‘‘Let’s put last week right lasses!’’
Those were the words of by Roker Report writer Ant Waterson which were also repeated by Sunderland midfielder Emma Kelly seconds prior to kick off on Sunday at Eppleton CW.
After what was a lacklustre performance by Sunderland last weekend against Durham, the lasses a headed into this fixture with renewed vigour and determination to improve their game.
And that they did!
Despite not coming away with the win, there were many smaller victories to be witnessed across the pitch in the final lasses fixture of the FA Women's Championship season.
Kelly was instrumental in the game, ensuring she was heavily involved in all aspects of the match, whether it was in defensive duties, maintaining control and possession or assisting in the attack.
All season I have noted that Kelly has added a different dimension to Sunderland’s game with her skill and ability on set pieces, whether it be corners or freekicks, they always look deadly.
Whilst not receiving the plaudits or accolades in terms of goals and assists, they still present attacking and goalscoring opportunities. Just yesterday alone, it was Kelly’s freekick that resulted in the lasses to going 1-0 up in the 14th minute - her freekick forcing a parry from the Bristol goalkeeper, which landed on the head of goalscorer Keira Ramshaw.
Kelly was also involved again in the second goal; it was her long ball forward to Emily Scarr that allowed a beautiful passage of play to unfold down the left before Jessica Brown made it 2-2.
Then, right at the end of the game, her pinpoint through-ball laid perfectly into the box allowed substitute Holly Manders to fashion a wonderful opportunity. Manders twisted, turned, and did everything but put the ball in the net, forcing a great diving save from the Bristol keeper Sophie Whitehouse. You can read the full report and player ratings by Roker Report writer, Graeme Field, below.
Emma Kelly v Bristol City: In-depth Analysis
Kelly played in this fixture like a woman possessed. Her aggressiveness, vision, mental fortitude, and tenacity to press allowed Sunderland to play great attacking football, particularly on the counter and transition.
Bristol played with a high line along the halfway, looking to get forward in numbers and exploit the lasses using their fast intricate passing. However, Kelly greatly disrupted this flow.
She was relentless yesterday, covering all aspects of the pitch and being involved in every facet of the game. This was not due to a lack of understanding of her role, but rather her selflessness, ambition, and impetus to get involved.
Not only did this tenacity provide defensive reassurance at the back, but by her tracking her player and closing down runs allowed other players to have additional outlets to get forward. She also made herself an option to receive and hold the ball up, whilst the rest of the team got forward. The stats don’t necessarily show it, but regularly throughout the game, Kelly had fantastic off-the-ball movement.
Something which also impressed me massively yesterday was Kelly's vision and impetus to get forward and make herself an option.— Charlotte Patterson (@kirbyhazard) May 2, 2022
I've attached all the clips of her off the ball movements from yesterday and as you can see, she regularly made herself an option going forward pic.twitter.com/o5t1xRCf8E
She was also quick to disrupt any potential for a counter, getting forward to intercept the ball, getting in front of the opposing player, or closing down the passer, forcing them to go back.
Her aggressiveness and pressing really disrupted the game that Bristol like to play - very passing and possession orientated, opting to play along the floor in most instances. However, Kelly regularly closed them down, forcing them to go back, overturn possession or go long which would fail to meet the intended target.
As is the usual case when Kelly plays for the Lasses, she exuded great confidence and composure, calmly stepping out tackles or executing brilliant turns despite being under pressure. Her play was intelligent; when an opportunity wasn’t present, Kelly would pass to the side, not wanting to go back and restart the attack.
It added a different facet to the game. Whilst others seemed content to play the passing game along the floor, Kelly looked to catch Bristol off guard and read the play well, looking up to see a potential opportunity and not being afraid to try it. Even on the rare occasion that the long ball didn’t work out, Kelly made effort to atone for her mistake and instantly looked to get the attack started again.
The Sunderland star conducted herself with brilliant grace, composure, and confidence, and also showed great reading and vision within the game on the defence as well. I could see her watch the play when Bristol City were in possession, checking over her shoulder for potential threats or runs by the Robin forwards and responding quickly, especially when balls when played in over the top.
She did not shirk in any of her duties, whether going forward or getting back to help defensively. A very selfless performance, the footage I’ve seen showed Kelly regularly checking her surroundings and making a run back towards goal before Bristol even played the ball into the final third.
Despite the team as a whole putting in a fantastic performance against Bristol City, it was Kelly who boasted some of the best statistics in the squad.
She had 90 total actions. Most of Kelly’s contributions came in the form of her passing, of which she had 38 passes, 8 long passes, and a passing accuracy of 66%, as well as 4 dribbles, with one coming in the form of intercepting a pass that would have started a Bristol City counter.
In one instance, for example, she stepped out of the tackle, took it forward, turned out of another tackle, and laid it off for a teammate to carry forward to start the attack again.
In terms of defensive duties, Kelly was involved in 37 duels, 7 aerial duels, 18 recoveries, and 6 interceptions (the last of which almost led to the winner in the final moments of the game).
It was a great way to end what has been a fantastic season for the 25-year-old. Playing in 19 out of 22 league games, averaging 88.2 minutes per match, it has been plain to see for us at Roker Report just how much Kelly and the team have improved across the season.
Kelly’s statistics and performances illustrate an upwards trajectory for the midfielder. Something which we all hope continues into next season. The best is yet to come, I’m sure!