SUNDERLAND Ladies must not freeze on the big occasion when they take on their first Women’s Super League 1 challenge tonight.
So says head coach Carlton Fairweather as his side prepare to take on Liverpool at the Halton Stadium in Widnes (kick-off 7.45pm).
It’s 11 players against 11 on a football field and, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
This is no ordinary match – Liverpool are WSL1’s reigning champions and the game is going out live on BT Sport 1.
But Fairweather wants his players to treat it as just a game of football.
The Lady Black Cats boss, no stranger to the sport’s high life after being a star with Wimbledon in the old First Division, does not want his players being weighed down by the occasion.
“I will be telling the girls ‘play against the football team and don’t worry about the badge you are playing against’,” said the Londoner.
“Everyone is looking forward to the challenge of playing Liverpool and playing in Super League 1, but there are factors which must be blocked out.
“It’s 11 players against 11 on a football field and, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
“If we can do that then we’ll stand half a chance of getting something from the game.”
Liverpool are the team to beat in England.
The champions of 2014 and 15, the Reds are going for a title hat-trick, but their FA Cup hopes are already over, having lost 3-1 at Birmingham on Sunday.
Fairweather hopes meeting them right at the start could be to their advantage.
“Probably,” he told the Echo. “All sides are going to be a little rusty first time out and I’d imagine it will take us one or two games to get ourselves into the full swing of things.
“Catching them at this time may be a good opportunity for us.”
Fairweather and his assistant, Mel Reay, face a difficult final selection meeting.
Sunderland’s players were superb in 2014, winning WSL2 with some great football, but, in the close-season, the Black Cats have added three quality players – the versatile Tori Williams, striker Suzanne Mulvey and Everton ace Brooke Chaplen.
Fairweather and Reay’s toughest dilemma surrounds new arrival Chaplen.
While a high-calibre player, the midfielder has not played in pre-season and may be short on match-sharpness.
Fairweather, who describes her as “full of energy” and “tactically efficient”, could use Chaplen as a sub, though he insists the 25-year-old is at a good enough level to play.
“Brooke has been keeping herself fit and she’s done a few sessions with us,” he said. “She’s fit enough and ready to go.”