MANAGER Mick Mulhern is expecting young forward Abbey Joice to play a key role in Sunderland Ladies’ title chase – starting in tonight’s big derby clash with Durham at Eppleton CW (7.30pm), writes Neil Watson.
The 19-year-old returned from a four-month injury absence on Saturday to renew her strike partnership with fellow teenager Beth Mead.
Joice was immediately back on the scoresheet, and Mead struck twice, as the Lady Black Cats came from behind to beat Aston Villa 3-1.
With second-paced Doncaster crashing 4-0 to third-placed Reading, the unbeaten Wearsiders extended their lead at the top of Women’s Super League 2 to five points.
“There were flashes of really good play from Abbey,” said Mulhern, whose side tonight faces a resurgent Durham side, who have won their last two games, both away from home.
“She was not as effective as usual, but it was her first game back, and you can’t expect miracles.
“What I do expect is that she will get better and better as she gets games under her belt.
“We all know what she can do, and it will come in time.”
Joice scored Sunderland’s first goal of the league campaign back in April when newly-formed Durham played their first ever game.
It ended 4-2 to Sunderland, which was closer than many expected.
And after the expected shaky start, Durham seem to be finding their feet, with wins at Millwall (2-1) and Watford (3-0), in their last two games, putting them in buoyant mood before the derby.
“Durham are picking up and they will be right up for the game,” added Mulhern after his side’s victory over an impressive Villa side.
“But I expect my players to be ready too. Being a derby might add a bit of spice, but I don’t really go in for all that. For me, it is just another game. They are in the way of what we want, so we need to make sure we do our jobs.
“Villa gave us a hard game, but we came through it. We will try to do the same against Durham.”
Durham goalkeeper Danielle Hill reckons her team-mates are on a high after recent results.
“It just feels like we’re getting better and better every single time and it shows with clean sheets and our results,” she said.
“You can just see the difference in how everyone gets on together and everyone has a laugh.
“When you’re having a laugh off the pitch you want to come on the pitch to work for the person next to you.
“The confidence in the whole squad is huge at the moment. If Sunderland find it like this (tonight) then they’re going to be in for a bit of a shock.”
In other key games tonight, Doncaster host Villa, while Reading are away to fourth-top Yeovil.
Reduced ticket prices are available for Sunderland season card holders at Eppleton CW tonight, with adult tickets at £2. Standard tickets are £4 for adults and £1 for concessions. Tickets can be bought at the turnstiles.