Finishing fourth in their debut Women’s Super League 1 season is a cause for celebration for Sunderland.
Many a pundit’s tip for instant relegation, the Lady Black Cats confounded the critics and deserved their place in the top half of the top flight.
There will be expectations on us after what we’ve done, but it’s going to be hard.
But it won’t stop the club looking to “push to the next level”, according to Carlton Fairweather.
While his side yesterday finished four goals and 12 points off champions Chelsea, the head coach knows Sunderland were close to doing something special.
Indeed, just five matches ago, the Black Cats led the league, only to take just two points from a possible 15 in the run-in.
Fairweather says Sunderland need to use their time in the close-season wisely to plan for 2016.
“We will look to make the next step,” said the Londoner, who succeeded Mick Mulhern last winter and enjoyed a stunning first campaign.
“We would probably need two to three players in to help the side develop for next year.
“We need players to push us towards the next level.
“Our ambition will be to improve on what we’ve done this season.
“There will be expectations on us after what we’ve done, but it’s going to be hard.
“We can be there or thereabouts, but it won’t be easy.
“You look at Liverpool and Birmingham, 12 months ago they were fighting for the title on the last day of the season, and this year they are near the bottom.
“It shows what a tough league this is, there are no easy games, which is why we need to keep developing the players and the squad.”
Sunderland have smaller squads than the three clubs who finished above them in the WSL1 table – Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal.
The Lady Black Cats though have shown ambition this year by signing eight full-time professionals.
Keepers Rachel Laws and Hilde Olsen, defenders Hayley Sharp and Tori Williams, midfielders Brooke Chaplen, Rachel Furness, Steph Roche and star striker Beth Mead have all benefited from training on a daily basis.
Fairweather will know if Sunderland are to challenge at the top they must swell that number.
“Long-term, we want to compete with the Manchester Citys, Arsenals and Chelseas,” he said.
“If we are going for the Champions League and title then do we contemplate going full-time?
“It’s something I think we can look at.”
Yesterday, Sunderland were no match for Chelsea who sealed the WSL title with a 4-0 win.
It only took seven minutes for Ji So Yun to put Chelsea in front when Eniola Aluko found her unmarked in the box, allowing the forward to apply a typically cool finish into the bottom right corner.
Fran Kirby had the chance to double the lead after a lucky deflection saw her through on goal but she chipped the ball over a sprawling Olsen and narrowly wide of the post.
The lead was almost extended two minutes into the second half as no one in a stripped shirt could clear Gilly Flaherty’s bouncing effort that hit the far post from Ji’s corner.
The away side provided an immediate scare when Mead was free to shoot inches wide of the right post from the edge of the box.
After a frantic start to the second half Chelsea found a way through the Sunderland defence with Gemma Davison powering into the box before picking out Kirby who slid in to finish at the back post.
Kirby eased any remaining nerves when she sent a brilliant left-foot shot curling into the top left corner of the goal, followed by Davison rounding off a fine performance with a goal of her own.
Chelsea: Lindahl, Blundell, Flaherty, Fahey, Rafferty, Chapman, Spence. Davison, Kirby, Aluko, Ji So Yun. Subs: Bright for Spence 61, Coombs for Ji 75, Hourihan for Lindahl 82
Subs not used: Borges, Brett, Meiwald, Ayane
Sunderland: Olsen, Holmes, Bannon, Williams, Greenwell, Kelly, Furness, McDougall, Ramshaw, Joice, Mead. Subs: Roche for Kelly 69, Potts for Holmes 78, Etherington for Ramshaw 87
Subs not used: Harkness, Beer, Brown, Hill
Ref: Adrian Quelch Att: 2,710