Sunderland ladies faced Doncaster Rover Belles on Saturday 9th of July, and following an even start overcame their opponents in a 4-0 win, their first league win of the campaign and their first league win since this time last year. This is a tremendous feat regarding the league we have had, and a huge sigh of release can be heard throughout the Sunderland supporters if you listen hard enough…
Saturday started out different to any other day, it started out with the nervousness brought alongside the knowledge that the biggest game of the season was to occur in a mere amount of hours. Following the previous weeks loss to Doncaster in the Continental Tyres cup attitudes on this game was split. Some thought Sunderland’s ability to hold Doncaster to a 2-1 defeat with a weaker team meant sure victory for the hosts, whereas other thought the confidence Donny gained from the win might pit them ahead of the black cats despite a stronger team to face.
As kickoff loomed closer fans were blessed with a bit of good news, star Doncaster player Katrin Omarsdottir was missing the game for personal reasons – a real blessing in disguise for our team. Sunderland were able to enter the game at full strength with high confidence, while Doncaster were left weaker than previously expected.
Laws, Mead and Roche reemerged in the starting eleven for Saturday’s game, whilst captain Bannon was still benched, leaving Tori Williams to take the armband in the most crucial game of the season. For the first 20 minutes it was even, end to end football with shots and chances for both teams. Come 23 minutes into the match Mead breaks through on goal and is fouled on the edge of the box by Donny captain Leandra Little takes her down and is given straight red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity. Time is then wasted by the dismissed Donny player who refuses to leave the bench to go into the changing rooms, and after 2 minutes she is eventually booed up the tunnel.
This turns into a crucial event within the match. Two teams – estimated to be of the same calibre, same standard, same ability – were now split, split eleven players to ten as Doncaster’s captain succeeded in weakening their backline. A backline that was already failing to deal with the Mighty Mead.
Following this sending off Sunderland have an array of chances, Staniforth puts the resulting free kick just over the bar, Mead has a shot deflected, Staniforth has another chance from range which is stopped by goalkeeper Hobbs and is then fired over again by Mead, and Mead again is denied by the feet of Hobbs. Mead finally catches her break 34 minutes into the game who taps home a ball to the near post from Hill, and puts the lady black cats 1-0 up.
Mead has another following chance which forces Hobbs to put the ball out for a corner. Staniforth whips it in expertly to defender Hayley Sharp who heads it home to double the lead just 4 minutes after the first is scored. By this point the fans are certain that Sunderland will be able to pull off a win, as our two goals equals the highest amount Doncaster have scored in a game this season.
An extensive 5 minutes are added on at the end of the half following delays, especially the major one of getting Little to leave the pitch. Due to this Mead is able to get her 2nd and the teams 3rd in the second minute of added time. She gains the ball outside the area and takes some fantastic touches before trying her luck from range and bending it into the bottom corner, leaving the black cats in a lovely cushion of a 3-0 lead at half time.
The teams emerge for the second half and after just 5 minutes of play the game is halted as Mead required treatment. It seems serious as she goes down holding her head/neck and the ball is put out by captain Williams to get her help. The physios come on and immediately ask for assistance from the Doncaster physios, and goalkeeper Hobbs, a firefighter by trade, also assists in the treatment. Soon after the referee signals for the stretcher to be brought on. She is stretchered off the pitch after 4 minutes of stoppage and receives a standing ovation from the fans for her goals. The team is forced into their first change of the game as she is replaced by Joice who slots into midfield and Maddie Hill is pushed into the striker position.
More strikes follow from both Hill and Joice as they are provided with through balls and passes from Furness and Roche, but it is midfielder Brooke Chaplen who gets the goal to solidify the final score at 4-0. She is able to break through the Donny back line and she fires a strike that curls into the top corner of the net with 12 minutes left on the clock. 3 minutes later Roche is substituted off for Kelly McDougall who plays the final 10 minutes of the game. The lasses stay dominant to the final minute of regulation time and through the additional 4 minutes added on.
The final whistle finally blows and we are able to hear the victory music for the first time in the league this year, and what a sweet sound it was. It was an incredibly important win as Reading lost their match against Liverpool and Sunderland were able to rise to the high heights of 7th place on 6 points. This puts hope in the hearts of Sunderland supporters regarding their future in the WSL 1, and oh what a good feeling it is. We aim now to also win away against them following our month break in August, after they face liverpool less than a week before the game. Should this game go our way, we should hopefully survive the relegation battle the same way our counterparts in the men’s team so often do.