SUNDERLAND Women midfielder Natalie Gutteridge is backing her team-mates to triumph over adversity with a third successive league title.
The 24-year-old has been sidelined since February after suffering a knee problem in a game at Leeds – and this week got some unexpected, and unwanted, bad news.
Scans have shown a complete tear of her anterior cruciate ligament and a “bucket-handle” meniscus tear, ruling her out of action for the best part of this year.
“The injury happened when I went to stretch and turn for the ball, but I got my studs caught in the ground.
“I didn’t realise the extent of it at the time as was hoping to be back within a couple of weeks. I’ve been doing a little bit of running, but knew something wasn’t right as it was still causing me a few problems.
“I’d been trying to stay as fit as possible in the hope that I could return for the last few games of the season – so when I got the phone call with the scan results it was a big surprise.
“It looks like I can get both the ACL and meniscus repaired at the same time – otherwise it could have been been a much longer process.
“It couldn’t have happened at a worse time really as I’ve got exams and placements for Uni coming up – so I’ve now got to try and arrange to have the surgery around this.”
This season has seen Sunderland hit by a terrible run of injuries, with fellow midfielder Rachel Furness also out with a similar injury, while most experienced midfielder Kelly McDougall is just getting back to fitness after a long lay-off.
For Gutteridge, all that lies ahead is watching from the sidelines and a long road to recovery.
“I would obviously like to get the operation as soon as possible. We are in the Super League next season (with the season starting next March) so I will not miss out on any games, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
Sunderland have no choice but to cope without key players Gutteridge and Furness in the final four games of the season, starting tomorrow away to Cardiff.
The Lady Black Cats lead the table by two points from Watford and have a game in hand. Third-placed Leeds look the major threat, though. They are five points adrift of Sunderland, but have a game in hand – and play at Sunderland in the final day of the season, buoyed by their recent 4-1 League Cup semi-final win at Eppleton CW a few weeks ago.
“It’s been very difficult to watch games and not be involved, but I think the incentive of trying to get back before the end of the season had kept me going,” added Gutteridge. “That’s obviously changed now but there’s nothing I can do about it – so I will be supporting the team all the way to the end.
“We’ve had a strange season with injuries, like nothing we’ve ever experienced before, especially in the middle.
“The players who have come in have been excellent, though, and the addition of Kelly for the remaining games is great news. Her experience will give the squad a massive boost.
“The title race is certainly going to be exciting – it’s very close at the top, but that’s been the case for the last few seasons now. We’ve faced similar situations in the past where we’ve needed to get as many points as possible from our remaining games.
“We’ve got four big games left now, so we just need to take one game at a time and try to do as well as we possibly can.”