SKIPPER Steph Bannon is banking on Sunderland Women’s never-say-die team spirit to push Liverpool all the way in Sunday’s Women’s FA Cup quarter-final.
The Lady Blacks face the sternest test of their credentials this season when they host the Super League side at the Academy of Light.
Sunderland are unbeaten this season and on course for a third successive National Premier League title.
They lead the table by five points from nearest rivals Watford, with six games left to play. Leeds are a further three points back, but have a game in hand.
Liverpool, though, are full-time players – and will look to emulate fellow Super League side Birmingham City, who were the last team to beat the Wearsiders. They beat Sunderland 4-0 at the quarter-final stage last season.
“The game will be a good benchmark of where we are as a club,” said Bannon, with Sunderland having applied to join a revamped two-tier Super League next season.
“Joining the Super League has to be the future for Sunderland – to take the game on from where we are now.
“The Olympics was brilliant last year and helped boost interest in the women’s game. We want to be part of helping maintain that progress – and it’s important for the North East to have representation at the highest level.”
Sunderland will be well rested come Sunday, having had their League Cup semi-final against Leeds United postponed last Sunday because of the weather, and the extra time will have helped ease one or two niggling injuries.
“It’s been a really bad season for injuries,” added Bannon. “But we’ve battled through and we’re still getting results.
“The spirit in squad is incredible. We keep going and have the mentality that we can go right to the end.
“We got a late goal at Leeds in the league recently which was very important, with them challenging at the top.
“We also left it late to win games at home to Coventry and away to Barnet in the league.
“We could have drawn those games but came through in the end, and those extra four points could prove vital.”
Bannon herself has weighed in with goals this season, including the late winner at Barnet two games ago, and the final goal in their last game, the 4-0 win against Manchester City which took Sunderland in the quarter-finals.
“It’s great to score goals, but I was just as happy to have two clean sheets in those games,” she said.
“The league is our top priority, but we’ll be giving it everything on Sunday.
“Captaining Sunderland at the FA Cup final in 2009 was one of the highlights of my career. It’s a dream to lead the team out at more finals.
“We know it will be very tough against Liverpool, but in football you never know. With our team spirit, we know we can give them a good game.”