A broken nose. The news that, as bloody and painful as it surely was, a broken nose was the extent of the head injury sustained by Neve Herron, Sunderland Women’s most talented young player, is what passes as good news at the end of a pretty miserable wet weekend on Wearside.
As she lay motionless inside the Sunderland goal at the Hetton Centre End of a sodden Eppleton CW ground, those in attendance and those, like me watching the live stream from the comfort of our own homes feared the worst. In typically fearless style, the 19-year-old from Houghton had thrown herself at the ball as it came back off the crossbar and made full contact with both it and Brianna Westrup.
As the medical staff from both teams tended to Herron, Holly Manders, who had been subbed in the second half after a frustrating afternoon on the left of a pretty toothless Lasses attack, ran over to be with the patient. The stretcher was called for, and she was carefully manoeuvred onto it with her neck braced as a precaution.
Mel Reay offered her thoughts on today’s defeat at Eppleton, as well as a positive initial update on Neve Herron! #SAFCWomen | @BarclaysWC pic.twitter.com/iN5kiCOua6— Sunderland AFC Women (@SAFCWomen) October 23, 2022
The incident came 88 minutes into a pretty dire affair played out in front of a decent crowd of over 750 hardy northerners and around a dozen of the rarest sight in English women’s football, lesser spotted the LCL fan.
It scrappy, physically demanding, rain-affected encounter that was ultimately won by the immovable object that is The Pride’s defence, who hardly allowed Sunderland a sniff at goal and took their cumulative total of minutes without conceding to 360. At that moment, the team that was once Millwall were close to scoring a third goal, denied only by a double save from Claudia Moan and Herron’s trademark goal-line heroics.
Moan had been left sprawling in the first half when Amy Rodgers’ shot from the edge of the area, which was initially headed for the top right corner, took a defection off a Sunderland head and looped over her into the net. The visitors hadn’t really created too much, and the game was a relatively even contest. If Grace McCatty’s header from a corner had been either side of Yanez rather than straight at her, we could easily have gone in at the break all square, though neither side was particularly deserving of a lead.
How’s @antony_waterson? pic.twitter.com/9m6WltyVOB— Roker Report - The Lasses (@RRLasses) October 23, 2022
The second half was more of a struggle for Sunderland, who were unable to control possession for more than a few seconds at a time and tireless lone centre forward Emily Scarr found herself increasingly isolated.
Head Coach Mel Reay identified this issue, and the introduction of a second forward in the shape of Nicki Gears saw us shift into a 4-4-2 formation. We pressed further up the pitch and looked more threatening, but the counter-attack was now on for the Dartford-based club.
The second and decisive goal came from a lovely flowing move on the break, the best of the game by some considerable margin, and was the single moment of true quality in the 105 minutes. Substitute Fitzgerald found herself in acres of space on the left of the box, her first touch took her away from goal but her second was a wonderful cross that found the head of Sarah Ewens whose finish bounced into the far corner, illuding the glove of Moan as she scrambled helplessly across her goal.
The fact that both the men’s U21 and women’s U23 sides won on Sunday afternoon is something of a comfort, but this weekend the SAFC senior sides discovered that sometimes at tier two you come up against a seasoned team with deep pockets that is going to challenge for top-spot in the division and you’ve got to take the loss on the chin.
This, I feel, will be a theme to which I return later this week once we’ve all had time to digest all that’s happened. But for now, I am just glad that the prognosis for the brave Ms Herron is not as serious as it first appeared. Indeed, a broken nose may turn out to be a right of passage for a midfielder for whom the word “combative” doesn't quite do justice.
⏹️ Defeat at Eppleton.#SAFCWomen | @BarclaysWC pic.twitter.com/GC54k8brPd— Sunderland AFC Women (@SAFCWomen) October 23, 2022