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Sunderland Ladies v Liverpool Women - Barclays FA Women’s Championship

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Opinion: “We can all do our bit to make Sunderland AFC Ladies a success!”

“We need to be loud, we need to be proud, and we need to back the lasses as much as we possibly can,” writes Charlotte Patterson.

Photo by Nigel Roddis - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

It’s safe to say that in the last few years it’s been a turbulent time for Sunderland Ladies. From being demoted to the third tier of women’s football from the Women’s Super League, to the loss of big-name players, the loss of finances, and the lack of backing and support from the club.

It has certainly been a difficult time for all associated with the club, particularly given how relatively poorly the men’s team have also been also performing.

Things did look to be on the up when we experienced a fantastic season in 2019/2020, where the side were the runaway league leaders and looked set to achieve promotion to the FA Women’s Championship. That was until the season was curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the season was declared null and void, breaking Sunderland hearts once again.

Sunderland Women v Newcastle United Ladies: FA Women’s National League Cup
2019-20 was looking like a great year... until Covid hit
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

But now, the lasses are back in the Championship and are fighting for a place in the league, with hopes of emulating the success of Sunderland teams before them. Undoubtedly, the focus of the team is not on promotion this season, but rather acclimatising to the Championship, in what is a difficult division with a mixture of teams, where on any given day, anyone can win and cause an upset.

Naturally, of course, the Lasses would love to earn promotion back to the top-flight - a sentiment shared by us fans. But, as is often mentioned by the gaffer Mel Reay and others, the team are being realistic in terms of their goal-setting.

Whilst the start of the season began well for the Lasses, in the lead up to Christmas, their rhythm and tempo began to diminish. With their last league win coming in a 1-0 away victory over Charlton back on October 31st, it has been frustrating to say the least, something which the team and players echo even in public.

Watching many of the games this season, Sunderland are often the deserved victors and the ones who should come away with all three points; the lasses have played some lovely and beautiful football at times, passages of play which deserve to be rewarded with a goal.

But, unfortunately, converting this good play has been Sunderland’s ultimate downfall. Despite the chances created, the lack of an identified striker is what has led Sunderland to currently sitting ninth in the table, with the worst goals for out of all teams - Scoring ten goals in 11 games.

Defensively - at least until the weekend’s 3-1 away defeat at London City Lionesses - the squad have been relatively solid at the back, putting in some brave and determined performances with their bodies on the line.

There were hopes from both a club and fan perspective that the winter break would provide an opportunity for the players to recuperate, refocus and get back to fitness, eady to head into the New Year with renewed vigour and determination. It would have also been an ideal time for the Lasses to add some reinforcements to the squad, bringing in the attacker that the side sorely need.

However, despite the best of intentions, in the last two weeks, the club has seen both forward Iris Achterof and key defender Charlotte Potts leave the club, with the latter coming as more of a shock and leaving a bigger impact on the squad. It would be easy right now for us as fans and for the club to become disheartened and lose focus.

But now more than ever we need to back the players, the manager, the coaching staff, everyone who contributes to the club and support them as best as we can. Whether that’s attending the games in person, watching the matches online and supporting the club through social media.

I don’t believe that the club is going to rest on its laurels and is going to let the transgressions of recent weeks, months and even years get in the way of their ultimate goal, which is to see this fantastic club reach the top flight of women’s football once again.

Sunderland Ladies are well known for producing a plethora of incredibly talented women through its academy and regional talent centres (RTC). At the present time, Sunderland are going through what you could describe as a rebuilding phase and are using what resources are available to them.

Coventry United Ladies v Sunderland Ladies - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Morgan Harlow - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

As we all know it was over a year ago when Kyril Louis-Dreyfus took over at Sunderland. In that time it has been hard to see what work, resources and finances have been put into the Women’s side of Sunderland. Of course, the men’s team is always going to take priority, that is a given.

However, it is disappointing from a fan perspective that we have not seen many direct benefits from the appointment and new ownership in terms of significant investment into the women’s team. The playing and coaching staff remains largely the same, albeit with more access to data analysis and players such as Emma Kelly coming into the squad in the summer.

There needs to be, now more than ever, a push for the women’s side, especially given what is occurring up the road and over the Tyne river with our rivals. This is a club with a rich history, passion, fight and a club that has produced many talented players who have gone on to represent the country on an international stage.

This isn’t to say that the club’s immediate goal must be to obtain quick promotion back to the FA WSL (although it would be nice), but I would like to seriously see a plan put in place by the club for the women’s team. An outline of all of the ambitions, the goal and targets they set the team, when they want to achieve them by,

The steps in which they will achieve them, the measures which will be put in place to facilitate this and how they will judge whether it has been successful or not - because at the moment it just feels like, despite all the efforts of the coaches and players, the club is stagnated and in limbo. I hope that this is a false impression, but at the minute as fans, we are yet to see bold moves being made by the club overall.

But if being a Sunderland fan has told me anything and the way in which the Lasses club have performed over recent years, it’s that even when things seem to be at their worst the team always find a way to bounce back.

I fully believe this to be the case. We’ve got some incredibly talented, hard-working, dedicated and passionate players within our squad and with Melanie Reay at the helm and adding young prospects from the regional talent centres, it shows that the club can only go up and improve.

The likes of Grace Ede has already shown her abilities, work ethic, talent and why she is tipped to be a big thing as she progresses and ages. It’s easy to forget that Grace is only 16 and just turned 16 a few short months ago.

Right now I think that Keira Ramshaw will play a vital and integral role in the club (as she always has done of course). Keira has been with the club through its best, its worst, thick and thin, and continues to give her all for her childhood club. It would be remiss of anyone to have not noticed the positive and inspiring messages that she puts out on her social media.

A clear indication that the club and team are still fighting despite the setbacks and despite the fact we are in the dark with how the club owners and management which to proceed with the Lasses.

Regardless of the outcome at the end of the season, no one can argue that these lasses haven’t given their all. I’ve been to see a few games this season when I’m not at work and I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen. The girls are doing everything right I just feel that that missing piece of the puzzle would be an out and out striker, a force to be reckoned with.

Whilst defensively we’ve been fairly solid and tight at the back, our issue undoubtedly has been in the attack. With limited options going forward, missed opportunities and just not being clinical enough in front of goal. That may come with confidence, experience and good fortune. This is a very young team that we have, this isn’t the same Sunderland side that it was back when we were in the FA WSL and I think at times we have to remind ourselves of that.

Of course, it would be great to see the lasses win every game and to win it so confidently, playing beautiful football and scoring wonderful goals. But I think as a short-term and realistic goal that we should set ourselves is focusing on the players that we have now and building them towards the future.

Making use of the regional talent centres, giving experience to young heads like Grace Ede. Like Rich Speight mentioned in his recent article, we cannot become too complacent with our position. The world of women's football is changing rapidly around us and we either need to keep up with the times or we will end up being swallowed up in all of the commotion.

At the time of writing this, there’s been no word yet as to whether we will be signing anybody in particular. There are rumours of course that Mel is looking to add players into the team, whether that’s permanent or on loan and what positions they play in, no one but Reay and her staff truly know.

Many of us are Roker Report and online have commented about how we would love to sign Bridget Galloway back to the team. Given how emphatic and brilliant she was for the side the last time she was here. But also given the fact that Durham have just signed Rio Hardy from Coventry, does that mean it’s more likely now that Galloway won’t see much game time at Maiden Castle?

Either way, it would be fantastic to see Galloway back at the club and she would certainly be a piece of the aforementioned puzzle that may just help things start to click. We have a very young squad and whilst it’s great to see that we are building towards the future and relying on local talent, we also need experienced heads to help coach and guide them. Adding someone like Galloway, and an experienced centre back in defence to replace Potts, will be huge for Sunderland and may well be there what reignites this side.

Durham Women v Crystal Palace Women - Barclays FA Women’s Championship
Bring home the Goat! Bridget Galloway would be the perfect signing for SAFC this January.
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We need to be loud, we need to be proud and we need to back the lasses as much as we possibly can. It would be easy for me to write this article and tell people what they should be doing to support the club, whilst doing nothing myself. But that won’t be the case, as to do my bit for the team, I will be purchasing 10 tickets each month to give out to fans for free.

I understand that peoples personal circumstances, and the current ongoing pandemic, has caused serious financial repercussions. So if you know anyone who would benefit from a free ticket or perhaps someone you could introduce to the lasses for the first time, then just message me on Twitter and I will see what I can do.

We are all in this together.

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