SUNDERLAND Women bid to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals when they entertain Manchester City at Eppleton CW tomorrow (2pm).
But boss Mick Mulhern will again be without some key players – and won’t be taking any risks with others, with a League Cup semi-final against Leeds United to follow just seven days later.
Midfielder Kelly McDougall – Sunderland’s scorer in the 2-1 FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal in 2009 – has been out for weeks with illness and will not start tomorrow’s game.
The 29-year-old might get a run-out near the end though, with an eye on building up her fitness in time for the Leeds clash.
Striker Natalie Gutteridge is further away from fitness after suffering a knee injury in the 1-1 league draw at Leeds last month.
She is just starting straight-line running again and is unlikely to feature in either cup game, but the manager is confident that Gutteridge – the two-goal hero of Sunderland’s League Cup final triumph over Leeds last season – will provide a major boost when she returns to the squad for the final run-in to the season.
Better news on the injury front, though, comes with the return to fitness of goalkeeper Rachael Laws (hip) and defender Sarah McFadden (calf).
Winger Keira Ramshaw also returns to the squad after missing last Sunday’s 1-0 win league win at Barnet because she was away on England U19 duty.
“We’ve had a bad time with injuries, but the squad has held up well,” said Mulhern. “The players who have come in have done a good job.
“Of course I want to win tomorrow and get into the FA Cup quarter-finals, but my higher priorities are winning the league and the League Cup again.
“We’ve a lot of big games to come, all the way to the end of the season now, and the main thing is I don’t want any more injuries.
“But you never know in the FA Cup. If we can win tomorrow and then get a good home draw, you never know.”
Manchester City, fifth in the Premier League behind leaders Sunderland, will be tough opponents. In January, they led 1-0 at Eppleton in the league when the match was abandoned late on due to an injury to their keeper. That game has yet to be rearranged.