Sunderland Women U23’s capped off what has been a brilliant weekend for Sunderland AFC as a whole with an utterly dominant 10-0 win over Bishop Auckland Ladies in the league.
This victory extends their unbeaten run to 35 games, lasting 493 days!
Despite feeling like a dog locked outside in the garden and peering miserably through the window due to the caged pitch at King James I Academy, I was still very kindly treated to a wonderful spectacle.
With a few players out with either injury or away, it was a slightly different U23 side from what I recognize. But that was due to some U16/U17 players coming into the squad, and boy, they did not look out of place.
For the first 20/25 minutes of the game, Bishop (to their credit) were doing a sterling job of keeping the U23s at bay and enduring relentless waves of attacks. With some players playing out of position or in a different role, it took the lasses some time to find their feet and not step on each other’s toes. But the promise was there.
Early on, Jess Barker struck the crossbar twice as she looked to give Sunderland the opener. Forward Niyah Dunbar was a constant thorn in the opponent’s side as she weaved effortlessly between their backline, utilizing her speed and strength to win the ball back.
The hosts did have a good chance on goal when a shot was wickedly hit goalward from the right wing, but it never troubled Ellie Jardine in the Sunderland goal.
Catching Sunderland Women U23’s in action against Bishop Auckland pic.twitter.com/eOtaFdgaqa— Charlotte Patterson (@kirbyhazard) January 28, 2024
The team faced an early change when Daisy Stokoe, who had looked dangerous and had a few chances herself, was forced off with an arm injury after colliding with the fence while trying to keep the ball alive. A shame, as she was linking up incredibly well down the right wing with Barker and Dunbar.
Despite the disruption, Sunderland started to click, and in the 35th minute, Emmi Weiss scored the opener with a wonderfully hit shot from the left side.
Ella West made it 2-0 just minutes later, following a brilliant run inside in which she breezed by Bishop.
Just before halftime, Dunbar was rewarded with her constant pressing and attacking aptitude with a well-deserved goal to make it 3-0.
While I overheard the hosts’ halftime team talk, in which the head coach urged his squad to play on the front foot and take the game to Sunderland, Ella West quickly squandered that gameplan with two outstanding goals in quick succession in the 48th and 50th minutes.
It is truly difficult to quantify and describe just how utterly sublime West was performing. Without a shadow of a doubt, she was the player of the match for me. On both occasions, she picked up the ball by the centre circle and fearlessly drove at the Bishop players, beating them for pace and dribbling past one, two, three players before firing off her shot just inside the box. The confidence, composure, and skill to undertake this play belie her age. I had to remind myself that this was a 16-year-old playing.
Then again, I shouldn’t be so surprised, considering the shift she put in on her very first senior debut a few months back when she came on as a halftime substitute against Durham Women in the Conti Cup and didn’t look out of place or put a foot wrong.
In the 54th minute, Jess Barker finally scored her first goal after making an intelligent run behind the waning Bishop backline and fired it past the keeper to make it 6-0.
It was telling of just how ruthless and rampant Sunderland were at this point, as the Bishop Auckland goalkeeper repeatedly asked the referee how many minutes were left in the game. When she was informed there were still 25 minutes left, she could only (and I emphasise) let out a singular expletive. I’m sure you can guess.
Ella West continued to add to her tally, again making an unchallenged run and given the respect and patience to fire off a shot from 25 yards out. The keeper dived to save but did so too early, and the ball trickled past her and into the net.
Isla Baxter made it 8-0 just minutes later to add to the keeper’s misery and remind Bishop that while they might be tired, the lasses certainly weren’t and had the drive and energy to keep going until the final whistle.
In the 73rd minute, Ella West added her final goal to her total of five, as I don’t think two match balls could be spared for the almost double hat-trick hero.
Finally, to cap off a wonderful afternoon of football and take the match into double figures, Laila Wallace got her first in the 80th minute, and the lasses were comfortable enough to see the game out from there. Not without trying to add more goals, mind you.
Due to the senior team playing at the same time as the U23’s usually, I don’t often get to their matches. But every time I do, I am repeatedly amazed at just the hard work, determination, talent, and commitment illustrated. Not just by the players themselves, but the entire coaching staff.
One would think it an easy task to work with a plethora of gifted youngsters, but the staff have to ensure that they can work well as a unit and as a team. Whilst all are individually and uniquely skilled and different, it is the making of good coaching staff to nurture that talent and get them to work together as a cohesive unit. As well as developing them as players and human beings first and foremost.
This extensive run of unbeaten games only goes to exemplify and encapsulate the phenomenal work being done by the coaching staff. Only further evidenced by the clear pathway and progress from the U23’s to the senior team, with the likes of Mary Corbyn, Emily Cassap, and Ella West being rewarded for their tireless efforts. That’s without mentioning Eve Parker, Rhiannon Mallaburn, and Ellie Jardine who have also had opportunities with the senior squad and been named on the bench.
The future is certainly bright at Sunderland.