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Sunderland Ladies v Blackburn Rovers - Barclays FA Women’s Championship

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Opinion: Keeping Sunderland Women’s squad together is key

The togetherness and spirit of Mel Reay’s side is something money can’t buy so keeping the group together is really important, argues Ant Waterson.

Photo by Charlotte Tattersall - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

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Sunderland Women announced their retained list last week and I am so glad to see that the majority of the group have decided to stay on and have another crack at the WSL Championship next season.

Looking through the list, there are one or two surprises, Maria Farrugia leaving having rejected a deal is a bit of a blow as it leaves us short in the striker department.

However, Maria often struggled to play the lone striker role and seemed more at home in the number ten role just off another striker. I wish her all the best along with Eve Blakey who I’m sure will come back from America a much better player and Daisy Burt who was always smiling whenever she played for the first team or the RTC.

Daisy is a great girl and I hope to see her back in the red and white stripes one day.

On to the players who resigned and obviously where else to start than the captain. Keira Ramshaw will be beginning her fourteenth season with the lasses. Keira is still only 28 years old and still has so much to give to this club.

Our joint top scorer last season and she missed a good chunk of the season due to injury and covid. A fit and healthy Ramshaw will be massive for the lasses next season. She is in my belief the best player ever to play for Sunderland Women and that’s a pretty good list when you look at it.

Watford Women v Sunderland Ladies - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Richard Heathcote - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Emma Kelly signing a new deal is huge. Emma got better and better as the season went on last season and she was the best player on the pitch in our final game against Bristol City last term.

A firm tackler and has a great eye for that killer pass, Kelly can go from strength to strength with this group and provides experience for our younger lasses to tap into.

Abbey Joice and Grace McCatty have also committed to another season. Both of these girls do not get the praise they deserve at times. Joicey was by far and away our best player last season.

Joicey did not stop running for every minute she played, she is our engine in midfield and popped up with a lovely goal against Sheff Utd last season.

McCatty also had a great season. She started the season with Charlotte Potts as her partner and they quickly ensured Sunderland would be hard to break down. Potts left in January and it coincided with Grace’s time in Africa for work and Sunderland did struggle without them.

However, Abbey Towers came in and struck an immediate understanding and Grace helped Towers blossom in her short time on the pitch last season before picking up a serious knee injury. Now with Abby Holmes returning to the club, we have competition in that department once again.

Sunderland Ladies v Blackburn Rovers - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Charlotte Tattersall - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Both Towers and Emily Hutchinson have been given time by the club to recover from their respective ACL surgeries. They are both in the right place and I wish them both all the best in their recovery. We will see you both next season I’m sure.

Louise Griffiths was another one to tie down a new deal. Louise has been with the club a while now and I thought last season was her best since she broke into the first team.

A fierce defender who does the basics very very well and is a natural at both defending and getting forward. Louise strikes good partnerships with whoever she links up with and is another I can see going far for us.

Jessica Brown and Emily Scarr are two of our most exciting youngsters. Scarr absolutely bossed it last season, she has the raw natural pace that scares the hell out of defenders.

She was our joint top scorer last season and adapted her game into any position Mel Reay put her in. Whether out wide or centre forward, Scarr tore defenses apart.

Jess Brown is still only eighteen years old. It’s hard to think that as she’s been around the first team for ages now. Jecca announced herself with a worldie against Newcastle on her debut and the Sunderland fans have loved her ever since.

Sunderland Women v Newcastle United Ladies: FA Women’s National League Cup
Jessica Brown of Sunderland (R) celebrates scoring her team’s first goal during the Ladies FA Women’s National League Cup match between Sunderland Women and Newcastle United Ladies at the Stadium of Light on August 25, 2019
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

On her day, Brown is one of the top talents in the championship and I know there was some interest in her from other clubs. The way she celebrates her goals as well just shows the huge passion and desire she has to succeed. She’s in the right place and I can really see her kicking on next season.

The retained list left Sunderland short in the center-forward department, but Nicki Gears from Durham is a big signing in that area of the squad. I’m expecting Mel Reay will look to use Emily Scarr as our outlet but we still need some help there and another option would be ideal. Katy Watson is only sixteen and we can’t just rely on her, and Gears has had a long-term injury, so I’m sure one more striker is top of Mel and Steph Libbey's list in the recruitment process.

All in all, I’m over the moon with the news that broke last week. Sunderland have shown that a tight-knit squad with hugely talented players such as Neve Herron, combined with a never say die attitude and huge team spirit, can go places in the Championship and I cannot wait to see what this group can achieve.

Haway the lasses

Durham Women v London City Lionesses - FA Women’s Championship
New signing, the experienced forward Nicki Gears from Durham
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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