When Louise Griffiths headed home to put Sunderland two goals to the good yesterday, 750 fans, most here for the first time, erupted. The euphoria of the Lionesses winning the Euros had really rubbed off on the crowd at Eppleton CW in Hetton.
Until then, it had been a cagey affair. Sunderland started the game with their captain Keira Ramshaw and their best player Neve Herron on the sidelines wearing protective boots, a big blow to the team’s preparations with the season opener against Wearside rivals Durham only a week away.
The Lasses gave a debut to Briana Westrup and welcomed back Dan Brown after a successful trial period with the club following her departure from the Wildcats. Abby Holmes, Nikki Gears and Tyler Dodds all played in front of the home crowd since joining the club also.
Mel Reay’s side went with an unfamiliar 5-2-3 formation, with Westrup partnering Grace McCatty and Faye Mullen as part of a three woman centre half combination, with Holmes and Louise Griffiths playing wing back.
Dan Brown partnered Emma Kelly in midfield and a front three of Dodds, Scarr and Gears looked to inject pace into Sunderland’s attack.
The youngsters in the crowd were offered the chance to enter the pitch armed with flags to give both sides a wonderful guard of honour as the sides came out.
Forest to their credit started the brighter, their team playing some neat football without really troubling Claudia Moan in the Sunderland goal.
Sunderland calmed the collective nerves when McCatty fired in after a free kick fell to her kindly in the box. Moments later Kelly almost doubled the lead with a wonderful long range effort, but it flew just wide.
Apart from that, Sunderland struggled to keep hold of the ball and seemed to struggle with the new formation despite Scarr impressing by bringing others into play. Forest manager Andy Cook sensed this and screamed at his players in encouragement, so much so he was shown a yellow card after a disagreement with the referee.
The half ended on a sour note for the lasses when Emma Kelly had to leave the field after twisting her ankle in a strong challenge. We hope she will be okay for next week.
Reay then changed the formation for the second half, and the benefits were there to see. Sunderland played with more freedom.
Dodds terrorised the Forest defence with her pace and should have put us two ahead after a wonderful ball from sub Grace Ede, but she shot straight at the keeper. We didn’t have to wait long for Dodds to redeem herself though, when she crossed beautifully for Griffiths to head home. Griffiths was absolutely over the moon to be on the scoresheet, wheeling away in delight.
The talented Ede was causing all sorts of problems for a tiring Forest and her pull back was met with a thundering strike from fellow sub Libbi McInnes, but the Forest keeper pulled off a superb save to deny her.
RTC graduate Katy Watson then got a well deserved third for the Lasses when running through on goal, holding off the Forest defence to calmly finish. It was a great goal, showing a maturity well beyond her age.
At full time the fans got to meet their new heroes, and the players made sure they signed every ball, flag and shirt presented to them.
A tough game was just what the doctor ordered and Sunderland passed the test with flying colours.
Durham await. We will be ready!