Sunderland Ladies must look to invest in their squad ahead of ‘the real thing’.
That was the message from head coach Melanie Reay, whose side sealed fifth place in the WSL1 Spring Series at the weekend.
The Lady Black Cats now have a three-month break before the new WSL1 programme starts as women’s top-flight football switches back to a winter game from a summer sport.
Following Sunderland’s announcement in January that they were reverting to a part-time status following two years operating a full/part-time squad, a number of pundits predicted a bleak Spring Series for the Wearsiders.
Instead, Sunderland confounded the doubters by ending the rapid eight-match competition dead centre in the table.
They ended, predictably, behind the major outfits of Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool, but they were the best of the rest, finishing above full-time Reading, FA Cup finalists Birmingham and promoted outfits Bristol and Yeovil.
But the Lady Black Cats need to add to their squad for the winter season when they will play their rivals on a home and away basis.
“Definitely,” said Reay. “We need bodies in, we need good attacking players.
“We have shown we can hold our own defensively, though we’ve lost Steph Bannon, who needs replacing, and we need some strength in depth.”
Reay has done an incredible job after taking over from previous boss Carlton Fairweather on the eve of the new season.
Her side only lost three times and kept three clean sheets along the way, including very good 0-0 draws with Arsenal and Birmingham.
They were seconds away from matching that result against Manchester City, only to concede a controversial injury-time goal at Eppleton CW.
But for all their defensive resolve, the side only scored four goals, only two coming in open play.
“We’ve taken valuable points off big teams,” added Reay, who lost leading goal scorers Beth Mead and Brooke Chaplen before the WSL1 Spring Series.
“We’ve had three clean sheets and been hard to beat.
“We need to make sure we add quality to the group in order to push on for next season.”
Sunderland did bring in two excellent winter signings, keeper Anke Preuss and midfielder Dominique Bruinenberg, but they need more now, while retaining the players they currently have.
It means a busy time for Reay and Sunderland Ladies general manager Sonia Kulkarni who will need to put their proposals to SAFC’s chief football officer Simon Wilson.
The Lady Black Cats did prove critics wrong but they must now add to their squad in order to move forwards.
“We took a lot of the stuff said and written about us with a pinch of salt,” said Reay.
“We’ve concentrated on ourselves, making sure we have done all the simple things right.
“We set targets at the beginning of the season and I’m absolutely delighted to finish fifth.”