SUNDERLAND Women manager Mick Mulhern admits he feels like he is working “with one hand tied behind his back”.
The Lady Black Cats take on old rivals Leeds United at Eppleton CW tomorrow in the semi-finals of the Premier League Cup (2pm).
But after a season where his squad has been ravaged by injuries, an international call-up is the latest set-back for Mulhern.
The tie might have been played weeks ago, but was postponed because of the freezing weather. Tomorrow’s rescheduled game, however, means Sunderland are without leading scorer Beth Mead, who is away in Norway on international duty with England U19s.
It’s a major blow – the 17-year-old has scored 22 goals this season, finding the net in 16 of Sunderland’s 22 games.
Sunderland have met Leeds twice this season – drawing 2-2 in the group stages of the League Cup, and 1-1 in the League, with Mead scoring all three of the Lady Black Cats’ goals.
“It’s a huge frustration,” said Mulhern.
“We had Keira Ramshaw missing a few weeks ago on international duty, too. Emma Kelly is away with the England U17 squad as well, so we are really a victim of our own success.
“Of course, we wish all our players well in their international careers – it’s just a shame that we have to do without Beth for one of our biggest games of the season!”
Injuries continue to blight Sunderland’s season, and tomorrow two other first-choice players are unavailable.
Natalie Gutteridge was the two-goal hero in last season’s 2-1 League Cup final triumph over Leeds at Northampton’s Sixfields Stadium, but a knee injury will keep her sidelined for at least another week or two.
Meanwhile, a knee injury has ended the season for midfielder Rachel Furness, who is waiting on a scan to discover the extent of her injury.
However, experienced midfielder Kelly McDougall and tough-tackling right-back Abby Holmes are back in the reckoning, to bolster the squad.
McDougall sat out last Sunday’s unlucky FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Super League side Liverpool – Sunderland’s first defeat of the season – while Holmes was on the bench.
“It’s been a tough time,” admitted Mulhern. “With all the injuries and various distractions, I sometimes feel I am working with one hand tied behind my back!
“But I have a hungry squad who are rising to the challenges set every week. Kelly has trained this week, but we’ll see how she is tomorrow before making any decisions.
“I was very pleased with last week’s display. We showed a lot of desire to get back into the game after going a goal down, and this will be the key against Leeds.”
Sunderland won through to the semis by beating Cardiff City 2-0, while Leeds progressed with a 3-2 win over Charlton Athletic.
The other semi-final tomorrow sees Aston Villa host Portsmouth.
The final will be played at York City’s Bootham Crescent ground on Sunday, May 5.