Kelly McDougall has seen it all at Sunderland – now the midfield ace hopes they can finish the season with a smile on their faces.
The 32-year-old will line up in the centre of the park tonight when the Lady Black Cats take on Notts County at the Eppleton CW ground in Hetton (kick-off 7.30pm).
No-one has done more than Kelly Mac to bring Women’s Super League 1 football to Wearside, playing an instrumental part in the club’s WSL2 title in 2014.
McDougall has been forced to play a supporting role over the last two seasons but has started the last two matches, at Doncaster and Notts County, following an injury to Rachel Furness.
It has been a strange old journey for Sunderland in the top flight – genuine title challengers last season before finishing fourth, though this season has been spent just outside the relegation zone.
The Scouser helps the side tick and says that the team ethic will be key tonight against the Lady Pies and in the end-of-season visit of Birmingham next Sunday.
McDougall helped Sunderland to a vital 4-1 victory at Doncaster last month and Carlton Fairweather’s side should have won against County, only to five away a one-goal lead to lose 2-1.
“Everyone has a part to play in the squad, whether you are a youngster coming through or, like myself, getting on a little with a bit of experience!” laughed the ex-England international.
“Everyone brings something different, whether it’s communication and experience or youth and enthusiasm.
“We’ve been in not a very nice position all season, we’ve not played the best, but hopefully we can kick on and have a nice end to the season.”
Given her years at the heart of the Sunderland side, she is ideally-placed to assess the state of the team and club.
And she believes there is no need for drastic changes to the squad, which is a mixture of full-time professionals and part-timers, like her.
“There is no denying we have a really good squad,” she told the Echo. “We have talent in abundance, we probably haven’t performed as well as we should have which is a bit frustrating.
“The foundations are there, they always seem to have been, we have people who you can rely on who will be there through thick and thin. You just need to add a bit more [quality].
“But being without four full-time players is a big chunk of the squad, we don’t have massive numbers.”
One of the missing troops is forward talent Brooke Chaplen, who is out with a knee injury, though she could return against Birmingham.
The ex-Everton star is vying for the top scorer accolade and is level with last season’s WSL1 golden shot, Beth Mead, on six.
It is six games since Mead, incredibly, has found the net, but McDougall insists it’s not something which should play on the 21-year-old’s mind. “Meado brings so much to the team, her movement is absolutely excellent,” said McDougall. “She’ll brush it off and go again.”
McDougall has got a goal or two in her time, including a key volley in the win at Doncaster last month, a result which effectively sealed the team’s WSL1 status.
She added: “I’ve always been a player never afraid to try anything. Fortunately it went in!”