Sunderland’s last two FA Women’s Championship games have come against professional opposition in the form of the top two sides, Liverpool and London City Lionesses, so Sunday’s game against fellow part-timers Lewes offered the opportunity for Mel Reay’s side to gain three points for the first time since beating Charlton away on Halloween.
Reay made two positive changes to her starting eleven, bringing back tall striker Eve Blakey and handing 16-year-old midfield prospect Grace Ede her full league debut. Grace Boyes, re-signed from Middlesbrough this weekend, was handed a place on the bench.
The home side made some unexpected changes too, with top-scorer Ini Umotong missing out on the matchday squad altogether whilst fullback Ellie Mason made her first appearance for the club after a year out with injury.
Sunderland would have liked to start the match well after conceding quickly last weekend. But after only 5 minutes, Sunderland heads switched off and following a quick throw-in by Lewes, the home side went 1-0 up through a great strike by Isobel Dalton.
Following the goal, you could possibly argue that Sunderland were the better side, with having an ample amount of possession and chances going forward. Abbey Joice was certainly the bright spark in the side, getting stuck into everything, intercepting Lewes passes, making runs towards goal or down the wing and looking to get others involved.
But, despite getting forward, the lasses were quite poor in their build-up to get up the pitch, choosing to loft in deep and long balls down the wing, occasionally overhitting them. As opposed to playing a simple passing game, playing in a through ball or perhaps some one touch football to drag Lewes defenders out of position.
The lasses almost reaped the rewards of their pressure towards the half-hour mark of the game, when Keira Ramshaw received the ball just outside the box from Abbey Joice and rifled it towards goal. However, it beat the keeper and also beat the goal. Just before halftime, Sunderland hearts were shattered once more, when Lewes made it 2-0.
A goalmouth scramble, which involved numerous bodies on the floor, ricocheted shots, Megan Beer getting injured and defender Ellie Mason, whose dribble and pass had created the opportunity, struck it home for Lewes.
After half time, Sunderland were awarded some good fortune when Lewes forward Freda Ayisi, saw her second yellow for a tackle on Neve Herron. You would’ve thought that this would swing momentum in our favour and we could begin to mount an attack on the Lewes defence. But that wasn’t the case. The lasses seemed to struggle, despite Lewes having 10 players on the pitch and could not break them down. Our drive and desire to get forward and try and close the deficit meant at times that we left ourselves short at the back and were susceptible to playing too high up.
Lewes noticed this and when we gave up possession, they had enough speed, pace and technicality about them to try and counter. Keira Ramshaw had another good chance on goal, when she headed a cross down towards goal, beating the Lewes keeper, but not quite beating the post, when the ball bounced back into play.
Frustrations and perhaps an urge to get something from the game started to play on the forefront of the lasses minds, when Grace McCatty saw red in the 85th minute for her tackle from behind on a Lewes player by the half-way line.
The rest of the game petered out from there, with Lewes happy to defend their 2-0 lead and Sunderland perhaps happy to hear the final whistle.
It’s certainly a difficult time at Sunderland right now, whether your staff, a player or fan of the team. The lasses seem to be stuck in a slump at the moment and it’s going to take a lot of strength and resilience for them to pull themselves out of this. Undoubtedly, conceding first has been a major contributing factor for Sunderland losing games. Especially when those goals have been conceded in the opening 15 minutes of games. No matter how hard they fight to get back into the game, the first goal is a killer blow and it’s always a battle to get back into the game.
Whilst Sunderland have signed Grace Boyes, who may well fill the spot left by Charlotte Potts, there is still a lot more that needs to be done at the club. There are still rumblings that business and transfers are to be made and that Sunderland did have some loan signings lined up which fell through. Hopefully, in the coming week or so, we will hear more word on additions to the squad.
Mel Reay’s reaction to today’s defeat pic.twitter.com/CFliuzvBFx— Sunderland AFC Ladies (@SAFCLadies) January 23, 2022
It is easy to forget at times that this is a relatively young squad that we have and it’s important to remember that this season is one that needs to allow development and acclimatisation back into the championship.
Most of the players who are on the team at the moment have never played at this level and whilst the talent is evident to see, the lasses, unfortunately, don’t quite have the experienced heads to help guide them. Considering how the lasses headed into the winter break and how they are now, it’s quite clear to see that confidence seems to be a big issue at the moment and one which needs to be rectified soon.
The Lasses go again next weekend in a cup game away to Birmingham City, before finally returning home on Sunday 6th February in a league game against Sheffield United.