Roker Report: How would you rate Durham’s performance so far this season? You find yourself currently in seventh in the league, with two wins, two losses and a draw in your last five fixtures?
Mark Padden: t’s been tough. With this game, we’ll have played the current top five. Aside from Crystal Palace, we’ve been in every game and not let it get away from us. This is a tough league, now more than ever, with more players dropping down from the WSL and other top leagues. You never know what to expect, so to be mid table after the run of games we’ve had, in my opinion, is pretty good going.
RR: What did you make of your transfer business in this window? Happy with the additions, some big losses or still need to add more?
MP: I’m happy. We’ve strengthened in the right areas with what look to be some absolute gems of signings. We’ve taken a gamble on Amy Andrews, I know a few clubs looked at her but didn’t make a move. Their loss is our gain! With her pace, she brings that something we’ve been lacking upfront. Eleanor Ryan-Doyle has slotted right in behind her and already looks a solid member of the team.
RR: Whether people see it as Derby or not, this match certainly has had an edge to it in recent fixtures between the two sides. Do you feel there is a rivalry or is it a more amicable meeting between the clubs?
MP: It’s always a fiery one, but there’s definitely a very amicable side to it. Players have worn played for both clubs and have good friends in each camp, as do the fans. It’s one of them where you’re enemies for 90 minutes, then all have a drink afterwards.
RR: Do you feel like anyone is having or will have a breakout season or will you likely be relying on key players?
MP: Poppy Pritchard, easily. She was in the team towards the end of last season and now been given a chance in the starting XI, which she’s grabbed with both hands.
Her work rate and determination are incredible, and she’s got a real eye for goal.
It’s hard to believe she’s only 17. She’s got a very bright future ahead of her
RR: Sunderland fans will see very familiar faces in these games, with both clubs having players who have represented both teams. The most recent however was Abby Holmes re-joining Durham after playing at Sunderland for a single season. How has she done since returning to Durham?
MP: I wasn’t expecting her to walk back into the starting XI, but with Georgia Robert moving on, she’s back in, and it’s like she’s never been away!
You have to remind yourself that she wasn’t with us last season, that’s how easily she’s slotted back in. She’s got stiff competition in the shape of Ella Wilson, but her experience will be fantastic for her and the other young players to learn from.
RR: Who would you say could be a thorn in the side for Sunderland? Who do we need to look out for?
MP: I’ve mentioned Amy Andrews already. Her pace catches everyone off guard, so she’s definitely one to watch.
For me though its Eleanor Ryan-Doyle. She’s the sort of player who quietly goes about her business, makes you forget she’s there, then just appears and makes herself a nightmare for her opponents.
She’s all over the pitch, be it getting a vital goal stopping block in or putting the ball on a plate for Saoirse Noonan or Amy Andrews. She’ll catch you out anywhere.
RR: It’s always tough to give a score prediction early in the season, but how do you see this game panning out?
MP: For once, I’m actually a bit nervous heading into this. Sunderland are flying and look impossible to stop at the moment, but Durham have a habit of turning up for the big games. A win would be fantastic, but I’m going for a draw, 2-2.
RR: And lastly, what are your expectations for Durham this season? Have they changed since the season started?
MP: This is easily the toughest Championship season I’ve ever known. You’ve got teams looking poor and getting easily beat one week who then go and give out a thrashing of their own the next! As long as we stay away from relegation, I’m happy. We’re only four points off 2nd, so you never know! In this league, anything is possible.