SUNDERLAND Ladies manager Mick Mulhern believes recent signing Hayley Sharp has been an excellent aquisition to his injury-hit squad.
The central defender joined the club from Leeds after the start of the Super League season but has played in recent games and last week scored her first goal for the club to seal a 2-0 win against Oxford.
That header helped send the Lady Black Cats four points clear of Doncaster Belles at the top of WSL2.
The halfway stage of the league campaign arrives tomorrow, with Sunderland hosting Millwall at Eppleton CW (noon kick-off), with Mulhern delighted with the season so far.
“It’s been a great first start,” said Mulhern, whose team has seven wins and one draw to their name from their eight league games.
“When you consider who we are up against, then it’s an excellent achievement. Doncaster were favourites after years of experience in the top division and there are other very good sides in there too.
“And the start is even more pleasing when you consider how badly we’ve been hit by injuries. We’ve got the likes of Abbey Joice, Natalie Gutteridge, Sarah McFadden and Becky Salicki all ruled out.
“There are also players carrying knocks, so it was great to get Hayley in.
“Our regular centre-halves, Steph Bannon and Gemma Wilson, have both had niggling injuries and we needed an extra centre-half in.
“I’ve known about Hayley for a lot of years and was more than happy to bring her in.
“She can play. And she is versatile too - she can play a holding midfield role too, so she is a very welcome addition to the squad.
“She is just back from a cruciate ligament injury, so it’s baby steps for now. She just needs to try to establish herself and get through the season.”
Despite the excellent start, Mulhern accepts his side has not been at its fluent best this season but praises his players’ attitude for grinding out results.
“The injuries have meant we’ve had to blood a few young players – and with young players you have to accept they will be inconsistent.
“The senior players have helped them along. Rachel Furness has been the stand-out player for me so far and with the likes of (goalkeeper) Rachael Laws and Steph Bannon, and Beth Mead’s goals, we’ve built a decent foundation.
“But things can change very quickly and we’ve got a lot of tough games coming up, including Millwall tomorrow, so we’ll just keep on trying to get results.”
Sunderland are again without top scorer Beth Mead, who is away with England at the Under 20 World Cup in Canada.
The Sunderland boss admits his side has struggled without their regular focal point up front in recent games.
“We’ve huffed and puffed,” added Mulhern. “It’s very obvious we have missed her and we haven’t been too good in the final third. It’s something we’ve worked on recently and we’re looking to put that right.”
Admission for tomorrow’s game is priced at £4 adults and £1 for concessions. SAFC men’s team season card holders can gain entry for £2.