Sunderland Ladies still have it all to play for

Abbey Joice in action against Liverpool.
Abbey Joice in action against Liverpool.
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Sunderland may not make it through to the knock-out stages of the Continental Tyres Cup – but that does not mean tomorrow’s final pool game is a meaningless fixture.

The Lady Black Cats play host to Doncaster Rovers Belles at Hetton tomorrow in Group Two (kick-off 2pm).

It will be a tough test but we know we need to put things right after Wednesday night.

Doncaster come to the Eppleton CW ground level in third spot on six points alongside Sunderland with both clubs having matching records – two wins against Everton and Durham and two defeats, to Liverpool and Man City.

The two rivals even have identical goals scored and conceded records and a winner tomorrow would take third place.

The top two in each of the three pools qualify for the quarter-finals, plus the best two third-placed finishers.

As things stand, Reading with six points and a goal difference of plus three in group one, look favourites for one of the places.

In group three, second-placed Birmingham and Bristol, in third, meet this weekend with the WSL1 rivals both currently on nine points already and big goal differences.

Sunderland must win tomorrow and hope for results elsewhere to go their way.

Skipper Steph Bannon says the Lady Black Cats are simply focusing on playing well and moving up a level or two from Wednesday night’s disappointing display at Liverpool.

It won’t be easy – the Belles have had an outstanding season in WSL2 and will be joining Sunderland in the top flight in 2016.

“Doncaster have had a great season,” said Bannon. “They were good last year too and beat us at our place on a day we could have won the league.

“We know it’s not going to be easy for us.

“It will be a tough test but we know we need to put things right after Wednesday night.”

Sunderland will be without former Doncaster Belle, Tori Williams, who injured her ankle at Liverpool.

Head coach Carlton Fairweather faces a tricky juggling act tomorrow in terms of selection.

To date, he has rotated his squad throughout the Continental Tyres Cup.

However, given Sunderland go to Manchester City next Sunday for a crucial top-of-the-table WSL1 clash, he may well try to put out as strong a side as possible.

It could mean Rachel Furness and Abbey Joice are both restored to the starting XI tomorrow.

They came off the bench to transform Sunderland in midweek and are key to the club’s hopes.

Joice played a starring role in the 1-1 WSL draw at Birmingham last Sunday, when she scored the equaliser and made numerous chances.

Bannon said: “Joicey has had to wait patiently for her chance and has been on the bench a bit.

“But she’s been given her chance and taken it.

“Joicey was fantastic on Sunday and she created a few chances for us at Liverpool but unfortunately we couldn’t take any.

“She’s a great player and technician – she makes things happen for us.”

Sunderland will look to some magic from the diminutive wide player.

While they may be outsiders in the CTC, their three matches left in WSL1 are all vital fixtures and Fairweather will want to have some momentum going into the trip to Manchester.