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Lasses Match Preview: The big one at Durham as Sunderland are in town - Ha’way The Lasses!

Sunderland finally return to FA Women’s Championship action with the #RiverWearDerby at Maiden Castle this lunchtime. It’s an all-ticket game and we’ve everything you need to know ahead of kickoff.

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

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Sunday 24th April 2022

Durham WFC vs Sunderland AFC Ladies

FA Women’s Championship

Maiden Castle, Stockton Road, Durham, DH1 3SE

Kick-Off: 12:00


Tickets & Match Coverage

Tickets: This is an all-ticket game.

Away Supporters: It’s an unsegregated crowd, but we will be congregating at the far end of the pitch where the SAFC flags from Eppleton will be there for you to wave.

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 our Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok accounts.

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


The build-up...

As derbies go, there are few closer and more keenly fought over in women’s football than that between the Lasses and the Wildcats. Only six and a half miles separate the two team’s home grounds and our shared heritage of players, coaches, and indeed supporters always ensures an intriguing and unique atmosphere.

Indeed, ever since Beth Mead slammed home a penalty in Durham’s first-ever competitive fixture in April 2014 and celebrated in Danielle Hill’s face, there’s been a bit of something extra in this fixture. Hill’s reaction, feigning to throw the ball off the 19-year-old starlet, caused much hilarity and set the tone for some feisty encounters over the next few years.

Durham Women v Sunderland AFC Ladies - FA WSL 2 Photo by Ian Horrocks - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

When we rekindled that rivalry at Eppleton back in October 2021 after four seasons without a matchup, it was the experience of Durham that triumphed over the youth of Sunderland, so the Lasses will be keen to regain their historic advantage over their nearest and dearest.

The Sunderland flags will be taken from Eppleton to be handed out to the travelling supporters by the Roker Report team behind the goal before kick-off. Together, we can create a brilliant atmosphere in a record league crowd at Durham University’s sports centre this afternoon.

The Lasses

The international break has seen Sunderland players pick up one or two knocks - most worryingly Maria Farrugia who was hurt playing for Malta in their World Cup qualifier against Denmark but, fortunately, after having a scan she appeared on the bench for their second fixture later in the week.

Neve Herron starred for England Under 19s in their win over Wales on their way to qualifying for the European Championships in Czecia this summer, but picked up a slight knock when kept her on the bench for the games against Iceland and Belgium.

Libbi McInnes was a game-changer in her England U18s friendly appearance against West Brom women, coming off the bench at 2-1 down to score two and set up two as the national team won 6-2, and grace Grace Ede played in England U17s.

Libbi McInnes
Photo by Chris Fryatt

It will be interesting to see if the talented McInnes is given an opportunity in today’s game as Mel Reay may be tempted to move Herron into the backline given that Abby Towers will miss the final two matches of the campaign with a serious injury.

This could give the England U18 starlet the chance to make her mark, perhaps taking a narrow position on the flank. This midfield battle will be key, and there’s a chance that Sunderland will pack the middle of the park with McInnes and Keira Ramshaw joining Abbey Joice and Emma Kelly in securing possession on the small 4G surface.

If we’re to come away with the win, Sunderland should take the game to Durham and disturb the rhythm and flow they try to build. Sitting in deep and defending for the majority of the game won’t work. Given the speed and pace Durham like to play with, Sunderland should be patient and snatch their opportunities when they can and surprise them on the counter.

Sunderland’s pace up front will also be important, Durham can be vulnerable to a ball played in behind on the transition and this is something we know that the Lasses are able to exploit.

Whether it’s Scarr or Farrugia who gets the nod up top, or if Reay throws in a wildcard and plays the tall and awkward-to-handle Eve Blakey as a focal point, it’s clear that our attacking threat has increased considerably since the New Year and Durham will have a lot more difficulty keeping a clean sheet in this match than in the return fixture last October.


The Opponents

Physical... it’s the recurring theme of the descriptions of how Lee Sanders’ Durham WFC side play the beautiful game. Certainly, once they cross that white line, any pretensions to reflect the family-orientated gentility one might expect from a side that’s hosted by one of the country’s most prestigious academic institutions are left behind.

Many of their players will be familiar to Sunderland supporters. Veteran former Black Cats defender Sarah Robson starred in a dogged first-half performance for Northern Ireland against England in the World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park last week, demonstrating all her experience and ability to read danger as she frustrated the superstar Lionesses for large parts of the game.

Will they unleash the G.O.A.T against her former club today? Lasses fans have looked on with wonder and frustration as the Wildcats have doggedly refused to employ Bridget Galloway in their starting eleven for large parts of this campaign. It would be “typical Sunderland” if she was the one to break Mackem hearts this afternoon.

Durham head into this fixture drawing their last game in an away match against Watford Women and drawing three and losing one in their last four fixtures. They currently sit sixth in the league, eight points in front of Sunderland.

Despite a marked drop off in form, particular following the ill-tempered 2-3 loss to Crystal Palace back in January, has seen them drop from title challengers to mid-table obscurity, yet Durham undoubtedly pose a threat to any side and goals come from across the park.

The Wildcats are very attack orientated and play with a high press and high defensive line, usually towards the halfway line. They are strong on corners – defenders get up and get involved, Abby Holmes, Becky Salicki, Dee Bradley, and Kathryn Hill all have two goals each and they are defenders.

They have the most from headers on corners in the FA Women’s Championship, so Sunderland will have to watch at the back. The Wildcats have an even goal difference, scoring 26 and conceding 26 in their 20 games.

When we looked deep into the stats, however, Durham’s attack seems to be struggling. Whilst they possess the ball a lot and create opportunities, they don’t usually amount to much. Eliza Ejupi only has two goals, Rio Hardy one and Bridget Galloway one. To a large extent, they are being carried by Beth Hepple (9 goals in 20) and goals from setpieces.

Durham Women v Birmingham City Women: Vitality Women’s FA Cup Fifth Round Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

They Average 12.30 shots per game, but only average 38.3% on target and average 341 passes per game, with 72.1% passing accuracy. In terms of formations, they predominantly use a 4-1-4-1. However, they have also used a 4-4-1-1, 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1

In their 3-3 away draw against struggling Watford, Durham deployed a 3-4-3 which didn’t appear to work for them. Had 60% possession and 403 passes, but did nothing with it until the end of the game. Until that game, they had not scored a goal in three consecutive matches.

The goals Durham conceded against the Golden Girls came from long balls over the top and defensive misjudgements between the goalkeeper and defenders. This is something they will be looking to correct against the Lasses today.


Explore the Stats...

Sunderland

Durham


Head to head...

(All venues, WSL2/Championship + Continental Tyres Cup since 2014)

Played: 6

Sunderland Wins: 4

Durham Wins: 1

Draws: 1 (Sunderland win on pens)

Sunderland Goals: 11

Durham Goals: 5


Last time out...

Sunderland 0 - 2 Durham

Eppleton CW, 10th October 2021

Hepple 58’, Lambert 76’

Durham gained their first-ever River Wear derby victory with an away victory over the Lasses at Eppleton CW earlier this season.


Played for both... Mollie Lambert

A familiar face to Sunderland supporters from her five years in the Lasses squad, the talented Hartlepool-born midfielder is amongst the highest-rated players in the FA Women’s Championship.

The 23-year-old came through as a junior at Newcastle before taking the step up the pyramid as a teenager when she was recruited by Sunderland. Lambert making her debut for the Lasses during the WSL Spring Series in 2017 and became an important part of our side despite her young age.

Lambert stuck with Mel Reay when we were demoted to Tier 3, but during covid-19 restrictions opted to move up the river to Maiden Castle. She’s been a mainstay of the Wildcats side ever since and she scored against us back in October.

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