Stephanie Roche gets the chance to take another step forward in her Sunderland Ladies career tonight with a big match against Manchester City.
The big-name summer signing will line up for the Lady Black Cats for the Continental Tyres Cup clash at Eppleton CW (kick-off 7.30pm).
Roche is still settling into Women’s Super League action following disappointing ends to stints abroad in France and the USA.
The 26-year-old scored her first Sunderland goal in the 4-1 win at Bristol Academy, but head coach Carlton Fairweather believes it may be next year before fans see the best of the talented Irish forward.
“Steph is doing OK,” said the Sunderland boss, who has guided his team to second place in WSL1 and two Continental Cup group wins.
“I think it’s going to take a little bit of time for Steph to get used to the league and the teams we come up against.
“The other girls have come through WSL2 and they have the experience of the physicality of the English game.
“Steph has played most of her football in Ireland, then was in France and the USA for a bit.
“But the football in those countries is totally different to what we have here.
“Steph is a good player, but it will take her a little bit of time to settle and get fully adapted.
“I think it’s a case of getting that experience this season and I do think we’ll see the best of her next year.”
Tonight’s cup action against star-studded City will provide important game-time, not just for Roche but all the Sunderland players.
The Lady Black Cats are challenging strongly at the top in their first season in the WSL 1 set-up.
And a match against an in-form City, who have reeled off six wins in a row, could give a crucial indicator as to how serious the Sunderland challenge will be.
Fairweather plans “one or two changes” and could well rest a couple of players following an arduous run of fixtures.
But that does not mean he will accept second best.
“We’ve made a few changes in the Continental Cup group games and may do so again,” said Fairweather.
“Despite changing things, we’ve won our two games so far in the competition and even if there are changes here I’d still expect us to be a force to be reckoned with.”
There could be a start for keeper Rachael Laws, who has not started a game since May. Laws suffered a knee injury in training during the mid-season break but is now back to full fitness.
Norwegian Hilde Olsen has been in superb form, but Laws could well get a chance to start against City.