The football cliché we’re going with here is a game of two halves, so buckle up, grit your teeth and get through a frustrating report on our favourite football team.
The pre-match news of Grace Ede being unavailable was disappointing but the Lasses starting XI still looked strong with a fit Louise Griffiths in at left back. Although she hasn’t been starting as many games for us this season since Ede moved positions, Griffiths is still one of our better defenders and it looked to be a strong side chosen by Mel Reay for promotion rivals Southampton to oppose in a cup match.
The first half reflected this but proved inconclusive. Sunderland held the majority of possession in the first half and contributed more attacking threat than Southampton. Southampton did look to be promising on the counter, however, were kept at bay by Westrup and Goddard.
Southampton’s Molly Pike kept Westrup busy but was unable to cause serious trouble. Claudia Moan was called to action and made several perfunctory saves.
By half time although the Lasses had been unable to find the back of the net, despite a couple of good chances and the efforts of Liz Ejupi and Mary McAteer, Sunderland looked the better side.
The second half was another matter.
Moan prevented an immediate attack from the visitors by diving low to collect the ball at Molly Pike’s feet, the Saints player went down like a hook, line and sinker before appealing for a penalty, but the referee didn’t take the bait.
This was not to be repeated though when in the 55th minute, a wide cross into our box was shot like a bullet from close range into the back of the net. After Southampton took the lead, the Lasses struggled to get back into the game. Our midfield, which has been the strength of the team this season, felt remarkably flat with difficulties providing the clinical support that we have often associated with Katie Kitching and Jenna Dear.
The final ten minutes of the match saw an excellent opportunity for Liz Ejupi, who after successfully dribbling in and out of trouble was one on one with the keeper just yards from goal. Unfortunately, her shot rolled wide and with it went our last real chance to get back into the game.
Worse, minutes later Southampton scored again. They have a trend this season of scoring in the final 10 minutes of games and this fixture was no exception. Katie Wilkinson scored her second goal and put the game to bed.
A silver lining is that with the 5th round of the cup taking place between Southampton’s league games against Crystal Palace and Birmingham City, this will add to a promotion rival’s fixture commitments and may give us a slight edge in the league.
A realistic assessment though is that had we won this game, the additional prize monies may have contributed to a January transfer kitty which we will need if we are to seriously contend with promotion to the WSL. At present we have a talented first XI but not enough depth to sustain our peak performances, especially when injuries raise their ugly heads. The youth teams continue to churn out talented players, but experience is needed for that next step as well as a proven goal scorer who can put away the chances that we often create but struggle to convert.
Sunderland’s next game is at home with a Championship match against Sheffield United on the 21st January.
Ha’way the Lasses.