Roker Report: Thanks for speaking with us again, Shahan. I’m sure Sunderland AFC Women fans will be looking forward to welcoming Bristol City to Eppleton today. How do you feel your season has gone so far?
Shahan Miah: In all honesty, it has gone much better than myself & other fans expected. Following on from being relegated from the WSL last season, the club has pretty much had a makeover. Lauren Smith returned to the club as Head Coach, working with a mostly new squad who she has managed to get the best out of when they work together; and playing a better style of football than what was seen under the latter stages of previous head coach Tanya Oxtoby’s tenure. Also, the team have moved away from playing in Bath last season to playing back in Bristol.
To go from playing the football that they did behind closed doors to the football that they are playing in front of crowds has been some coincidence! Also, when it comes to recording the Bristol City Vixencast with D-M Withers & Nat Brown, we have a much better feeling after most of the games we have seen!
RR: Bristol City have brought some real quality to the FA Women’s Championship this season, particularly up front. Do you as a supporter feel like next season the team should be challenging to regain WSL status?
SM: Absolutely. This season was seen as a rebuild for the club (a free-pass if you will), and while hardly anyone expected promotion, the fact that Bristol City kept catching up to Liverpool did make the title race a little bit exciting for a while.
At least we know that if it took two seasons for Liverpool to get promoted back; then the same can happen for Bristol City! Abi Harrison has regained her goalscoring form that she had while playing domestically in Scotland, and we have proven Championship goalscorer Melissa Johnson in play.
Chloe Bull has joined from the Welsh system & has grown into a really confident player, alongside fellow compatriots Ffion Morgan & Ella Powell.
While it can be seen that Bristol City had left the WSL at the worst time with the new TV deal starting this season & the further exposure that comes with it; they did enter the Championship at the best time in terms of competitiveness & growth of this league
RR: Abbi Harrison has been a real stand-out player, but recently it’s your England Under 19 loanee from Chelsea Aggie Beever-Jones who has been getting the headlines. Can you tell us a bit more about her and whether you think there’s any chance of retaining her services for next season?
SM: Aggie Beever-Jones; or Agnes as her mum calls her; signed her first professional contract with Chelsea in the summer, and was loaned out to Bristol City to develop some game time. She’s really settled into the team & formed part of the attack, getting a few goals along the way.
My favourite moment of hers has to be when Lucy Bronze went one-on-one with her in the Conti Cup quarter final away to Manchester City, and Beever-Jones was able to outpace the former FIFA Women’s Best Player of the Year.
The headlines you are referring to include getting a hat-trick against Belgium to help England qualify for the Women’s U19 Euros. Chelsea are doing fine for goals with the likes of Sam Kerr; Pernille Harder; Fran Kirby (when fit); Beth England etc, so it would be interesting to see where Beever-Jones (and Chelsea’s other loanees in the Championship: Charlotte Wardlaw at Liverpool; Jorja Fox at Charlton; Emily Orman at Crystal Palace) would fit in at Kingsmeadow.
Alongside the other loanee that Bristol City have; Fran Bentley from Manchester United; I would realistically expect a small chance of Beever-Jones staying, but I want to be proven wrong!
RR: City came out 2-1 winners at your place early in the season, ending our great start to the campaign. How do you rate our first season back in the WSL structures?
SM: Like Bristol City, Sunderland are also playing in a different league than last season. I think the great start Sunderland had has helped them from facing a relegation battle later on, much like the one being faced by the other team promoted up; Watford (their game with Coventry United is going to be huge!).
Other than Grace McCatty (who many Bristol City fans will know of), some of your players such as Neve Harron & Emily Scarr have also stood out. Was surprised to see the likes of Iris Achterhof & Charlotte Potts leave since the two teams played in October.
I know that unlike Bristol City, Sunderland doesn’t have a fully professional set-up. However as I am writing this, the club’s Twitter handle has changed from @SAFCLadies to @SAFCWomen, and this Sunday’s game is the first time this season that this home game will be streamed live on Sunderland’s YouTube channel. Is this a sign of further investment?
RR: Finally, what do you think the score is going to be today and why?
SM: As mentioned when I was on your Twitter space last Monday, I think it will be a 2-0 win [for Bristol]. The last few games have seen us play teams that were either trying to get 1st place (Liverpool), 2nd place (London City Lionesses), or whose form has greatly improved (Coventry United).
Heading into Sunday’s game, Bristol City are 3rd on 36 points, and should results involving London City Lionesses (2nd on 38 points); Crystal Palace (4th on 36 points via goal difference) & Durham (5th on 34 points) go a particular way, Bristol City can finish 2nd; and the team definitely want to finish high having stumbled in recent form.