It was a Sunday to remember for Sunderland Women as they advanced to the next round of the Adobe FA Cup after a professional performance against Durham Cestria.
The match took place after a two week hiatus from women’s football, following on from an international break that saw six of our players in action for their respective countries (Mary McAteer and Ellen Jones for Wales, Katy Watson and Grace Ede for England U19’s, Liz Ejupi for Kosovo and Katie Kitching for New Zealand).
Despite some of the players only returning a few days ago, there was certainly no rust or jet lag to be seen and gaffer Mel Reay fielded a very strong lineup against the Division four opponents - perhaps surprising at first, but ultimately makes sense given Sunderland midweek Continue Cup game away at Blackburn, followed by our final home game of the year against an in form Birmingham City Women team.
No doubt Reay and her coaching staff would have thought that this fixture allowed the lasses to get back to their excellent form and build confidence and cohesion ahead of their league fixture next Sunday. We will likely see a changed side on Wednesday, similar to what squads have been put out in previous Conti Cup fixtures.
Despite a nervy few opening minutes, in which Durham Cestria were able to get through into Sunderland’s box, the lasses soon clicked into gear and didn’t look back for the next 87 minutes.
In the fifth minute Sunderland took the lead following on from a great through ball being played into Liz Ejupi, who made no mistake at the chance and calmly slotted it into the bottom corner.
Just moments later, Ejupi had the opportunity to make it 2-0 after some brilliant link up play with Mary McAteer out on the wing, but the Kosovan striker's shot went just over the bar.
However, in the 15th minute, it was our captain Brianna Westrup who took our advantage to two goals, following on from a spilled ball in the box. Westrup was on hand to duly fire the loose ball home.
Katie Kitching had the ball in the back of the net following a brilliant reverse pass from Mollie Rouse in the 23rd minute. However, the goal was chalked off for a questionable offside call. Then just moments after, McAteer flashed a shot just wide of the post, and then yet another from the Welsh international going just inches wide with her head after she rose highest to meet a cross from the left wing.
It was then Jenna Dear’s turn to have two shots towards goal within two minutes. Her first a real thunderbastard which was brilliantly saved by the Durham keeper via her leg and leaving all of us wincing given the power that was in the shot. Dear then had another opportunity from a corner after the ball fell to her fortuitously just outside the box, but her shot was well wide.
Sunderland kept up the pressure and it was fantastic to see relentless attack after attack and so many different players getting towards and having opportunities on goal.
In the 34th minute, Kitching finally got her deserved goal after slotting her first-time shot into the bottom corner with real composure to make it three for the lasses.
Up next came Mollie Rouse in the 42nd minute with what looked like a certain goal with a delightfully cheeky chip from just outside the box to catch the keeper off her line, but the keeper was just equal to it and managed to claw it over the goal and out for a corner.
But McAteer was on hand just moments later and on the stroke of half time to make it 4-0 to Sunderland after reaching the rebound first and coolly putting it away.
Given Sunderland’s position and the score, it would have understandable to see a few changes at half time. Yet, the coaching staff sought to make only one change for the start of the second half in bringing off Liz Ejupi for Katy Watson.
The Lasses continued their start to the second half as they finished the first; in the ascendancy. It would have been easy to rest on their laurels and be more experimental both in terms of substitutions and tactics, but where is the fun in that?! The team were full of confidence and attacking with no fear.
That impetuous eventually paid dividends as Jenna Dear joined the fray and became the fifth different goal scorer of the match in the 51st minute, after Mary McAteer whipped in a brilliant cross for Dear to tap into the net.
It was 6-0 moments later, as Katie Kitching got her second of the match just before she was substituted for Ellen Jones. The number 10 scored direct from a free kick in a goal that was reminiscent of the last free kick she scored against Durham at Maiden Castle in which she beat the keeper at the near post with a powerful shot. Mollie Rouse also made way, with Libbi McInnes coming on.
In the 65th minute, Claudia Moan was called into action for her first save of the game and what a brilliant one it was too. Cestria were through on goal with the forward one one-on-one with Moan, but she stood strong to make a fantastic low save to keep the clean sheet.
Then came three goals scored by Sunderland in quick succession, but all three were questionably chalked off for offside - with Jessica Brown, Ellen Jones and Katy Watson all seeing their celebrations dashed by the referee’s whistle and linesman flag. Despite the team winning 6-0 at this point, fans still couldn’t help but feel frustrated by the decisions. Especially the players I imagine. It would’ve added yet another three goal scorers onto the sheet.
With the game entering the final 15 minutes, Sunderland made two more changes. Bringing Louise Griffiths and Emily Scarr on for Mary McAteer and Grace Ede.
Scarr got into action immediately, linking up well with Jess Brown out on the right wing and McInnes in midfield. Scarr played in McInnes inside the box, but the shot took a deflection to send it out for a corner.
In the 88th minute, Westrup got her second goal of the game after Brown’s cross was hit with a first-time finish to make the match 7-0 to the Wearsiders.
A dominant display and one that certainly warmed fans up on what was a wet and dreary afternoon at Eppleton. From the get-go, Sunderland came out of the blocks with a desire to get forward and score goals. Every player put on a fantastic performance, with notable ones from Katie Kitching and Mollie Rouse out on the wings and midfield.
Despite the 7-0 win, it could have easily been double figures, with the lasses seeing four goals perhaps controversially ruled out for offside and three or four more shots going just inches wide of the post. Regardless, this match was about the performance, of which all players gave 100%. This was the exact result the lasses would’ve been looking for after their two week hiatus due to the international break and of course, everyone loves an FA Cup run.
It’s difficult for us now as writers to come up with more superlatives and adjectives to describe this Sunderland Women team. I feel like a broken record, but it is so hard to not wax lyrical about this squad and to repeat these five words: We are doing something special.
Sunderland now have two days rest, before traveling down to Blackburn on Wednesday for some Conti Cup action, before rounding up the year with a home league game against Birmingham City Women. We hope to see you there!