This weekend sees the return of the dreaded international break, just as the domestic season is entering the business end of the campaign. Alex Neil will presumably be grateful for the chance to work with his players on the training pitch a little longer, and hopefully to get Nathan Broadhead back up to speed whilst he is on, but for the fans left at a loose end the plan might not be as obvious.
Thankfully, there are plenty of other games scheduled this weekend for those still needing a fix, and first on many people’s list will be Sunderland Ladies’ fixture with Watford at Eppleton on Sunday lunchtime.
The Lasses are coming off the back of a fantastic result against Sheffield United last week that confirmed their FA Women’s Championship status for next season, and the club have announced that tickets to see Mel Reay’s side take on the Golden Girls will be free.
If that clashes with your Mother’s Day plans, however, there is always Non-League Day 24 hours earlier. There are several attractive games scheduled in the region across various levels of the men’s league pyramid, and having got back into the habit of regularly watching local games last season when restrictions meant they were often the best chance of seeing any live footy it seems as if the Northern League, in particular, is as good as ever.
Entrance prices are low, the entertainment value is high and if you take an interest in Sunderland’s U23s there is a good chance you will recognise some of the faces on show.
The league is full of players that have come through the Academy of Light, with Rees Greenwood the latest to join up, having signed for Ryton & Crawcrook earlier in the week. He scored on his debut against Durham City and is expected to be involved again at the weekend against Horden CW, who came up from Wearside League this season. Boldon CA were promoted alongside them and they too are also due to be in Division 2 action when they travel over to Birtley Town.
Those are just two of the hundreds of matches scheduled for Non-League Day that might grab your fancy depending on where you are based – visit the website and you will see a ‘Match Finder’ service if you are struggling to decide.
Living as I do in Sunderland, taking in Northern League games is a nice excuse to visit parts of the region I wouldn’t normally get to, yet it is not uncommon to see other SAFC fans backing their local side when I am there. There are of course four clubs within the city boundary of which I am more familiar though, but of those sides, only Washington are in home action this time around.
The Newtowners play Willington at Ford Hub and prior to their last match, a goalless draw with Tow Law Town, their games have usually been high scoring affairs. The side have been struggling of late, which is in sharp contrast to Sunderland West End, with whom they share a ground for the time being, but who are pushing towards the top of Division 2.
In Division 1 meanwhile, both Sunderland RCA and their near neighbours Ryhope CW are both in the top ten, with Ryhope doing particularly well this season. You may not be able to catch them this time around but there will be plenty of other opportunities to see these teams between now and the end of the campaign.
Far from being a washout, then, Sunderland AFC fans have plenty of other options this international break and beyond. It could be the best couple of quid you will spend in a long time.