SUNDERLAND Women could have yet another young prospect in their ranks when they face Leeds United in the League Cup semi-final at Eppleton CW on Sunday.
The likes of forward Beth Mead and winger Keira Ramshaw are already part of the England U19 set-up – and regulars for the Lady Black Cats at the top of the National Premier League.
Other youngsters to come through at Sunderland include Jill Scott, Steph Houghton and Jordan Nobbs – all now senior England stars.
The new kid on the block at Sunderland is Abbey Joice – a small girl making a big impact in senior women’s football aged just 16.
Joice has played just five games for Sunderland after being propelled into the first team as a result of a raft of injuries.
But the former England U15 midfielder has already shown that she can have a big future ahead of her in the game.
And she may be in line to play some part in Sunday’s semi-final against old rivals Leeds, and even the following Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final clash with Liverpool, which will be played at the Academy of Light.
Injury to Rachel Furness in the 4-0 FA Cup fifth round win over Manchester City on Sunday has ruled the Irish international out of at least those two games – and manager Mick Mulhern has a decision to make whether to start his most experienced player Kelly McDougall, who made a substitute appearance at the week-end on her return from illness.
That leaves Joice – and another Irish international Sarah McFadden – very much in the frame for the big cup double.
And Mulhern believes the youngster has shown already that she can shine at senior level.
“Abbey has come in this season and has certainly not looked out of place,” he said.
“She was excellent against Manchester City. She was up against some very experienced players and it’s a different level to what she is used to – playing within her age group – but she handled it brilliantly. She just shoved the City players aside and got on with her game.”
Mulhern likened Joice to England’s new midfield star Jordan Nobbs, who scored on her senior international debut recently against Italy in the Cyprus Cup.
“Abbey reminds me of Jordan a bit,” he said. “She has great energy and work rate.
“But at 16, she is still very young and has a lot of learning to do. We won’t be putting any pressure on her, and we’ll be working hard with her on parts of her game.”
Another boost in Sunday’s win against City was the performance of Sarah McFadden, who has injury problems, but again brought good physicality to the team’s display – and that will be needed in the absence of Furness.
“Sarah’s worked hard to overcome her injuries,” added Mulhern.
“And it’s vital now that she stays fit and can play a part for us in the run-in to the end of the season.”