Durham host the Lasses at the Maiden Castle ground this Sunday at 12:00.
The Lasses go into the match top of the Championship table, undefeated in their previous eight games. Durham meanwhile, our rambunctious neighbours across the A690 and a bend in the river, sit 7th in the league.
Durham have recently announced Jess Clarke is to retire from professional football, with Sunderland being her final opponent. The forward has played for Notts County, Liverpool, Sheffield United and Durham.
Sunderland will have to account for the loss of Louise Griffiths to injury this match. One of our most dependable players this season and a critical part of both our defensive and offensive play, the issue of replacing her will be an interesting one.
Mel Reay will have to weigh the possibility of playing Grace Ede or Megan Beer in replacement. Frankly, both can do a great job and Ede’s performance against Lewes demonstrated her flexibility in positioning, though Beer has the defensive experience that might be needed for tougher opponents.
Durham have a strong home record so far this season, having won three and lost only against Reading - a fast-paced side that put the Lasses on the back foot on more than one occasion in their last fixture with each other.
Both sides look evenly matched, as has often been the case this season, with Sunderland looking to edge it.
Durham’s collapse against Crystal Palace earlier this season, losing 9-1, demonstrates that given the right conditions, they can be found out. And with players like McAteer, Ejupi and Jenna Dear, the Lasses have the right keys to unlock a porous Durham defence.
With a repeat fixture, this time at home, next week in the Conti Cup, both sides stand to gain in learning what they can from each other this match.
With league form being that much more rewarding in finance and influence in the women’s game, both clubs will undoubtedly favour league form over cup progression.
But until the lineups are announced Sunday morning, the grand strategy of the Northern clubs remains in the shadow.