SUNDERLAND Ladies have recovered from their first Women’s Super League set-back and are now “looking forward” to their next test.
The Lady Black Cats host second-bottom Birmingham City this evening at the Hetton Centre aiming for maximum points to strengthen their WSL1 status going into the mid-season break.
Sunderland have won two of their five fixtures to sit fifth in the table and a win against the Blues Ladies could – potentially – take them eight points clear of bottom club Bristol Academy.
Head coach Carlton Fairweather told the Echo: “While we are happy with the start we’ve had, we are still looking over our shoulders a little.
“But if we get a positive result tonight then that could take us a lot further away from the bottom team.”
Fairweather said the squad has recovered physically and mentally from a difficult four days last month when they lost heavily at Arasenal and Notts County.
Captain Steph Bannon is missing with arm ligament damage as a result of the injury she sustained attempting to score at Meadow Lane, while striker Suzanne Mulvey remains a long-term absentee.
But Rachel Furness, who scored the winner in the last home game against Bristol, has recovered from a groin problem and will start in midfield.
“The girls have recovered mentally,” he said. “We went over the Notts County game as a group and while it highlighted the errors, it showed positives too, especially the fact that we made chances to get ourselves back in the match.
“The girls are looking forward to this game and aiming to move forward.”
The fact, as Fairweather started, that the side are making opportunities will be vital this evening.
Sunderland are up against the joint best defence in the top flight, conceding just three goals.
Chances are likely to be at a premium and converting one or two could be key to getting a result.
“That’s certainly the case,” said Fairweather. “Birmingham probably have the meanest defence in the league at the moment in terms of goals conceded.
“Our girls realise that and know that when opportunities come we need to take them.
“The positive is that we are creating chances in the first place, but we need to be more clinical in front of goal.”
For all Birmingham’s solidity, they have scored just one goal in five outings, though Fairweather warms that while they are “cagey” danger still lurks in the Blues line-up.
“Me and (assistant) Mel (Reay) have watched footage of them and they keep their shape very well,” he said.
“They have three good, dynamic midfielders who pass the ball well and they have England’s Karen Carney just getting back from injury and she’ll make a difference.
“Birmingham have not scored as many goals as they thought they would, compared to last season.
“They have threats from their wide players and their centre-forwards so it’s up to us to do all the right things in respect of our defending.”
Sunderland welcome back Abby Holmes after her one-match ban, which means Tori Williams is likely to move across to centre-half to fill the void left by Bannon. Rachael Laws will lead the side.