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London Bees v Brighton and Hove Albion Women - FA Women’s Continental League Cup

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Lasses Match Preview: Sunderland travel to Bamber Bridge to face Blackburn Rovers at 2pm today!

Sunderland have a great opportunity to win two games on the bounce this afternoon against a struggling Blackburn side. We have an in-depth look at both sides ahead of this match.

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Sunday 13 March 2022

Blackburn Rovers Ladies vs Sunderland AFC Ladies

FA Women’s Championship

The Sir Tom Finney Stadium, Brownedge Road, Bamber Bridge, PR5 6UX

Kick-Off: 14:00

Tickets & Match Coverage

Tickets: Adults £8, Seniors & Junions £4, Under 5s free. Family Tickets (two adults and two juniors) are also available for £20.

Travel: Regular trains run from Preston to Bamber Bridge Station, connect in Carlisle for Preston.

Coverage: Follow @SAFCLadies and @RokerReport on Twitter for updates on the action.

Highlights: Highlights and a full match replay are available from Friday on the FA Player.

Podcast: Roker Report’s Lasses Podcast Live will be broadcast, as usual, live on Twitter Spaces from 8.30-9.30pm BST on Monday. Just go to @RokerReport to listen in.

The build-up...

The lasses got their first league win in 126 days last weekend in what was an impressive and strong performance from the squad. Despite Charlton being favourites given their recent form and league position, Sunderland weren’t about to back down. If with Charlton dominating the stats, the lasses fought back and caught the side out on the counter, intercepting passes, doubling up on tackles and closing the attack down.

Sunderland were rewarded from their spirited performance with two goals, a clean sheet and those all-important three points. There were some feelings of trepidation not too long ago when concerning the lasses, but since the turn of the year, they have put in some emphatic displays and have been unfortunate to not come away with more points than they received.

The lasses will no doubt be heading into this fixture with raised spirits and motivation to see the season out on a high note. Heading away to play against a Blackburn team which was just beat by fellow Northeast side Durham Women 2-1 last weekend.

Sunderland Ladies v Blackburn Rovers - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The last time these teams met was back in November, when the two faced off in the continental cup. Sunderland came away as 2-1 winners in that game, with two first half goals from Grace McCatty and Holly Manders.

The lasses were also the victors in their last league fixture against Rovers in September, which resulted in a 2-0 home win. Neve Herron and Emily Scarr were on the scoresheet that day.

Blackburn currently sit 10th in the league, two points behind Sunderland and having played a game more. Rovers have the joint third defensive record in the league. So can the lasses exploit that backline and illustrate another inspired performance in what is a winnable fixture.

The Lasses

With their win at the weekend, Sunderland moved up one position in the league table and two points clear of Blackburn Rovers. The lasses got their first win since October 2021 and will be looking to take the confidence and pride from that result into their remaining fixtures. The team is working well as a cohesive unit, with no injuries or players out suspended. Despite concerns that we were lacking depth and having to play players out of position, gaffer Mel Reay and her team have worked hard in acquiring young local prospects from the region, either through the Regional Talent Centre (RTC) or teams such as Middlesborough.

The new additions have slotted in perfectly, despite being young and relatively inexperienced. 17-year-old newcomer Abbey Towers is prime example of that. The centre back position is arguably one of the hardest and toughest positions on the pitch, usually filled by a veteran or experienced player who has the confidence to communicate with the backline and keeper.

But the lasses have looked so defensively sure since Towers came into the side, linking up well with veteran centre back Grace McCatty. With Towers moving into defence, this has allowed Neve Herron to return back to her favoured position in midfield. Providing great vision and attacking tenacity and creativity.

With only 5 games remaining, Sunderland are statistically clear of relegation. Whilst it may never have looked likely given the fact that Coventry United were deducted 10 points in January, in the world of football you can never rule anything out. With safety assured and another season in the championship secures, Mel now faces a positive dilemma.

Naturally, we would all love to see Sunderland win all of the remaining fixtures and play their strongest 11 each week, but perhaps this is a fortunate time to see some experimentation.

We have a very young squad and it may well be beneficial for long term goals and plans to give some of the younger and ‘’less experienced’’ players get a chance to gain some practice and learning prior to next season. The likes of Grace Boyes, Daisy Burt, Grace Ede Katy Watson and Eve Blakey could all be given some game time.

Sunderland Ladies v Blackburn Rovers - Barclays FA Women’s Championship
More gametime for Blakey in the coming weeks?
Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Opponents

Blackburn currently sit 10th in the league, two points behind Sunderland and having played a game more. Rovers have the joint third defensive record in the league, conceding 31 goals in 17 games. They also have the second-worst offensive record in the league, only scoring 13. So can the lasses exploit that backline and illustrate another inspired performance in what is a winnable fixture.

Rovers have also deployed numerous variations of formations throughout the season, from 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 and 4-4-1-1 with the former being the most primary used. Statistically 28% of the time. Blackburn generally stick to the formation they start with. It has only been on six occasions this season they have switched formation midgame.

In terms of playing style, Rovers generally like to keep possession and play a passing game, averaging around 292 passes per game, with a success rate of 66.4%. However, they do tend to lose the ball regularly during the game. Averaging 137 ball losses. From the highlights I saw, Rovers like to play down the wings and look to catch the opposition out with through balls in between the backline or balls over the top and into space for forwards to run onto.

When they are countering, they have at least four or five players join on the attack which the lasses will need to be wary of. Particularly given the speed of some of their players. Sunderland will also need to keep a close eye on Blackburn’s set pieces. As in their last two games, Rovers have scored twice through freekicks, one directly from a freekick and one from a deep freekick into the box which was finished first time. Despite playing a passing game, Blackburn do like to cross deep into the box from the wings or when moving forward.

The Lasses will have to either time the offside trap well or potentially look at playing a deeper backline to countermeasure this usual tactic. The dangerous players Sunderland will need to watch for are Natasha Fenton, Saffron Jordan and Ellie Leak.

Durham Women v Blackburn Rovers - FA Women’s Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In terms of weaknesses, set pieces are a big one. I watched countless clips on Wyscout of the goals they have conceded and a large proportion of them come from corners and/or freekicks. Primarily corners. They aren’t able to keep their defensive shape and line, failing to mark open players or follow a runner. Blackburn are also susceptible to getting caught too far forward, meaning if a counter-attacking opportunity presents itself, the players find it difficult to get back.

Blackburn’s goalkeeper, Alexandra Brooks also appears to be a weak point for the team at times. From the clips I watched in terms of goals conceded, Brooks seem to either lack confidence or suffer from indecision sometimes. Coming out to collect a ball and either fumbling it, not getting enough on it or getting caught out in “no man's land”. She also seems to struggle with saving down low at the near post.

Tying in Brooks indecision in claiming the ball and Rovers inability to defend set pieces or crosses into the box. Sunderland need to try to exploit this and play predominately down the wings, as well as make the most of any set piece they receive. Should they find themselves with space to shoot, firing hard into the bottom corners on the near-post may well catch the keeper off guard.

Durham Women v Blackburn Rovers - FA Cup: 4th Round
Alex Brooks of Blackburn Rovers
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

League Form (last 5 FA Women’s Championship Fixtures)

Sunderland AFC Ladies - LDLLW

Blackburn Rovers Ladies - LDLWL

Last time we played at Blackburn Rovers...

4 November 2021 - FA Women’s Continental League Cup

Blackburn Rovers LFC 1-2 Sunderland AFC Ladies

Head to head...

(All venues, all competitions, including friendlies)

Sunderland wins: 4

Draws: 0

Blackburn Rovers wins: 4

Sunderland goals: 9

Blackburn Rovers goals: 15

One to watch... Natasha Fenton

Durham Women v Blackburn Rovers - FA Women’s Championship
Natasha Fenton of Blackburn Rovers during the FA Women’s Championship match between Durham Women FC and Blackburn Rovers at Maiden Castle, Durham City on Sunday 19th December 2021.
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

One of the players to watch undeniably has to be Natasha Fenton. Whilst she doesn’t boast many offensive statistics, a lot of Rovers play comes through her in the middle of the pitch. The orchestrator, Fenton might not be captain but certainly takes charge of the team.

She’s a flexible player, adjusting to what the team needs as the game goes on. Not afraid to get forward when required and will bust a gut to get back and help her defence. Fenton averages around 7.7 interceptions, 32 duels and 12.8 ball recoveries per game.


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