This January, Sunderland Ladies need to add numbers and cover to the squad that has done so well to reach the halfway point as one of the mid-table pack in the Championship. The club will surely be looking to strengthen for the remainder of the season; manager Mel Reay stated recently that she is always on the lookout to make signings if the right player becomes available.
At one point a few weeks back, Reay was struggling to field a full subs bench, but it’s not going to be easy to find players of the right quality. As she outlined to us on our 24-hour Twitter Space early in December, when the club can’t yet offer pro contracts they’re essentially hoping new recruits can find another job in the region and are willing to relocate.
As is always the case with recruitment at Sunderland Ladies, especially at this level, the issue of geography is a prominent one. We don’t have a group of WSL sides in close proximity to us to make for easy loans, but we do have the facilities and the reputation to attract young players that teams in the top flight might want.
Struggling Coventry United was saved from liquidation at the eleventh hour yesterday, a welcome move for the health of the game, but one which will probably mean some irons have been removed from the fire when it comes to recruitment plans across the division, including at the Academy of Light.
The pool of potential signings is therefore extremely – and frustratingly – limited, but the signing of two players, one at centre half and one at centre forward, would bolster the ranks and give increased capacity to deal with injuries and illness until the end of the season.
There’s a consensus among us that a centre half to cover the excellent Grace McCatty and Charlotte Potts, whose superb form was summed up by the terrific performance by both against Liverpool in the Conti Cup win, must be a priority.
Emily Scarr has done a sterling job and has improved loads this season but she’s not an out and out striker. so we do all agree that we need more potency in attack – we’ve scored by far the lowest number of goals of any team in the division so far, nine, and this simply has to improve in the second half of the campaign.
We’ve certainly seen a lack of creativity in many games so far, we have recorded the third-lowest expected goals for (xGF) in the league, and while both Neve Herron dropping back into defence and Keira Ramshaw playing out of position up top have done sterling work, one or two specialists in these positions would mean their undoubted talents could be utilised in the middle of the park where they arguably belong.
Forward Iris Achterhof is taking a break from the game after moving to Sunderland from Durham to improve our attacking options. You have to totally respect her decision to do that, especially as she has recently returned from a long time out injured with a knee injury and may not have had a chance to see her family due to cold restrictions.
Eve Blakey is an exciting player with huge potential, but she is young and is learning and developing her game. A forward with experience would be a fantastic addition to the squad.
Could a striker come in on loan from a WSL side to help us out, or would someone like Leah Embley from Brighouse be a suitable candidate to join the attack? She has a season’s worth of experience at this level with Blackburn Rovers and is in fantastic form with 13 goals in 16 appearances so far this campaign with the West Yorkshire outfit.
Or could a midfielder with experience who sets up goals on a regular basis, someone like former WSL star Jess Holbrook, currently with tier 3 side FC Fylde, make an impact at Eppleton?
Elsewhere on the pitch, could we look to bring in another goalkeeper? Durham have done just that, recruiting Naoisha McAloon from Peamount United in Ireland, despite Megan Borthwick’s impressive performances so far.
It’s by no means a necessity, Claudia Moan and Allison Cowling have done great so far but there’s been a suspicion that, on occasions, errors between the sticks have cost us vital points at crucial moments. Is someone of the experience of former Liverpool FC and Manchester City ‘keeper Rachael Darbyshire, currently at Liverpool Feds in Tier 4, a potentially shrewd signing?
This is all fan speculation, of course. You would hope that the club’s recruitment and analytics professionals will have been working with the coaching staff to identify the precise needs and target potential signings who are currently playing below their levels, perhaps from the ranks of other north eastern and Yorkshire sides playing further down the pyramid.
It could well be that new signings continue to be exclusively graduations from the youth ranks, as Regional Talent Club players turn 16 and they continue to be brought into the senior setup. The famous Sunderland production line seemingly never stops delivering the talent needed to fill the gaps, and in the second half of the season we all really look forward to seeing more of Grace Ede. The England Under 17 prospect came in from the RTC side and so far has looked like a very promising player. She has the right coaches there to help her flourish.
The gaffer has trust in the current group if no signings get over the line in the coming weeks, but in the long term, we feel that there’s a need to mix these players with experience and proven quality from elsewhere to progress the squad overall and for that, the club needs to commit to a professional future for the Lasses.