Sunderland’s final season in the WSL before being demoted due to a lack of financial support from the dying embers of the Ellis Short regime was going so well ahead of a Saturday fixture away against Bristol City, who were two points behind them in the League.
Bristol had lost the previous two games, whilst Sunderland had a record-breaking 13-0 victory over Brighouse in the FA Cup the week before. This was still fresh in the memory, and captain Lucy Staniforth’s pre-match comments reflected the positive mood in the camp:
We’re feeling good and focused ahead of the game against Bristol. The Cup win has given us a lot of confidence and we hope to build on that.
Mel Reay set up the side with four at the back, and Rachel Pitman and Zaneta Wyne either side of Bridget Galloway up front. Sunderland got off to a great start, with Staniforth breaking free down the left and picking out an excellent low cross for Galloway to turn the ball neatly past Baggaley in the City goal.
But the lead only lasted five minutes, with full back Frankie Brown crossing well from the right which was met by Lauren Hemp at the front post, and her powerful header beat Rachel Laws, and the sides went in level at half time.
The second half started with Bristol on the front foot, and went close with a header from Danique Kerkdijk, but Sunderland weathered the storm and went on to get the winner.
The captain was once again the provider, her free kick was crossed in from the right and when the home side failed to clear, Pitman swivelled to smack the ball home inside the box. Staniforth, speaking with the Sunderland Echo after the game, was fulsome in her praise for her teammates and exuded confidence:
I thought we were tremendous from start to finish – we had a game plan, we knew what we needed to do and we executed it. It’s a shame we conceded the goal to make the game a bit tighter than it needed to be, but we knew we had enough to win and I’m glad we did. I’m always happy to contribute and I’m delighted for Rachel, because she had a long time out injured and has worked hard to get back, so she deserves it.
Manager Mel Reay was also really pleased with the result and the performance:
We defended very well in the opening 10 minutes of the second half. We stood strong and the players did their jobs. The girls executed the game plan perfectly and we came away with the 3 points
After this result, we were in fifth place in the League, two points behind Arsenal and three points off the Champions League spots, before an end of season slump saw us fall back to seventh.