A rain-soaked start to the Lasses’ opening match of the Barclays Women’s Championship left the 402 fans at Eppleton as damp as a landlord’s property portfolio.
Also observing today’s game were Sunderland men’s first team players, with Aji Alese and Pierre Ekwah sitting amongst fans in the stand. Some brave guests attending a christening party in the Hetton Centre braved the elements to stand on the balcony overlooking the pitch and watch the match unfurl.
And what a game it was too. A goalless draw sure but one with plenty of excitement and a look at what Mel Reay has planned for the season ahead. London City Lionesses, who finished 3rd last season, were under pressure from the opening minute with the Lasses out of the gates faster than a greyhound chasing a rabbit round a track.
Early efforts from Sunderland kept the ball consistently in the opposition half with Katie Kitching standing out as a clever threat especially after making a dangerous low cross straight in front of goal that should have been converted. One to watch for the rest of the season for sure. Natasha Fenton played some intelligent passes from midfield alongside Jenna Dear and any tentative attacks from London City were quickly snuffed out by a commanding Amy Goddard, living up to her namesake with an Old Testament style of defending. Straight to the point and not afraid to spill blood if needed.
Jenna Dear took a knock and play was suspended while she received treatment in biblical rains. She carried on for the rest of the half, nearly scoring after being passed to by Scarr in the box, before being subbed off for Katy Watson shortly after half time.
The second half of the match followed to the tune of the first with McAteer and Kitching forming some lovely link-up play that led to a through ball that couldn’t quite be converted into a goal. It was a familiar theme across the game. Lots of chances against London City, who never quite seemed to click as a team against an effective counter-attacking strategy of Sunderland, but the final finishing needed was never quite there.
Chief example of this was the moment of the match with Katy Watson drawing in the defence and keeper before teeing up Emily Scarr with an open goal. Unfortunately, Scarr appears to have been taking shooting lessons from stormtroopers as she couldn’t hit the target and the ball went above the cross bar.
The game settled into a hard, wet slog. It was like witnessing the Battle of Passchendaele, with Claudia Moan and Amy Goddard personifying artillery fire, launching the ball to the frontline of McAteer, Watson and Ejupi.
Grace Ede’s introduction to the match gave Sunderland energy down the left wing, especially with her laser-guided passing to Watson after a dink and turn to shake off London City’s midfield. The ball zipped between a tight gap in the defence for Watson to squeeze through but alas the keeper reclaimed the ball. Ede dominated the left side of the pitch, whether it was assisting in defence or taking runs further up front. I hope we get to see her play a full 90 minutes soon, she brings a dynamism to a game, though this is likely why Mel has used her as an impact sub before.
The final chance of the game came with a Watson drive through defence and one-on-one in front of goal. Her shot, though well placed, was deflected by the keeper and went wide. Another tantalising glimpse of what this squad might deliver this season.
And with that, the whistle blew, and the game was over. A point at home, a clean sheet and our new players all looking strong on the pitch.
The only concerns are Jenna Dear’s injury and our inconsistency in front of goal. That said, I’m sure it clicks soon, especially given the strength of today’s opposition, who looked the weaker side throughout the match.