MANAGER Mick Mulhern is looking forward to seeing a more relaxed version of his Sunderland Ladies side when they entertain derby rivals Durham Women tonight.
The teams meet at the Eppleton CW ground in the group stage of the Continenal Cup, less than two weeks since they met in the opening game of the Super League season.
That game, at New Ferens Park in Belmont, ended 4-2 to the Lady Black Cats.
And while Mulhern was pleased to get off to a winning start that night, he felt his side were not quite themselves.
“The players were definitely nervous in that game,” he said.
“It was something I spoke to them about at half-time.
“There had been a big build-up to the opening game - and a long one, as our last league game before that was almost a year before.
“There was a crowd of 700 there, and I think a few felt a bit of pressure. There were a lot of family and friends there, it was a big game and some of the younger ones had maybe not experienced that sort of thing.
“But it’s a pressure the players have to cope with and thrive on, and they will have learned from it.
“It ended up 4-2 which was probably a little closer than it should have been; especially as the goals we conceded were from our own mistakes.”
Mulhern has no worries about nerves, as Sunderland - joint top with Doncaster Belles in FA WSL2 after three wins out of three - look towards cup success tonight.
It’s a tough ask, though.
The format sees three groups of six teams, who all play each other, with only the teams who finish top of the group and the best second-placed team going through to semi-finals.
Also in the group are the Belles, who Sunderland play away from home, as well as top division sides Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton.
Mulhern is undaunted, though.
“The target is to qualify for the semi-finals,” he said.
“I believe this this team, with a few additions, would do very well in the top divison. This competition is a chance to test ourselves against those teams.
“The season’s in full swing now and the early nerves have gone.”
The season so far has been a baptism of fire for newly-created Durham, who have not picked up a point from their three games so far, all of them at home.
After losing to Sunderland, they have also been beaten by Millwall Lionesses (4-1) and Watford Ladies (2-1).
This season was always going to be a major battle, though, with progress on the pitch a greater priority than points, especially with no relegation from the FA WSL2 this year.
Tonight’s game starts at 7.30. SAFC season card holders can get in for £2 and for non-season card holders admission costs just £4 for adults and £1 for concessions.