Kristjaan Speakman gives this update on Sunderland's short and long-term plans for women's football

Kristjaan Speakman says that work is continuing to fully integrate Sunderland's women's team into the club, and added that encouraging progress has been made given the logistical challenges of stepping up to the FA Women's Championship.

Mel Reay's side had seen their National League North campaign curtailed due to COVID-19 for the second season in a row earlier this year, but the club moved quickly when the FA opened up applications for promotion.

The turnaround for the new campaign was rapid, and with a mostly similar squad Sunderland have made a solid start to the campaign.

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With the league returning from a winter break this weekend, Sunderland sit in eighth position and most importantly have a six point cushion to the relegation zone.

Sunderland Ladies' boss Mel ReaySunderland Ladies' boss Mel Reay
Sunderland Ladies' boss Mel Reay

The league is currently going through a period of uncertainty with Coventry United, currently 11th in the division, in serious financial difficulty.

Sunderland's Sporting Director says that General Manager Alex Clark, who was employed earlier this year, is in the process of building on the club's general plan as the two teams forge ever closer ties.

"We have drawn up our strategy," Speakman told The Echo.

"We'd mapped out what would probably have been quite a skeleton blueprint in terms of how we saw it [developing], and Alex has been employed as our General Manager and will build that out moving forward.

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"In terms of reviewing the first half of the season, with fairly pleased with how it's gone when you consider how chaotic and fast-paced nature that we moved league, from the application process to building out the infrastructure and getting the stadium up to spec, there's been a lot going behind the scenes which you wouldn't normally have to do when you would be looking purely at performance," he added.

"So we're just trying to stabilise at the minute and we're just trying to build all the pieces of the jigsaw behind Alex and Mel.

"We're going to run women's football in exactly the same responsible, sustainable manner that we run the men's and boy's programmes, and therefore it's a bit of a slow burner just in terms of getting everything together and giving Alex the opportunity to map out exactly what the strategy looks like and all the relevant financial implications that come with that.

"I think it's fantastic that the ownership have endorsed getting women's football back on the agenda at Sunderland, and we're very proud that we've got a team that is completely integrated in the football operation.

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"All the staff involved are integrated with all the other domains, and therefore will hopefully over a period of time will be able to integrate the philosophy into the women's side as well.

"We think it's in a good place considering where we started. It's probably not exactly where we want it to be, but there's a lot of work to be done on that side of the programme considering where it came from.”

Reay's side face Crystal Palace at Eppleton on Sunday afternoon, with kick off at 2pm.

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