we always knew it would be tough in the second half.
On social media, goalscoring captain Keira Ramshaw said she was proud of her teammates for the character and togetherness they demonstrated in the performance, and Grace McCatty also commented on Twitter:
Still struggling to feel my toes but hugely important win for us today. Never played in conditions like that before, but credit to everyone who dug deep, and showed character to keep competing until the 90th minute. Onwards from here.
Super proud of all the team today! We fought till the end in bad conditions.⛈ We showed fantastic character and togetherness was key. 3 points in the bag!! Happy Sunday⚽️ ⚪️ #HTL #safc https://t.co/m5rFZOXPn5— Keira Ramshaw (@Keys_Safc94) December 13, 2020
After sat nervously refreshing Twitter during their Sunday lunches, some of our Ladies following Roker Reporters have shared their reflections on the result. Rebecca Johnson was the first to hail a heroic goalkeeping performance:
Wow, what a game! A nine goal thriller with the lasses taking the three points. Disappointing we couldn’t see the game, but a good result nonetheless. It’s good to see the Lasses becoming more clinical in front of goal as well. Massive props to Claudia Moan who sounds like she pulled off some class saves throughout the match. Onto the next one!
Ant Waterson joined in the praise for Clauds, as well as highlighting today’s (potentially wind-assisted) worldie opening goal.
A massive win for Sunderland today in what sounded like an absolute thrilling game. I’m really pleased to see Claudia Moan grabbing plaudits, we don’ mention Claudia as often as some of the other player but she is a massive part of this Sunderland side.
Can’t wait to see Louise Griffiths’ 35-yard screamer as well.
Well done ladies. On to the next one.
The result capped a fantastic weekend of football for an ever-optimistic Rich Speight:
What a wonderful weekend for Sunderland supporters, with the U18s, men’s and women's teams all recording victories and scoring hat fulls of goals along the way. The guts shown by the Lasses on Sunday was immense, battling not just a strong Derby side but the worst that the North East winter weather could throw at them.
I’m so glad that the League has returned and the chance of promotion is still there. I can’t wait to see the highlights of this match and, just possibly, a live stream when we’re next at home in January.
And our very own Graeme Field sees a bright future ahead for the Lasses, especially if supporters can watch the games online despite remaining locked out of games for the foreseeable future.
This Sunderland team is getting better by the game and surely with this sort of quality finishing and gritty determined defending, there promises to be a very exciting second half to the season to come for the team, staff and supporters.
Add in the news that the club is working on live streaming the Lasses’ home games and it’s been a successful weekend for the club.
The win puts the Lasses up to fourth place in the league table, seven points behind leaders Huddersfield and nicely placed for rest of the season ahead. Derby are now just one spot and one point ahead of Sunderland as we make our way to almost the halfway stage of the league season, which now has 22 fixtures scheduled ending with the return game in Derbyshire in April.
This comes after a tough start to the campaign, which was to be expected after the loss of key players from the side that dominated last year’s curtailed WSL Northern Premier Division.