In 2015, Sunderland Ladies, after gaining promotion to the top flight, found themselves in a battle at the top of the table. They ultimately fell short, but the future looked bright. However, last season was a different story. Like their male counterparts, the ladies found themselves at the wrong end of the table. They only just survived.
Sunderland Ladies: The Lady Black Cats Looking to Roar Back After Changes
Having experienced life at both ends of the table in quick succession, the lady Black Cats know where they would rather be and it’s up to them now to move forward and prove that 2015 was no fluke. However, their ambitions took a blow when the decision was made to revert to employing all players part-time. Can the ladies survive in the women’s top division?
It is safe to say that Sunderland’s Ladies did not enjoy a good season last year. They eventually finished seventh (third bottom) and escaped relegation; but ten defeats in 16 games saw them finish with just 10 points.
After such a good 2015, 2016 paled in comparison. Just 17 goals were scored with 41 conceded. Changes would have to be made if a repeat performance was to be avoided.
Reverting to part-time
In January, it was announced that the Ladies would go completely part-time. This was after three years of employing both full-time and part-time players. Apart from last season, fans of the ladies had seen a team that was capable of competing with the best in the women’s game.
With a few additions to the squad and the hope of keeping hold of the likes of striker Beth Mead, there was hope for the future. The announcement therefore came as a serious blow.
Main transfers in and out
It was only natural after the announcement to revert to part-time status that the club would lose some of its better players. The likes of Beth Mead left for Arsenal Ladies. She had been top scorer for several seasons, had won various awards and looked to be a future star for both club and country.
The likes of Mead leaving would leave a big hole in the squad. However, new faces have arrived. Norwegian U-23 international goalkeeper Hilde Gunn Olsen re-signed. Another goalkeeper, Anke Preuss, who has been capped by Germany at the U-20 level, also arrived. As has Dutch midfielder Dominique Bruinenberg.
Several exciting youngsters have made the step up from the development team also.
New head coach
In March, with pre-season well under way, manager Carlton Fairweather left his position. With the season just over a month away, the timing could have been better. However, Sunderland were quick to appoint a successor. Melanie Reay, who had been associated with the club for two decades, was appointed the new head coach. Reay had played for Sunderland and had also coached at the club.
Reay said: “It is a great honour for me to manage this special club, which has been close to my heart for almost 20 years as a player, coach and now manager. We have some great young players coming through and hopefully they can make their mark on the team which already has a host of good, experienced players. We will be looking to consolidate and improve together.”
A good start to the season
After all the upheaval at the club since the turn of the year, and the disappointment of being knocked out of the cup in March by Chelsea, Sunderland finally got their league season underway last Sunday. A 0-0 draw away at Birmingham was a good result. It now gives the players and staff a positive platform to build on.
Next up will be a formidable Arsenal side at home. A good result here would surely breed confidence and give Sunderland’s ladies every chance of having a productive season.
The lady Black Cats could be in for a tough campaign, especially when they come up against their full-time counterparts. However, they now have a head coach with the club in her heart and she will no doubt be doing everything she can to keep them in the top division. The club going part-time is obviously a blow to the aspirations of all those connected, but they must make do with the hand they have been dealt.
A decent start to the league campaign will have no doubt given the coach and players something positive to build on and if they can stay clear of relegation, then maybe the team and indeed the club can build.