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Southampton FC v Sunderland Ladies - Barclays FA Women’s Championship

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How well have the Lasses’ summer signings acclimatised this season?

Many of Sunderland Women’s new arrivals have hit the ground running since moving to Wearside, and Charlotte Patterson takes a look at the impact made by each player.

Photo by Steve Bardens - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Pre-season was a busy period for Sunderland Women, with numerous incomings and outgoings, as well as changes in the league structure, professional models and many other factors.

With that in mind, I’ll admit that I was a little sceptical about the lasses’ newest additions.

However, the business done by the club has been nothing short of incredible and for the way they’ve unearthed some absolute gems, we can’t praise Melanie Reay and her staff highly enough,

Seven players arrived in the summer and every single one has made an impact since the start of the 2023/2024 season.

Right across the board, those signings haven’t only showcased their incredible ability, they’ve seemingly raised the level of all the players who remained after a difficult 2022/2023 campaign.

Although there are a lot of other factors to be considered regarding Sunderland’s good run of form, the one we’re privy to and can witness ourselves is by the following players on the pitch.

Mary McAteer

She’s just a little bit good, isn’t she?

McAteer is a young woman but for someone with time on her side, she seems to be in a hurry. From an early age, she’s always been a standout talent and someone with a high ceiling.

You’ll struggle to miss McAteer during a game, because she’s a player who doesn’t stop moving.

A fairly versatile attacker in terms of her positioning, she can play with a strike partner, coming in off the left or on the right. Whilst she’s better playing off another forward, she could potentially lead the line as well.

Despite this versatility, there’s no such variety when it comes to the roles she performs for her team, and she always looks to do one thing: attack the goal with energy and purpose.

Birmingham City v Sunderland - Barclays Women’s Championship Photo by Malcolm Couzens - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Combined with poise on the ball, McAteer’s pace is reminiscent of a teenage Leroy Sane, and as a senior professional, she’s still developing from the technically formidable player she was at junior level to a versatile forward.

As a genuine winger, McAteer looks much more comfortable in taking players on and beating them with pace or skill.

Her right foot is capable of threading a football through swarms of defenders and unravelling the opposition’s defensive shape. She can bring crowds to their feet and put defenders on their backsides as she effortlessly glides across the field.

Already a fan favourite, McAteer’s progress at Sunderland has been astronomical since she arrived in the summer. She looks to be thoroughly enjoying her football and her partnership with Ejupi and Jessica Brown at right back seem to be paying dividends.

Under the tutorage of Reay, Steph Libbey and the rest of the coaching team, she can only continue to grow and learn with the support of the wider squad.

Having received a call up to the Welsh senior team and made her debut against Germany, the sky’s the limit for McAteer and we can’t wait to witness it!

Katie Kitching

In many respects, Kitching is a ‘textbook’ player as she does a lot of things that a top academy would teach a promising young player to do.

The strongest area of her game is the technical calibre of her skillset, both in and out of possession. It’s the foundation of her style as a ten, both reliable and constant.

She has really good foundational skills, particularly when she gets ready to receive the ball, and continually opens her body up to generate alternatives.

She also scans space frequently to assess the environment; she can create fantastic passing angles with simple yet precise positional modifications, and she controls the ball with good touches on either foot.

Durham v Sunderland - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Stu Forster - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

In possession, Kitching enjoys driving at opponents.

She’s a superb ball handler in confined spaces, she can roll it with her studs to evade a tackle or move it from foot to foot to get past opponents. In addition, she’s also dangerous in larger areas and over longer distances.

Her speed is what really stands out in such situations, as she appears to run faster with the ball than without it. Just look at her goal against Reading to see this in full effect!

Kitching continues to grow with every game, and just when you feel like she’s reached her peak, she quickly punishes such short-sightedness by adding another string to her bow.

She’s playing with confidence, is adding goals and assists to her game, and in summary, she’s been an astute and shrewd signing.

It’s no wonder the fans are left tantalised at the end of each game!

Jenna Dear

It’s almost impossible to watch Dear and not enjoy her play.

Her commitment, tenacity and love for the club shine through in every game she plays, as she leaves everything out on the pitch.

This season, she’s become a stalwart and a dependable figure, regularly being called upon by gaffer Mel Reay to do a job for the team, which she does with no complaints.

Her ability to slide into space, show for the ball, and then receive and release it in a few touches allows her to be a useful outlet. She’s always one step ahead, looking for an open teammate or a spot where she can rapidly move the ball.

Dear’s versatility can’t be understated. It adds an incredible facet to her game, which continues to improve with every match.

She’s flexible, agile, and constantly scanning the field of play, which are valuable skills for a midfielder. In addition, her movement and ability to read the game are sublime.

Durham v Sunderland - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Stu Forster - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

The speed at which she spots and plays a line-breaking pass is crucial because it throws opponents off guard and gives teammates more time and space to turn and attack the defence.

Her skill as a passer is also based on strong technical principles.

She’s a smart player in terms of positioning and anticipation, scanning frequently and modifying her position to receive and release the ball on a regular basis.

Her control is also excellent and she’s equally at ease when taking and moving the ball with her weaker left foot. Positive first touches lead to positive actions, and crisp turns allow her to switch from back to front play.

In duels, she’s dominant and assertive, but not reckless. She reads the game extremely well and has the athletic attributes to match. Over the first few yards, she’s powerful, with a quick burst of speed and clean footwork that allows her to cover ground both laterally and vertically.

The trajectory of Dear’s performances is upward and the possibilities for her in the game appear endless. I’ve no doubt that she’ll continue to improve and add further skills to her repertoire, perhaps in terms of goals and assists.

Natasha Fenton

Always leading by example, Fenton is heavily involved in all aspects of the game.

Predominately playing in central midfield, there have been times over the course of this season when she’s had to be flexible in terms of her role within the squad, and at times playing where she isn’t overly familiar.

Despite that, she always gives 100%, ensuring that she’s a commanding presence in the middle of the pitch and able to provide width in attack, holding up the ball, and not shirking her defensive duties.

Her aggression disrupts opposition teams, particularly teams who like to maintain possession and play a passing game.

Fenton likes to be involved and press from the front, closing down players, forcing them back, drawing mistakes and being quick to act on the transition.

Sunderland v Watford - Barclays Women’s Championship Photo by Richard Callis/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

As is the usual case when Fenton plays for the Lasses, she exudes great confidence and composure, calmly stepping out for tackles or executing brilliant turns despite being under pressure.

Although it doesn’t always come off her, she’s not afraid to run at players or to attempt to dribble past them, which adds a different dimension to the Lasses’ game.

She also has the intelligence and vision to know when an opportunity isn’t available, and will almost always make the safest choice.

That’s not to say she’ll pass backwards and diminish the attack, only that she’s smart enough to see someone in a better attacking position or players such as Katy Watson, Liz Ejupi and Mary McAteer making forward runs behind the defensive line.

One of Fenton’s main strengths is her physicality, as well as her obvious leadership skills.

I’ve often watched her use her strength to hold the ball up with her back to the opponent as she keeps them at bay and to shield the ball as she waits for her teammates to run up the pitch.

Amy Goddard

Goddard is incredibly brave, putting her body on the line, throwing herself in front of the ball and adjusting her body position as she reads the direction of play.

Her agility allows her to dominate aerial duels despite measuring in at around six feet in height. She towers above opposition players, making sure she’s first to the ball.

In many ways, she’s the epitome of an old school defender; a no-nonsense type of player who isn’t interested in the intricacies of dribbling or showboating, and instead relies on her sheer physical strength and mentality.

Lewes v Sunderland - Barclays Women’s Championship Photo by Steve Bardens - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

She’s a defensive destroyer, with her quick reflexes, vision, physicality, unwavering resolve, and ability to move quickly enough to go between or around opponents.

A crucial component, a priceless asset, and unquestionably a trustworthy player on the pitch, it’s no wonder she’d played every available minute until recently picking up a foot injury.

Sunderland’s playing style demands that players push up the pitch and attempt to win the ball back as quickly as possible before transitioning into fast and direct attacks.

That proactive approach suits Goddard, as her first instinct is to press up and engage the immediate threat, and she reacts quickly to developing situations. She’s very good at stepping up to intercept passes, pressure the receiver’s touch, or disrupt their next action.

All in all, Goddard is a front foot defender who possesses plenty of valuable traits for a proactive team, and she’s been a revelation at the back.

It’s no wonder that she’s held in high regard by fans and everyone at the club.

Mollie Rouse

Despite her small stature, Rouse is able to hold her own and use her body to guard the ball.

She can change direction and drive forward quickly, helped by a low centre of gravity and a rapid rate of acceleration, combined with the confidence to take on defenders.

She can cut inside or go down the line, find space quickly, and play wide on the wings. She gets along well with her full backs, feeding overlaps and performing one-two combinations with players such as Louise Griffiths, Jessica Brown, or Grace Ede.

Rouse will look to drift centrally and find space between the lines when the ball comes down the left or right wing, before turning sharply and driving at the defence.

Durham v Sunderland - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Her ability to pass is another strong suit, as she appears to be something of a risk taker.

She can put teammates in dangerous positions with through balls, especially when a full back makes a late run into space, but she can also win balls in the air and flick them to a running player thanks to her power and aerial domination.

Rouse is a hard worker who does a lot of defending as part of Sunderland’s low block when we’re not in possession. She then adjusts her position and closes off attackers by supporting her full back and tracking back.

She conducts herself with grace, composure, and confidence, and has already demonstrated a superb ability to read the game.

I could see her watching the play when Blackburn were in possession recently, checking over her shoulder for potential threats or runs by the Rovers forwards and responding quickly, especially when balls were played over the top.

Her athleticism is game changing and her incisive movement and astute instincts add to it. Most importantly, she has good awareness; she scans space and makes solid decisions when moving about the ball, space, teammates, and opponents.

She often gets a variety of shooting opportunities because of her movement: from counter-attacks, behind-the-back runs, quick movement into the box, dribbles, carries, crosses, cut-backs, set-pieces, and defensive errors.

Rouse has the ability and the desire to succeed, and she possesses the presence, instinct, and improvisational skills to get shots away in a variety of situations.

Ellen Jones

Despite not receiving the plaudits or accolades in terms of goals and assists, they still present attacking and goalscoring opportunities, and Jones sometimes plays her football like a woman possessed.

Her aggression, vision, mental fortitude, and tenacity to press allows Sunderland to play great attacking football, particularly on the counter attack and in transition.

She can be relentless, covering the entire pitch and being involved in every area of the game. This isn’t due to a lack of understanding of her role, but rather her selflessness, ambition and desire to get involved.

Not only does this tenacity provide defensive reassurance at the back, but by tracking her player and closing down runs, it gives other players chances to get forward.

She also makes herself available to receive and hold the ball up as the rest of the team gets forward. The statistics don’t necessarily show it, but Jones regularly exhibits fantastic off-the-ball movement.

Sunderland v Reading - Barclays Women’s Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

When Jones plays for the Lasses, she often exudes confidence and composure, calmly stepping out for tackles or executing brilliant turns despite being under pressure.

Her play is intelligent and when an opportunity isn’t available, she passes sideways instead of wanting to go back and restart the attack, which adds a different facet to the game.

Whereas others seem content to play the passing game along the floor, Jones looks to catch sides off guard and reads the play well, looking up to see a potential opportunity and being unafraid to try it.

Even on the rare occasions when the long ball doesn’t work out, she makes the effort to atone for her mistake and instantly looks to get the attack started again.

She doesn’t shirk any of her duties, whether going forward or getting back to help defensively, and she’s not afraid to add some flair and finesse by trying to take opponents on with her agility and dribbling.

Although this might not always pay off, it’s great to see the confidence with which she plays. It’s a way of surprising the opposition and getting into dangerous positions, either by herself or for others.

Jones’ statistics and performances illustrate an upwards trajectory, something we all hope continues into the second half of the season, and the best is yet to come, I’m sure!


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