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Lasses Report: Teenage Delight as Sunderland youngsters score three against Blackburn

Sunderland Women extended their fine form and unbeaten run in the Conti Cup with a brilliant 3-0 away win over Blackburn Rovers.

Grit. Fight. Hard work. Confidence. Passion. Belief. These are just a few words and superlatives to describe Sunderland Women at the moment. In fact, I’m quite sure that I have read the entirety of the Thesaurus in order to find more meaningful descriptions to talk about this team. But to be honest, I don’t think many truly do it justice.

If you’ve been reading our work over this season, you’ll know just how much we rant and rave about the lasses and we probably sound like a broken record. Apologies for that! But you will have to grant us some leniency as it is just nigh on impossible to not talk about how brilliant Sunderland Women have been so far this season and they illustrated that once again last night with their 3-0 triumph away to Blackburn Rovers in the Conti Cup.

Not only was there a positive result, but the performance on display the lasses (particularly in the second half) was enough to keep me warm as I took in my first Sunderland Women away game. Can they do it on a cold rainy night in Stoke? More than likely. But they certainly did it on a cold frozen December night in Leyland.

Sunderland adopted a squad with a mix of experience and players coming in who have seen limited minutes or returning from injury. The game started off with both teams having an equal amount of possession as they tried to find their rhythm in the game and test the waters in what was a freezing cold night in Lancashire. It was the Wearsiders who looked the livelier of the two sides, particularly down the right wing through Louise Griffiths and Emily Scarr giving the Rovers backline a run for their money. The latter showing her excellent speed and technicality to accelerate past onrushing tackles and dribble her way through trouble to send in dangerous crosses or cut backs into the box for a Sunderland player to find.

With an attacking line consisting of Ellen Jones, Katy Watson, Liz Ejupi and Mollie Rouse, the threat was very much apparent and at times Rovers struggled to contain Sunderland were forced into conceding possession or giving away the ball with poor back passes.

It was in the 10th minute when Sunderland had their first attempt on goal with Libbi McInnes firing off a wicked shot towards the Rovers goal only to see it bravely blocked.

Blackburn however endured the constant attacking threat and looked to catch the lasses out on the counter, getting through the Sunderland defensive line with some smart through balls out onto the wing. Thankfully we have two solid goalkeepers in our squad and with Megan Borthwick given the nod, she was on hand (literally) to keep Blackburn out, making some good saves from relatively tame shots.

Set pieces have been a brilliant weapon in Sunderland’s arsenal this season and we saw that come to the fore once again when Rouse whipped in a brilliant freekick into the box, but despite captain Brianna Westrup rising the highest, she put her header just wide.

Yet, Sunderland didn’t allow the missed opportunity to affect them and they continued to pile on the pressure the Rovers defence as the game passed the half hour mark. This pressure paid dividends in the 34th minute when Scarr threaded a brilliant through ball into Katy Watson between the backline to run onto. Expertly beating the offside trap and the onrushing goalkeeper to slot it underneath her body to make it 1-0 to Sunderland.

Kasey Taylor Photography

With a new found confidence and belief, Sunderland upped the ante and were seeing more success in creating potential goalscoring opportunities, with Grace McCatty putting a header from a corner towards goal in the 36th minute, before Ellen Jones fired off a shot in the 40th minute. Both saved by Salgado before the referee whistled for halftime.

Two changes were made at the interval with Mollie Rouse and Brianna Westrup coming off for Natasha Fenton (against her old club) and 16-year-old Emily Cassap.

Whilst Sunderland tried to emulate their attacking threat in the second half, it was Blackburn who looked the more dangerous of the two at the start of the half, keeping possession more and looking to catch Sunderland’s defences out. With Georgia Walters attempting to get the better of Borthwick in goal, but once again the shot stopper was equal to the shot.

Sunderland made another substitution around the hour mark, bringing off McCatty for Amy Goddard - the tall centre-back making her first appearance for the lasses since the start of November after picking up an injury. A great moment to see the competent defender and fan favourite back on the pitch.

The game was slowly edging in Sunderland’s favour, who despite having a 1-0 lead, could have been excused for wanting to sit on that goal advantage and see the game out. However, if this team has showed anything this season, it’s their dedication to playing wonderful attacking and creative football.

With 20 minutes left on the clock, Mel Reay and her staff made another two changes. With Liz Ejupi and Katy Watson making way for Katie Kitching and Mary Corbyn.

Almost immediately, the two new additions injected energy, pace and finesse into Sunderland as us away fans were left mesmerised by some extraordinary tiki-taka football and sublime passing. The squad’s confidence and belief was rising, with Emily Cassap epitomises exactly that as she rose highest at the front post to head home Sunderland’s second from a corner. Her first senior goal for the club.

Kacey Taylor Photography

Sensing that Rovers were there for the taking and to ensure all three points returned back to Wearside, Sunderland relentlessly attacked Blackburn, who were struggling to keep their shape and deal with the constant runs by Mary Corbyn and Emily Scarr on the wings. As well as the plethora of technical skills in Kitching and McInnes’s repertoire.

It was the latter who saw the game out with an emphatic goal in the 81st minute. McInnes received the ball out on the right wing following on from a fantastic passage of play and passing, before driving towards goal, dribbling her way past one, two, three Blackburn players and calmly firing her shot into the bottom hand corner. A wonderfully worked team goal which topped up a brilliant finish.

As the whistle blew for full-time and the players celebrated, news was trickling in that fellow North East neighbours, Durham Women, had lost 5-1 to Aston Villa, signifying their inability to catch the group leaders. Sunderland’s last Conti Cup group fixture will see them take on Villa in January, with the lasses needing to win that game to secure passage into the next round.

It was truly a positive night, my only grievance is at myself when I unfortunately missed our turn off on the return home and ended up driving 2000ft up the Pennines to Alston Summit (Home to the highest town in England) and back down in the dark and icy conditions before getting home at 1am and getting up for work several hours later. Thankfully, myself and Ant (one of our other writers) live to write another day and will be at Sunderland’s home game this Sunday against Birmingham. Where hopefully the only issue we have is to decide whether or not we mention Sunderland and the P word in the same sentence.

It’s a game not to miss and with tickets currently 50% off, there’s no better way to see the year out! Hope to see you there.


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