SUNDERLAND Ladies have a dual task in front of them when they set out on the Women’s FA Cup trail tomorrow.
The Lady Black Cats visit Aston Villa tomorrow for a testing third round tie at Sutton Coldfield (kick-off 2pm).
Sunderland want to go as far as they can in the famous competition, but they also want the rounds in the cup to prepare for the Women’s Super League season.
Should they win through at the Central Ground tomorrow, the fourth and fifth rounds come both before the WSL opener at Liverpool on March 25, giving Carlton Fairweather’s side the potential for vital match practice.
A long run is vital not just for prestige but to build confidence and momentum for the league campaign which features only 14 games.
“The FA Cup is very important for the club and the players,” said Fairweather, who was at Wimbledon when the Crazy Gang beat Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final.
“For the club, it will be fantastic if we could go as far as we can in the competition.
“It would also help the players with the preparation for the league itself.
“Aston Villa are a good side from the reports I’ve seen and the clips I’ve watched – they are very well-organised team.
“This will be an excellent test for the girls.”
Last year, both clubs finished like trains, winning four of their last five matches.
Aston Villa climbed to fourth place, but Sunderland were the outstanding team in WSL2, clinching the championship, which included a double over the Villans, by an aggregate 6-1 scoreline.
But Fairweather will be pointing out to his players that was then and this is now.
“It’s a case of yes and no,” he told the Echo.
“What happened last year will probably act as a positive to the girls.
“But this is a new season and and the FA Cup is not always about current form anyway, it’s about what happens on the day.”
Sunderland have retained last season’s title-winning squad, plus they have been boosted by the return of three stars from long-term injury: Becky Salicki, Sarah McFadden and Natalie Gutteridge.
McFadden, who marked her comeback with a goal in last week’s 1-1 friendly draw at Glasgow, will be a key player given her experience.
“Having Sarah back is like having a new player,” said Fairweather. “It’s great to have her back in the frame.”
Sunderland are only just back in business for 2015, but new head coach Fairweather has been impressed with what he has seen so far.
“Training has gone very well,” said the 53-year-old, who has served Sunderland for a decade.
“The girls are applying theselves well, they are developing and improving all the time and we’ll be looking to take that into Aston Villa and then the season.
“Me and (assistant coach) Mel (Reay) are very pleased with the girls.”