The Lasses travelled down to Prenton Park at the weekend to take on league leaders Liverpool, in what looked destined to be a one-sided affair. However, despite the result, Sunderland showed the same grit and determination that they have manifested and displayed in recent games. Making sure that Liverpool had to fight for the win and that it would not be as easy as anticipated
Sunderland played very well in the first half, with the likes of Abbey Joice, Emily Scarr, and Neve Herron putting in some fantastic work. The latter, created a wonderful move when she sent a lovely long ball up the pitch for Emily Scarr to run onto on the right wing. Scarr drove forward with great ferocity, turning Liverpool defenders as she ran and dribbled her way into the box. The ball looked destined to burst the net with the power she struck the ball with, but despite her best efforts, former Sunderland goalkeeper Rachel Laws got the tip of her gloves to the ball which skimmed over the top of the crossbar, for the first Sunderland opportunity.
Liverpool struck back with an attack of their own out on the right wing, which saw the Sunderland defence panic slightly as they failed to win the ball or clear it from danger. Liverpool’s Niamh Fahey received the ball outside the box and struck it first time towards the bottom right corner. Despite the numerous bodies in the way, Allison Cowling did brilliantly to get down at the last minute and pull off a brilliant save to deny the Liverpool defender.
Liverpool continued to press, with Cowling pulling off some heroics to keep the score at 0-0, when a deep ball was crossed into the box and headed towards goal. But for the remainder of the half, the lasses did well to not only keep Liverpool’s attack at bay, but also compete themselves.
However, despite the positive first half performance and display from Sunderland. Their work was quickly undone by a controversial decision at the start of the second half, in which the lasses saw themselves, concede a penalty and go down to 10, when the referee judged Neve Herron to have brought down Katie Stengel. Without any bias, the decision looks questionable. Stengel looked to be (from the highlights and angle I watched) in an offside position already when the ball was played into her in the box.
The contact from Herron appears minimal, if even present, with Stengel looking to almost trip or fall over herself. Again, I would like to reiterate, that I have only managed to see one angle and from quite far out. But I did notice that when Stengel went down, there were no appeals from her teammates and were already walking away before the ref blew her whistle.
[Ed’s Note (Rich): I was 20 yards away - it was never a penalty and certainly not a red card!]
The decision to send Herron off, not only meant that Sunderland had to play practically 45 minutes of football with 10 players, but also that, when she returns from international duty, she will be suspended for the game against Palace, but hopefully the decision is overturned by then.
Stengel stood up to take the penalty and did execute a great penalty in which she struck the ball into the top right corner. Cowling guessed the right way, but the power and height on the penalty meant she was unable to get anything on it.
For the remainder of the half, Sunderland had to endure some relentless pressing and attack from Liverpool, but the likes of Cowling and the defensive backline put in firm performances to keep the Scousers at bay and keep the score to 1-0 with some great saves, blocks and clearances.
Sunderland did have the opportunity to equalise when Emily Scarr whipped in a ball into the box from the right hand side which met the feet of Abbey Joice. Joice did brilliantly to get in front of the defender and take the shot on, however despite the power, the ball was struck directly towards Laws, who managed to make a relatively simple save.
Liverpool made it 2-0 in the 80th minute when Sunderland failed to clear their lines from a throw-in, which saw numerous bodies, shots and blocks go in, but unfortunately land at the feet of Yana Daniels to put away into the bottom right corner.
In the dying moments of the game, Sunderland saw themselves concede another penalty in what was a reckless and clear penalty to Liverpool, when Megan Beer dived in at the feet of Melissa Lawley, failing to reach or touch the ball. This time Missy Bo Kearns stepped up and coolly dispatched the penalty into the bottom left corner to finish the game off as 3-0 to the home side.
It was safe to say at the end of the game, the gaffer wasn’t happy and rightly so.
Standard of officiating has to be better! I stand there every week and here the fourth official coaching the referee through the game! Big moment, wrong decision. This team deserved better today. https://t.co/2RYZUopdGI— Melanie Reay (@mel_anie_7) February 13, 2022
The lasses now have a 20 day break from games, whilst international fixtures go ahead. Sunderland will see the temporary departures of Neve Herron (England U19), Libbi McInnes (England U18), Grace Ede (England U17) and Maria Farrugia (Malta) as they join their respective national sides. During the break, it will be vital for the lasses to continue the positive momentum and energy they have shown in recent weeks.
Whilst results have not got their way, there are a lot of positives to draw from their performances, something which I have no doubt Mel and her coaching staff will build in. The 5-4-1 formation seems to be working well for the girls, adding the addition of wingbacks who can go forward on the attack, but retreat back to defend when the opposition is on the ball. There is also the return of Grace McCatty, who has served her three-match suspension. Hopefully, Sunderland will also win their appeal to have Herron’s red card rescinded.
It’s a great time for the team to have some downtime but also work on themselves over the next few weeks in terms of teamwork, tactics, fitness, and recovery.
Sunderland will play at home in the rearranged fixture against Crystal Palace on Sunday 27th February.