Sunderland kick off season against Reading

Beth Mead in action against Everton

Beth Mead in action against Everton

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Sunderland Ladies will entertain league newcomers Reading at the Hetton Centre in their opening game of the 2016 FAWSL 1 season.

The Lady Black Cats finished a superb fourth place in their inaugural campaign in the division, finishing only behind Champions Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Preparations are well under way and pre-season training is going well.

Carlton Fairweather’s side will take on the Royals – who gained promotion after being crowned FAWSL 2 champions on the final day of the season – at Eppleton CW on Saturday, March 26 (6pm).

Sunderland’s next game is away to Liverpool, where they started last season so impressively, winning 2-1 in front of the BT cameras.

Goals from top scorer Beth Mead and a Brooke Chaplen penalty sealed the win.

After going to Liverpool, Sunderland have a big clash at home to Manchester City on Friday, April 29.

Big-spending City - who feature England stars and former Black Cats players Steph Houghton and Jill Scott, will be fancied for the title this year.

Fairweather said: “Preparations are well under way and pre-season training is going well.

“We are really looking forward to our second FAWSL 1 season and building on the success of our campaign last season.

“The fantastic support we received certainly helped to contribute to such a positive season and we really do appreciate the backing we receive, especially at our home ground.”

There are two new faces in the squad so far this season - although one is very familiar with Sunderland.

Midfielder Lucy Staniforth had several years with the club before moving on, but is now back looking to impress after suffering some injury misery in recent years.

Canadian defender Kylla Sjoman has also signed up on a two year-deal.

Sunderland’s FAWSL 1 fixtures

Sat March 26: Sunderland v Reading (Hetton Centre, 6pm)

Sat April 23: Liverpool v Sunderland (Select Security Stadium, 5.30pm)

Fri April 29: Sunderland v Manchester City (Hetton Centre, 7.45)

Mon May 2: Reading v Sunderland (Wycombe Wanderers FC, 2pm)

Wed May 18: Sunderland v Liverpool (Hetton Centre, 7.30pm)

Wed May 25: Chelsea v Sunderland (Staines Town FC, 7.45pm)

Sun June 26: Arsenal v Sunderland (Boreham Wood FC, 2pm)

Wed June 29: Sunderland v Chelsea (Hetton Centre, 7.30pm)

Sat July 9: Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers Belles (Hetton Centre, 6pm)

Sun July 17: Birmingham City v Sunderland (Solihull Moors FC, 2pm)

Sat July 23: Sunderland v Arsenal(Hetton Centre, 6pm)

Sun July 31: Manchester City v Sunderland (Academy Stadium, 2pm)

Thurs September 1: Doncaster Rovers Belles v Sunderland (Keepmoat Stadium, 7.45pm)

Sun September 25: Notts County v Sunderland (Meadow Lane, 5pm)

Sat October 29: Sunderland v Notts County (Hetton Centre, 6pm)

Sun November 6: Sunderland v Birmingham City (Hetton Centre, 6pm)