Another day, another emphatic win from Sunderland Women’s U23 side. With the senior team having no fixture this weekend, I opted to use the time to watch the U23’s once more, and again, I was not disappointed from what I saw.
With some players missing due to holidays, work commitments, and injury, it was a slightly changed side from the one I saw win 10-0 over Bishop Auckland a few weeks back. But positively, I once again saw the inclusion of some of our 15 and 16-year-old players.
It was a cold and wet day down in Hartlepool, but the young lasses were quick off the mark to get things heating up when they took the lead in the 5th minute through Mia Lawrence-Kay, who fired the ball past the Pools keeper with a bullet header following on from a great cross by Emmi Weiss.
Similarly to the game I witnessed against Bishop a fortnight ago, the attacking impetus, passing, and ball possession were there for the U23’s, but they couldn’t quite make it count with their final delivery in the box. That said, we were only ten minutes into the game and finding their rhythm, as Pools struggled to even get out of their own half.
In the 15th minute, Sunderland were awarded a penalty after Daisy Cook was quite literally suspended horizontally in the air by a Pools defender, yet she somehow found the call baffling from the referee. Captain and centre-back Mya Forgie stepped up to try and make it 2-0; however, the keeper pulled off a brilliant diving save low to her right to keep her side in it.
Sunderland began to up the ante, playing some utterly sensational football. Absolute textbook stuff that was synonymous and comparable to the Dutch ‘Totaalvoetbal’ with how no one player had a set defined role and all contributed to attacking forays up the pitch. The tiki-taka passing style too drew plaudits, deep intakes, and nods from fans around me, as the U23’s looked utterly comfortable on the ball. Happy to switch play from left to ring, back again, through balls behind the defence, and restarting from Ellie Jardine in goal when needed.
Their constant pressure and perseverance in front of goal eventually paid dividends, and in the 35th minute, Sunderland made it 2-0 from a freekick. I thought from where I was standing that it was Daisy Cook who got a head to the ball to fire it into the net, but I have seen it mentioned that it was, in fact, an own goal.
Whilst never being troubled in the first half and having countless chances on goal, it was 2-0 at the break, and the coaching staff in Courtney Lock, Dominic Bylett, Steve Dix, and Jonathan Craig opted to make four changes at half-time. Bringing off Ella West, Niyah Dunbar, Sophie Sutton, and Mia Lawrence-Kay for Jess Baker, Isla Baxter, Ellen Kirkup (all aged 15 or 16), and Evie Stephenson.
The attacking momentum continued as the second half got underway, but naturally, the young lasses needed some time to adjust with the four changes.
Sunderland goalkeeper Ellie Jardine was called into action for the first time in the game and did well to deal with a deep freekick from Pools, which bounced up just in front of her. The rebound fell to an opposition player, but fortunately struck wide.
It was in the 56th minute when substitute Ellen Kirkup scored a sublime goal from about 25-yards-out. Picking the ball up in midfield, Kirkup carried the ball forward with confidence before opening up her body to fire an absolute rocket into the top left corner, leaving everyone, including the Pools keeper, in shock and awe. Despite Kirkup only receiving her debut two weeks ago, she was fantastic for the U23’s in the second half and playing with composure and technical ability which belies her age.
65 minutes in, and it was 4-0 to Sunderland when Milly Cairns got her first for the afternoon. Tapping in a brilliant cutback courtesy of Daisy Cook down the left wing.
Cairns quickly got her brace just moments later, yet again having that poacher’s finish when the ball was played in superbly to her feet. Even with her back to goal and Pools players surrounding her, she still had the strength, nimbleness, and agility to turn and shoot into the bottom corner.
Emmi Weiss made it 6-0 with a well-deserved goal following all of her contributions across the game. She was a constant thorn in Pools’ side and was a real threat down on the wing in the first half and in an attacking midfield role in the second.
In the 78th minute, Milly Cairns had bagged her hat-trick. A poor back pass to the keeper followed by an even poorer clearance from the newly substituted Pools keeper left her in no man’s land as Cairns was quick to punish, steal the ball, and coolly slot it home to make it seven goals to the visitors.
With a few minutes left in the game, Daisy Cook added to Sunderland’s goal tally and further cemented their dominance. Yet with the final seconds of the game, Pools managed to grab a consolation goal following on from Jardine coming off her line to prevent a corner. However, the opponents were quick to snatch the ball from her feet and were able to cut it back for a teammate to finish.
Despite the Pools manager jokingly saying that the ref agreed ‘‘next goal wins’’, the game ended as Pools Youth Girls & Ladies 1-8 Sunderland Women U23’s.
I’ve mentioned it time and time again, but it was worth reiterating just how amazing it is to see this team continue to win and, more importantly, flourish. Results aside, the quality of football displayed by this team is utterly wondrous to watch, and again I have to remind myself of just how young they are.
Whilst admittedly they aren’t being given a real challenge from some teams in the division, the lasses can only play what is in front of them and are having to work their way up the divisions, as opposed to being given a bye or fast-tracked like others. However, this method allows for slow and steady progress, time for the team to build cohesion, a playing style, and familiarity. That can only seek to pay dividends when the U23’s eventually do get promoted at the end of this season and start playing against stronger opposition.
There is a clear pathway from the Regional Talent Centres, into the U23’s and to the senior setup. Already we have seen numerous youth players start, come off the bench or feature in the squads of the senior team. You need only look at our bench against one of the world’s best women’s football teams in Chelsea last Wednesday to have that illustrated. With Ella West, Mary Corbyn, and Niamh Boothroyd all on the bench following recent call-ups. Whereas Libbi McInnes and Katy Watson, both former RTC graduates, came onto the pitch to play the final ten minutes. That’s also without mentioning more former RTC players in Jessica Brown and Grace Ede starting the game.
Once again, our plethora of young talent is on display for all to see, and it is certainly a proud moment for fans to witness.