Sunderland’s seventh league match kicked off on a bright yet bracing October afternoon at home to Reading. Formerly in the Women’s Super League last season and following events behind closed doors, the now part time side squared up against the Lasses with something to prove.
Prior to kick off, the ground held a moment’s silence for the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine and the tragedies that have come to light these past few days.
With the referees’ whistle blown, Reading erupted forth with uncompromising speed. It was quickly apparent that the Lasses’ opponents were following a strategy of close positional play. Reading were in a tight formation shifting from one side of the pitch to the other as well as pressing and dropping when in and out of possession.
It was an impressive display and a reminder of the quality this side had despite sitting mid-table. Although it left Sunderland the width on the wings and opportunities to counter, the close play meant that the Lasses were overwhelmed in midfield with little passing opportunities and often on the back foot.
Sunderland were under significant pressure in the first half, yet were able to absorb the attacking play and despite having a minority of possession, effectively let the opposition run themselves into the ground. It was not a strategy that Reading would have been able to continue for a full 90 minutes of play.
A key player in Sunderland’s defensive first half was centre back Amy Goddard, whose aerial prowess and forehead proved a barrier too high for Reading to hurdle.
There were undoubtedly shaky moments for the Lasses. It’s never comfortable watching a side out of possession and sitting deep. It only takes one mistake to concede and force yourselves to open up and try to attack. Twice, Reading hit the post, including one scorcher from range. Fortunately, Ellen Jones took a dim view of this and volleyed in Sunderland’s first off a corner.
The Lasses rode their luck, but it paid off after a tough first half and a goal ahead.
The second half by contrast was a Mel Reay masterclass. Reading’s previously confident play was far more vulnerable. Whether it was confidence or fitness after such a strenuous first half would be difficult to conclude. Sunderland, buoyed by their first goal, were set on another and took advantage of the wider spaces Reading’s tight formation gave them.
Liz Ejupi’s scramble in the box and resulting goal was well earned after another selfless display all game of dropping deep and supporting the midfield. It’s her first of the season but by the way she’s playing it will certainly not be the last.
At 2-0 up, the game looked safe, although Reading were still able to trouble Claudia Moan, who put in another series of great saves in goal.
Katie Kitching’s performances in midfield also paid off to make it 3-0 after a long distance run worthy of Sir Mo Farah. She picked up the ball in the Sunderland half drove it up the pitch and shot straight into the back of the net.
Reading’s consolation goal came in the 74th minute from Freya Gregory and was deserved given the opposition’s strong performance this fixture.
The Lasses saw out the rest of the game with continued pressure, including an Amy Goddard header and a Grace Ede shot that just scuffed the post.
With the final whistle blown it was clear that the players had given everything on the pitch and had ground out an impressive win against tough opponents.
Sunderland sit second in the league behind Southampton only on goal difference. Crystal Palace have a game to play however and with their goal scoring this season, 23 in the league, it’s likely we will have to maintain this undefeated run if we want to stay where we are.