After a sensational weekend of goals galore for both Sunderland Men and Sunderland U21’s (5-0 win and 5-5 draw respectively), it was time to see what the lasses were capable of in their second game of the 23/24 season and their first on the road.
Similarly to the EFL Championship, the Barclays Women’s Championship is just as challenging, tough and hard to predict. Especially when it’s so early in the season.
Despite various outgoings and incomings, there are has already been a noticeable difference in this Sunderland team and there appears to be a real cohesion and camaraderie between the players.
After a 0-0 draw against a top side like London City Lionesses last weekend, Sunderland were seeking to get their campaign off to a good start and they certainly did that with a 1-0 win over Sheffield United Women.
For the opening 15 minutes we saw an even start to the match from both teams, each looking to maintain possession and look to build from the back. Sunderland played some lovely intricate passing football, but just couldn’t quite get any clear-cut chances in on goal.
Momentum was starting to build and the lasses were having their lion's share of possession and getting into dangerous positions. Our first real chance came in the 22nd minute when Jessica Brown crossed the ball to Emily Scarr, who touched it off for Mary McAteer to shoot, but her shot was sliced wide.
Thankfully for the Sunderland supporters in attendance, she would soon rectify this. In the 34th minute, fellow summer signing Katie Kitching whipped a wonderful cross into the box which was met by McAteer following a poor defensive clearance. Despite not having much time to respond, McAteer was quick to sort her feet and volley it home into the bottom left corner to make it 1-0 to the lasses!
Yet, Sunderland couldn’t get too ahead of themselves and needed to maintain their composure. Goalkeeper Claudia Moan is someone who exudes this in abundance and was forced to make a terrific save from close range a few minutes later to keep her side ahead and into the break with a 1-0 lead.
It was the Blades who came running out the blocks after half time and made Sunderland a collective sigh of relief when Louise Goodwin took a shot on the edge of the lasses’ box, but thankfully her shot went wide.
Kitching attempted to change her role from goal provider to goal scorer in the 59th minute, when she drove through the centre of the pitch and fired a shot off towards the goal, but Bethan Davies was equal to it.
The game was heading into the final 15 minutes of the game and gaffer Mel Reay opted for a double change to inject some much-needed pace and energy into the game. Emily Scarr and Mary McAteer made way for 17-year-olds Katy Watson and Grace Ede.
Following the substitutions, Sunderland had to endure some heavy Sheffield pressure as they looked to get an equaliser. At times we were the creators of our own problems at the back, giving the ball away in dangerous positions, which United were quick to react to. Thankfully, Moan was on hand to keep any attempts at bay and rally her teammates for the game's final minutes.
Sunderland even had the chance to make it 2-0 and put the game to bed when they broke out of the Sheffield press and countered down the left wing through Grace Ede. The young starlet did well to dribble her way into the box, dodging the desperate legs of the opponents before putting it on a plate for the inrushing Kitching to finish. Yet she somehow missed what was a certified goal, putting it wide of the post.
United were relentless in their attack in the final minutes of the game and just when Sunderland thought they had seen the game out, the fourth official held up the board to say that there would be eleven minutes of added time! Yes, eleven.
Those eleven minutes felt like eleven years, as Sunderland inched closer and closer to their first win of the season and first league win since March 2023. The lasses stood stalwart at the back, throwing their bodies into every shot and tackle to keep the score the same, even injuring themselves in the process. The formation practically resembled an 8-1-1 as they sought to eek over the line.
Sunderland were given a slight reprieve in Jessica Sigsworth receiving a straight red card in the 99th minute after throwing the ball in anger at Louise Griffiths.
Finally, in the 101st minute the referee brought the game to a close and Sunderland headed back to Wearside with three points and their first win of the season!
Sunderland: Moan, Brown, Westrup (C), Goddard, Griffiths, Kitching, Fenton, Dear, McAteer, Scarr, Ejupi
Subs: Borthwick, Ede (75’), McCatty, McInnes, Jones (88’), Watson (75’)
Sheffield United: Davies, Newsham, Barker (C), Bourne, Cusack, Rayner, Goodwin, Hodson, Hutton, Haywood, R.Brown
Subs: Henderson, Docherty, Graham (66’), Sigsworth (58’), May, Kinzett (88’), A.Brown, Sugden-Brook, Connolly-Jackson
Southampton FC Women v Sunderland Women
Sunday 10th September - 14:00pm KO
St Mary’s Stadium, Britannia Rd, Southampton SO14 5FP