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Durham v Sunderland: Barclays FA Women’s Championship

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Women’s Championship Ramble: Sass and slim margins as Sunderland’s rivals kick off!

An irreverent look at the weekend’s main talking points as the women’s second tier season got underway.

Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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All summer long the talk amongst fans of second tier women's football has been about how evenly matched a lot of the sides will be this season, and objective observation of the opening round of fixtures provided ample evidence to prove this theory right.

It also showed that as the margins between the sides get tighter, tempers will be tested.

Durham’s reaction to being forced to taste a little of their own medicine by Mel Reay’s warriors during the one-all draw in Sunday’s Wear derby was to get antsy with the ref and then sarcy on the socials.

Maybe Georgia Robert was hurting from still not being able to beat the Lasses even after moving from Sheffield United, but suggesting her mum would do a better job than the referee in a now deleted tweet was perhaps ill-advised.

Given that the gap between the physical and technical levels of two Wearside clubs has narrowed markedly in only a few short months, it could be that enlisting family members as officials is the only way the Wildcats stand a chance of that much talked about promotion.

The fact that the ball was in the net when Emily Scarr’s backside made contact with the already grounded Tatiana Saunders was clearly obvious on the video clip that she quote tweeted, and the general whinging and suggests they have a way to go before all that extra training time transfers into on-field confidence.

And personally, I’d like to see the Euro 2022 approach to dissent on the pitch carried over to the domestic game - get the yellow cards out when the players get lippy and they’ll soon “haad their gobs”.

One person who isn’t able to haad her gob when there’s a good headline to be made is Amanda Staveley, who made an announcement on Sunday lunchtime that was not at all timed to steal the thunder away from the big two in north east women's football.

The customary Mags in attendance at the Durham ground would have been delighted to hear that their own women’s team have now left the clutches of the charitable NUFC Foundation to come under the formal ownership of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Let’s hope that, unlike PhD student Salma al-Shehab, they all return safe and sound from any future trip to pay tribute to their wealthy new benefactor in Riyadh. Their 1-4 victory away at Merseyrail’s works team was certainly the perfect start to yet another tier four campaign, and best of luck to a squad full of players who’ve come through the Sunderland system down the years.

Dean Davenport is is a head coach who lets his players express themselves freely and the Crystal Palace boss’ new look side got off to a perfect start in front of the big wooden fella down at Dartford FC.

A single goal separated the Eagles from crypto-funded London City Lionesses, and I don’t begrudge anyone celebrating a big victory against a local rival even if it’s the first game of the season. It could be that there are a few more dressing room parties for the wannabe WSL side over the next few months.

Coventry United, my solid tip for the drop this season, showed that the flame of the great escape might not quite have been extinguished by a summer of turmoil at Butts Park Arena.

Coventry is, I am assured, an island of football in a sea of egg-chasers, but earlier this week I wondered if the bookies would already be paying out on their relegation given that they had only a handful of players on their books.

Just when it looked like their season start would a mess that would be equalled only by the pitch at the Ricoh, they signed eleven players in a flurry of activity this week and a one-nil loss to hotly fancied Bristol City represents a pretty decent result for the Red and Green Godivas.

Southampton’s first game at this level was played at St Mary’s Stadium in front of 2,400 supporters on Saturday. It’s a great sign that the attendance boost from the Lionesses’ success may be seen across the country, but loads more work needs to go into sustaining this progress.

It's the little details that will make the difference, and showing those watching on live streams that there are people at the game is one of them.

Alas, it seems clubs are determined to make well-attended games appear as if they are played behind closed doors with piped-in crowd effects by seating spectators on the same side of the ground that houses the FA Player camera.

Other details also matter too, and the free streaming service showing the badge of Southampton Women’s FC - the independent club established in 1970 - rather than the women’s section of Southampton FC in the lead-up to the Saints’ first game, is a faux pa that should never have happened.

There’s no shame in a 2-0 loss to Charlton, an established side at this level, and I hope that the south coast side do have a good go at this league after seven successive promotions.

The shock of the weekend came at Ewood Park, where Blackburn Rovers’ veteran captain Saffron Jordan’s goal in first half injury time was enough to overcome Sheffield United. Rovers were poor last season, but Jordan’s dancing celebration may herald a new beginning for a team Sunderland will face in the Conti Cup group stage this autumn.

They’ve secured a couple of exciting dual-registration loan signings from Manchester United, and perhaps a few more games on pitches where a ball runs true rather than the quagmire of Bamber Bridge will see them improve on third from bottom this time.

Last but certainly not least is Lewes’ 0-0 draw with Birmingham City, the last game on Sunday but one that indicates just how tight this division is going to be. After dropping out of the top flight at the end of last season, the Blues are among the favourites to claim that single promotion spot this term and Lewes fans had feared for their side following the loss of a number of first team regulars to rivals.

But they’ve hired Scott Booth as their manager and secured a well-earned point at the St Andrews to demonstrate that a big-budget and a squad full of full-time professionals can be equalled by togetherness and team spirit.

It’s a result that I think is indicative of the season to come in a league where every side has its own unique model. If only there were more promotion and relegation places then this feverish early season competition where everyone still has something to play for could be carried through to the final rounds of fixtures in April next year.

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