MATCH CALLED OFF - Sunderland AFC Women v Leicester City Women
Continental League Cup, Group B
Eppleton CW, Welfare Road, Hetton-le-Hole, DH5 9NA
Kick off: 7.30pm
Tickets: Adults £7, Over 65s £3.50, Students and Under 16s £1. Click here to book now or pay on the gate (card only). Free entry for everyone with either a Stadium of Light or Eppleton season card.
Travel: See the Supporters’ Guide on SAFC.com for full details of public transport and parking options.
Coverage: The game will be streamed live on Twitter @SAFCWomen and our Charlotte Patterson will be on co-comms with Colin White on BBC Radio Newcastle.
Highlights: Highlights will be on the FA Player from Friday lunchtime.
The Build Up
The men’s World Cup might be on a breather for a couple of days, but football hasn’t stopped and domestic and European cup action dominates the schedule in women’s game. Sunderland and Leicester are this evening’s main feature in the ever-quirky Conti Cup.
There’s almost a whole division between the two sides, but nobody is expecting this to be a walkover for the Foxes. They’re coming off the back of some pretty heavy defeats and their confidence will have taken a battering on Sunday in the 8-0 loss to Chelsea.
These midweek games under the lights are increasingly rare, and despite the bitter cold we can expect a decent crowd down at Eppleton this evening. The Bovril will be flowing and plenty of chips will be served, no doubt. And don’t forget, this one will go straight to penalties if the scores are level at the final whistle, and even the eventual losers will take a point in Group B in that scenario.
Brianna Westrup limped off early on in the Coventry United game on Sunday, and with both Faye Mullen and Abby Towers on the long term injury list and a lack of many other options at the back, we should expect to see a first choice defensive line including Neve Herron in the centre.
There’s also the chance of one or two of the defenders from the Under 23s - who remain unbeaten in their Durham County league campaign - being given a spot on the bench, if only to get them familiar with the first team environment.
Further up the field, I expect Jess Brown and Tyler Dodds to continue on the wings as maintaining their form will be important. However, we might see Nicki Gears start up front and Libbi McInnes dropped into the midfield as both have had limited game time this season, and perhaps with Grace Ede given a shot in a number 10 role.
Mel may well also give a start to Ali Cowling in the place of Claudia Moan, who is now well established as the first choice goalkeeper in the league side.
However, there are only four days between this and our game at Blackburn in the FA Cup on Sunday and with that third round game guaranteeing at least £13,750 in prize money, we can expect priority to be given to the more prestigious competition, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see even more wholesale changes to the lineup when the team is announced at 6.30pm.
Leicester were awarded a place in tier two alongside Manchester United, Spurs and West Ham in the same round of changes that saw Sunderland demoted to tier three in 2018. Since then they’ve gained promotion, reached the Conti Cup Final and looked like they would become the dominant Midlands side in the same way as their men’s team have over the last decade.
However, since Aston Villa’s promotion in 2020 their fortunes have turned and they spent last season battling with Birmingham City to avoid relegation from the WSL. That battle is now looking more desperate than ever, they’ve not picked up a single point in nine league games and their only win of the season came against Blackburn in this competition.
They sacked their Head Coach Lydia Bedford a month ago and installed then Director of Women’s Football Willie Kirk, the former Everton boss, in the hot seat. Results, however, have not improved - suggesting that the lack of investment in players during the summer is at the root of their woes in the league.
Nevertheless, this game undoubtedly gives them a break from the grind of the WSL and the opportunity to rebuild their confidence. No doubt they will see Sunderland as beatable and approach the game accordingly, but being fit and ready for their game against Liverpool in the league on Sunday will take precedence for their regular starters.
Head to Head
This is the first-ever meeting between the two sides in any competition.
One to watch... Ava Baker
It’s pretty rare these days for a 16-year-old to make their debut in the Women’s Super League, but England starlet Ava Baker did so in May 2022 following appearances in the Conti Cup and the FA Cup last winter.
The midfielder is seen as one of the country’s most exciting prospects and is an international teammate of our very own Grade Ede and Katie Watson. She starred for the Foxes’ highly successful Academy side last year, winning player of the match as the youth team beat Arsenal to claim the League Plate.
She started on the left wing on Sunday in the defeat to Chelsea, and is expected to retain her place in the team for tonight’s match, so this could be a unique chance for Sunderland fans to watch a future Lioness in action.