Sunday’s Sunderland Women game was attended by 750 people, buoyed by the sun and a confident, still undefeated, Lasses side.
Natasha Fenton started the cheering early with a headed goal off a free kick taken by Katie Kitching. It looped gracefully above the keeper’s outstretched hands and nestled gently into the back of the net.
Jenna Dear attempted an overhead kick shortly after which went over the crossbar, but not before fans rose in trepidated temptation at the thought of another goal. It had that lovely thwacking noise though that comes from when you hit the ball just right, though getting those shots on target is always a hail Mary. Speaking of…
Shortly after, Louise Griffiths crossed the ball at the corner of the box into a scrum of players. Mary McAteer positioned, aimed and sent the ball home with a touch as deft as Ronnie O’Sullivan. A well-poached goal.
If it were an egg, even Gordon Ramsay wouldn’t be able to criticise it.
The Lasses didn’t have it all their own way though. Watford were a threat down their left side with Grace Ede facing tough opposition against Watford’s Leon. Leon was able to position herself in between Griffiths and Ede often.
This led to one of our players having to be pulled out of position to cover or leave her unmarked. Leon had Watford’s best chance in the first half with a close-headed shot at goal that Claudia Moan, keeper queen of the league saved at point-blank range.
The second half was played with a focus from Sunderland on seeing out the game with their 2-0 lead. They were composed and calm on the ball, with reinforcements off the bench coming on, with Watson, Jones, Scarr and Megan Beer getting stuck in.
Watford again countered though and took advantage of a higher defensive line from Sunderland. Their first chance, from a deep-lying pass played over the midfield and through onto Bianca Baptiste exposed the Lasses open centre with Moan in position to block the shot, however Baptiste placed it wide, though it looked the best chance of the game.
The second chance for the visitors, and resulting consolation goal, came at the end of the match. A misplaced defensive clearance ricocheted off a Watford player and Ellie Head was able to draw in our defenders and then pass to an unmarked Carly Johns who tucked it away in the bottom corner of the net.
The final whistle blew on a well-earned three points for Sunderland, leaving us second in the league behind Blackburn Rovers. The energy and graft shown on the pitch compared to this season is a transformation not unlike water into wine. If the messiah walks amongst us, she has curly hair and her name rhymes with Jerry MacAbeer.
Claudia Moan was kept busier this game than the sum of all previous fixtures, her key saves against Leon’s header, but also another long-range shot that was tipped over her crossbar, were key in keeping Sunderland in the match. If our defensive lines do continue to press forward, which I think has reaped benefits for our attacking midfield play, then she will need to stay focused throughout the season. She has only conceded two goals so far.
Louise Griffiths was kept busy throughout the match, making runs up and down, as busy crossing into the opposition box as she was protecting ours. However, I did notice that the link-up play between her and Grace Ede, particularly in the opening of the game, did not always go to plan with several misplaced passes. It’s not a criticism of either player, but it was noticeable how much Sunderland favoured their right wing this game, particularly with McAteer dictating play.
The Lasses will need to consider how they use Ede, who is a wonderful ball player, but can be outmuscled or caught out of position by more experienced opponents. Either a more central position, difficult given the strength of Kitching and Dear, or rotation with one of our other forwards like Ellen Jones.
Amy Goddard has shown consistently what she can do in defence since she joined but we also got a glimpse of her in attack. Not to be outshone by Jenna Dear, Goddard also attempted an overhead kick. Goddard also, failed to score, but that didn’t stop the fans cheering the attempt nonetheless.
A final point, McAteer undoubtedly advances the ball when she dribbles through defenders, but there have been moments where a better-placed Liz Ejupi or other forwards were available for a forward pass that would better set up a Sunderland goal. Liz was caught offside several times in the first half and I would have expected the ball to have been played to her a touch or two sooner that would have kept her onside.
Five games down, undefeated and looking stronger than ever. This is a superb Sunderland side to watch. Birmingham City next, and we might see a familiar face lining up against us.
Haway the Lasses.