Melanie Reay faces a daunting second assignment as the new head coach of Sunderland Ladies.
The Lady Black Cats travel to London tomorrow when they tackle Women’s Super League giants Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the SSE FA Women’s Cup (kick-off 2pm).
It would require a major upset for Sunderland to overturn the odds against the Blues at Staines Town.
And while the road to Wembley faces being closed down, Reay has already made an impact as the new boss.
She tasted victory in her first match in charge last Sunday – a 3-2 home victory over Aston Villa in the fifth round of the cup.
The former striker was delighted with the goal-poaching instincts of two of her defenders in the first half, Tori Williams and Hayley Sharp finishing decisively from close range, before Lucy Staniforth bagged the winner from the penalty spot in the first half.
Reay has been just as impressed by the attitude and application shown by the squad in her short space of time in charge on Wearside.
Sunderland have undergone great upheaval since the end of last season, parting company with boss Carlton Fairweather and losing three key stars to WSL1 rivals, including leading scorer Beth Mead.
“They have taken on board what I’ve wanted them to do,” she said.
“We’re going to dig that little bit deeper to find out who we really are, establish our own identity.
“Hopefully that will push us on throughout the year.”
“I think lots of people have opinions [about how Sunderland will fare this season].
“But I think it is more important to focus on ourselves, to make sure we are prepared and organised and we can do the business when it counts.”
The cousin of ex-Newcastle and England striker Alan Shearer is steeped in Sunderland tradition and said it was an easy choice to succeed Fairweather, who she had worked alongside for the last two seasons.
“It’s where I need to be in order to become the best coach I can possibly be,” said the 36-year-old.
“I want to coach at the highest level possible and I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to coach in the FA WSL1.
“I have a long tradition being involved with Sunderland Ladies, over 20 years as a player, coach and now manager.
“Hopefully we’ll get the club back to where we want it to be.”
Reay faces a test of her skills tomorrow at Staines against a Chelsea side who stuck seven goals past Doncaster last Sunday.
But confidence will have been strengthened by the victory over the previously-unbeaten Villa.
The back four of Steph Bannon, Sharp, Williams and Abby Holmes provide an experienced defensive formation and the new-look midfield of Danielle Brown, Maddie Hill, new signing Dominique Bruinenberg and Staniforth showed promise.
Forwards Beverly Leon and Steph Roche both had their moments up front so Reay will send out her side with a nothing-to-lose approach.