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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 look to bounce back at Sheffield Utd - Ha’way the Lasses!

The two red and white sides in the FA Women’s Championship meet for the third time this season in a fixture that was postponed in December due to Covid-19.

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Sunday 20th March 2021

Sheffield United Women vs Sunderland AFC Ladies

FA Women’s Championship

Technique Stadium, 1866 Sheffield Road, Whittington Moor, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, S41 8NZ

Kick-Off: 14:00

Tickets & Match Coverage

Tickets: Tickets are £5 for adults and £3 for concessions, pay on the gate.

Highlights: The FA Player will have highlights and a full match replay from Monday afternoon.

Coverage: Updates on Twitter via @SAFCLadies and we’ll be sharing photos, videos and comments on the game throughout via the @RokerReport account

Podcast: All things being well, we will have the Lasses Podcast Live as usual on Monday night, 8.30-9.30pm

The build-up...

Despite beliefs that Sunderland would have headed into their game against Blackburn in high spirits and fully believing they could come away with an away win and three points, their expectations were quickly quashed when they conceded two first half goals, in what was a pretty poor performance from the Lasses - particularly by their standards. Whilst results haven’t gone their way this season, one definitive is that Sunderland will always give their all each game.

They made an average-looking Blackburn appear much better than the game and statistics showed. Unfortunately, leaving it too late in the game to mount out a comeback and try obtaining a respectable point.

Ultimately, Sunderland rued their chances in front of goal, with a lack of clinical expertise and competence, meaning their barely troubled the Rovers keeper. But noticeably, there appeared to be a distinct lack of communication and cohesion at the back, with mistakes being made in defence which ultimately led to an invitation of pressure and losing the game.

Sunderland Ladies v Blackburn Rovers - Barclays FA Women’s Championship
Back to sure-up the defence - Megan Beer
Photo by Charlotte Tattersall - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

However, if there is anything we know about the lasses and the staff, is that they will be their own critics and know that they can improve. Their tenacity, never say die attitude and work ethic illustrate that Sunderland still have a lot to give in these remaining games of the season.

Heading into this game against Sheffield, Sunderland will be confident they can get a result. They have faced off against United twice already this year, once in the league and once in the Continental Cup, with both fixtures ending in a draw.

The two sides only just met each other in the league for the first time last month, in a game that finished in a 2-2 draw; Sunderland’s Abbey Joice and Holly Manders got our goals, whilst Courtney Sweetman-Kirk got a brace for Sheffield.

When the clubs met each other in the Cup back in October, captain Kiera Ramshaw calmly dispatched a 95th-minute penalty to ensure the lasses went to penalties after full time. Sunderland stood up well in the shootout, with Ramshaw, Emma Kelly, Neve Herron and Emily Scarr all scoring their penalties to make sure Sunderland won the extra point with a 4-2 win in the shootout. It also produced some of the most iconic photos from this year’s campaign so far.

Sheffield United Women v Sunderland Ladies - FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The Lasses

Sunderland will be looking to bounce back from their 2-1 loss to Blackburn Rovers last weekend. The Lasses were guilty of being too complacent in the first half and just running out of time to make a comeback in the second half. Sunderland did have the opportunity to make it 2-2 in the final minute of the game when we were awarded a penalty.

Captain Kiera Ramshaw stepped up to send her side back to the North East with an away point, but despite the great penalty, she was outdone by a remarkable save by the Rovers goalkeeper. Still, the bravery of Ramshaw to even play the game, let alone take the penalty after the week she had with her own personal and family life, is nothing short of inspiring and strong. Now she has come down with covid-19, so we wish her well in her recovery.

Sunderland very quickly found themselves on the front foot last weekend and displayed lapses of concentration, judgement and communication which ultimately saw them fall behind very quickly.

Sheffield United Women v Sunderland Ladies - FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

I have no doubt that gaffer Mel Reay and her staff and been working on this all week at training and I think all our wishes are that Sunderland will display a similar performance like they did against Charlton two weeks ago. During the game against Rovers, the lasses did register 15 shots at goal, but only four were on target and none had enough in them to challenge the keeper.

We also saw the likes of star performer this season, Neve Herron, have to come off in the second half, after appearing to pick up a niggle in the pre-match warmup. We have not heard any news ruling her out or having an injury, so hopefully the decision to bring her off early has been a fortuitous one, allowing her to hopefully be available this weekend.

Louise Griffiths is suspended, but other than the captain’s illness no other injury news has been reported. So the lasses should have almost all players at disposal for the game.

The Opponents

Sheffield currently sit seventh in the league, nine points ahead of Sunderland and having played a game more. They head into this fixture in very good form, winning three and drawing two of their last five games and are currently unbeaten in seven.

The Blades have the joint fourth-best defensive record in the league, conceding 19 goals in 17 games.

The Blades currently have the fourth-best goals for record in the league, scoring 27, with Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Lucy Watson accounting for most of those goals, scoring 10 and eight respectively. The Blades currently sit with a very respectable +8 goal difference.

Sheffield have also trialled various formations throughout the season but, generally, play with a 4-3-3. Occasionally adopting a 4-2-3-1 depending on the style of the opposition. Statistically 43% of the time they opt to use a 4-3-3 and generally stick to the formation they start with.

Liverpool v Manchester United - Continental Tyres Cup - Group Two North - Prenton Park
The Blades’ manager Neil Redfern
Photo by Clint Hughes/PA Images via Getty Images

In terms of playing style, the Blades generally like to keep possession and play a passing game, averaging around 339 passes per game, with a success rate of 69.2%. They also average 94 recoveries per game, 47% possession, 10.73 shots and an xG of 1.4.

From the highlights I saw, Sheffield 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.

Despite playing a passing game, Sheffield 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 danger players Sunderland will need to watch for are Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, Lucy Watson, and Rhema Lord-Mears.

There is a reason that Sheffield have only conceded 19 goals this season and it is not just down to their defence. Goalkeeper, Fran Kitching has been utterly fantastic for the season, playing in all but one game. Kitching has incredible reactions, reach and vision, reading the game well and taking charge of her defence.

You can regularly hear her shouting in games, commanding her backline and making them aware of situations, such as players running in unmarked, potential through balls and provides instruction on set pieces. Her passing is excellent, with a 95.9% accuracy on short to medium passes. Just last weekend, Kitching was pivotal in ensuring her side came away with the three points. Saving a penalty and pulling off some outrageous saves and reflexes to keep the ball out of the net.

Sheffield United Women v Liverpool Women - Barclays FA Women’s Championship
Fran Kitching of Sheffield United Women
Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

In terms of weaknesses, Sheffield don’t appear to be the fastest team. They are susceptible to giving up possession when holding the ball for too long and leaving themselves exposed for a counter, particularly as they appear to play with a high defensive line. One long through ball over the top or in between the backline would spell trouble for The Blades, as they don’t have the pace to get back quickly.

Should Sunderland get the opportunity to counter they should get forward quickly and in numbers to pressure the defence into stepping forward and play into the gap they leave.

From highlights I’ve watched as well, Sheffield don’t appear to have much success when challenging for the ball or tackling, either missing the opponent and the ball or there not being enough in the challenge to clear the danger. This allows Sunderland a prime opportunity to lure a player out of defence and then step out of the tackle before moving towards goal.

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

Sunderland AFC Ladies - DLLWL

Sheffield United Women - DDWWW

Head to head...

(All venues, all competitions, including friendlies)
  • Played 3
  • Sunderland Wins: 0 (1 on pens)
  • Draws: 2 (Sunderland won on pens)
  • Sheffield United Wins: 1
  • Sunderland Goals: 3
  • Sheffield United Goals: 5

Last time out...

Sunderland 2-2 Sheffield United

FA Women’s Championship, 6th February 2022

One to watch... Courtney Sweetman-Kirk

This should come as no surprise and my pick for player to watch comes in the form of the league’s third best goal scorer, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk.

Sweetman-Kirk averages around 62.84 total actions per game, getting heavily involved in the play. She is not afraid to drop deep to receive the ball or assist with the midfield in building up an attack, averaging 23 passes each game with 69.3% accuracy.

She is also not your typical striker, occasionally playing off to the wings, primarily the right, to get engaged and look to cross or run the ball into the box.

Despite boasting 10 goals this season, Sweetman-Kirk isn’t necessarily the type of player who creates her own opportunities or looks to score from outside the box. The majority of her goals come from the contributions and brilliant play of her teammates, who send in passes, crosses or through balls onto a plate for the forward to finish. But that is not to say she is fortunate or lucky.

Sheffield United Women v Lewes Women - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by George Wood - The FA/The FA via Getty Images,

Sweetman-Kirk makes the most of the opportunities she gets and is very clinical in front of goal and displays great strength, regularly holding the ball up with her back to goal, before turning and striking first time.

She also gets herself into great positions, usually running towards the space near the front post on crosses or corners and hitting it first time to guide it past the keeper. Sunderland will do well to mark, if not double mark Sweetman-Kirk in the box, as if she gets a chance she will take it.

But the Lasses also need to be mindful of who is creating the opportunities for the striker. Taking them out of the game, may well cause frustration for Sweetman-Kirk and keep her at bay.


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