It was a big day for women’s football outside of the ‘elite’ top two tiers, as sides returned to action for the first time in 2021 to compete for places in the next round of the Vitality FA Cup. The north eastern trio of Sunderland, Newcastle and Middlesborough were all in action, with the opportunity to play the professionals from the Women’s Super League only two games away.
By 3pm, both Sunderland and Middlesbrough, who won 3-1 over Hull, had progressed to the third round, with Newcastle United losing to 3-0 Brighouse. But it is the Wearsiders who will be making all the headlines after a dominant and impressive victory at the Academy of Light.
As expected, without Maria Farruguia available, Mel Reay stuck with the same starting eleven that overcame Derby County in the Lasses last competitive fixture back in mid-December. Sheffield FC did not put out a team sheet publicly before the game.
Despite Mel Reay predicting a potentially slow and cagey start to the game following such a long lay-off for both sides, Sunderland were quick out of the blocks. The captain, Keira Ramshaw, openned the scoring after 2 minutes with a shot from the edge of the box that nestled into the corner of the Sheffield net.
More chances for Sunderland followed, with Holly Manders, Abbey Joice and Emily Scarr twice going close before Manders doubled the Lasses lead, converting Scarr’s corner in the 29th minute. The Sunderland side were now well on top and Manders went after another goal, going close with a free kick only moments after scoring and then missing an opportunity presented by Ramshaw.
The first half saw Sunderland playing a high-tempo game, winning the ball back early and breaking quickly on the opposition, a style of play which is fast becoming the footballing philosophy across the club, and the pressure from the home team paid off on 42 minutes when Eve Blakey got her first senior goal for the club after Ramshaw’s trickery in the box had left the opposition defence in tatters, leaving the youngster with a simple tap in to make the score three-nil at half time. .
Half Time Score: Sunderland 3-0 Sheffield FC
Jessica Brown was brought off the bench at half time, with Abbey Joice making way, and she almost made an immediate impact when she almost got on the end of a cross from the dangerous Scarr.
Sheffield then gave themselves a foothold in the match, Claudia Moan making a smart save before the South Yorkshire side grabbed a goal on 56 minutes. But Sunderland came storming back, with Blakey grabbing her second of the game on 60 minutes with a volley to put the game beyond the visitors, and she continued to trouble the Sheffield defence throughout the half.
A couple of further substitutions for Sunderland followed, with Manders departing to be replaced by Libbi McInnes on 68 and Emily Hutchinson coming on for Scarr. The subs were looking to stake their claim for a place in the next round against Burnley, who beat FC Flyde in extra time, and Hutchinson in particular impressed with some skilful wing-play after her introduction with 15 minutes remaining.
To round off a fantastic afternoon for the lasses, and a great weekend for the club overall, a foul in the box in injury time gave Blakey the chance to complete her hat-trick, which she did with aplomb - converting from the penalty spot to make it a convincing and well deserved 5-1 win.
Result: Sunderland 5 - 1 Sheffield FC
Player of the Match: Eve Blakey
After the game, Mel Reay took to Twitter to say that she “couldn’t of asked anymore of the squad today. High energy levels and a great all round performance after 3 months away”.
Eve Blakey also spoke to the club’s media team about her own performance and the team’s return to action:
I was buzzing to be back on the pitch, it’s been a long break off and I’m sick of running, so it’s good to be on the pitch and kicking a ball about to be honest!
I’ve been waiting for a goal since the first game of the season, so the pressure’s off my back now. I’m really happy with the team’s reaction - we’ve had a really good physical programme so we were ready for the game, and we got the result.
Watch out for a special Roker Roundtable on the website tomorrow as our team of writers react to this fantastic result for the Lasses once the video highlights are out!!!