Carlton Fairweather hopes the return of one of Sunderland’s winter signings will be a catalyst to a first Women’s Super League 1 win since 2015.
The Lady Black Cats head coach welcomes back Lucy Staniforth for this evening’s crunch WSL1 relegation battle with Doncaster Rovers Belles at Hetton.
Staniforth, who re-joined Sunderland from Liverpool, has overcome a knee problem to line up against the basement club at the Eppleton CW ground (kick-off 6pm).
Fairweather has had little luck with his close-season signings.
Ex-Man City midfielder Krystle Johnston was released just months into a one-year deal to return to the North-West with Everton.
Defenders Rachel Pitman, who returned from DePaul University in Chicago, and Canadian international Kylla Sjoman both suffered knee injuries to rule them out as long-term absentees.
But Staniforth is fit and the dead-ball expert brings creativity to the Sunderland side desperate for goals this evening.
“Definitely,” said Fairweather, whose side has now reached 13 games without a WSL1 win, a run stretching back to last summer. “Lucy is a great footballer.
“She played the full 90 minutes at Doncaster on Sunday in the Continental Cup even though that was not the intention.
“Lucy helps us with her creativity and it’s good to have her back.”
Staniforth’s skills on the ball are no surprise, her dad, Gordon Staniforth, enjoyed a long Football League career with York, Hull, Carlisle and Plymouth, and her late brother, Tom, was also a professional footballer at Sheffield Wednesday.
Her guile could be key for Sunderland who need at least a point tonight, preferably three, if they are to pull away from danger.
The Lady Black Cats are second bottom, just three points ahead of the Belles, who have four games in hand and a better goal difference.
Fairweather is hoping for a good turn-out of fans for such a vital game.
“The support has been excellent from Sunderland’s fans,” said the former Wimbledon star.
“The girls played really well on Sunday in the cup and we should have won.
“Confidence is coming back and the support of the fans will be important for us.”