Former Sunderland Ladies boss Mick Mulhern hails Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton and England Women's World Cup stars
Former Sunderland Ladies manager Mick Mulhern is backing the North East contingent to lead England to their first Women’s World Cup Final.
The Lionesses are looking to create history in France this summer as they bid to become only the second England senior team to reach the final of a World Cup this summer.
Holders USA or hosts France will be their semi-final opponents as those two sides face each other on Friday night for the right to face Phil Neville’s side in Lyon on Tuesday.
The North East is well represented in the Lionesses squad this summer, with no fewer than seven players connected with the region named in the squad ahead of the tournament.
Wearsider Jill Scott, Durham-born captain Steph Houghton, Northumbrian midfielder Lucy Bronze, South Shields-born Demi Stokes and Tynesider Carly Telford were all selected by the former Manchester United and Everton star.
Former Sunderland Ladies players Lucy Staniforth and Beth Mead complete the list of players with North East links.
That number would have been swelled further had Stockton-born midfielder Jordan Nobbs – a player rated by Mulhern as one of the best midfielders in the world - not suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury playing for Arsenal last November.
Mulhern is well placed to comment on the development of the players after he played a key role in Sunderland Ladies’ rise to the Women’s Super League as the club’s manager and Centre of Excellence director.
He told the Echo “I would back them to get to the final – there is no reason why they can’t.
“Obviously it will be tough because they have to face either the holders or the hosts in front of a partisan crowd.
“But they’ve shown their mental and physical strength by coming through a tough test against Cameroon last weekend and they did the same against a strong Norway side.
“You wouldn’t really want to choose between France and the USA, because they’re both amongst the best in the world.
“But you have to beat the best to win the World Cup and Phil Neville has instilled a belief in that squad that makes me think they can do it.
“Are the USA beatable? Yes, they are.
“Are the French beatable? Yes.
“And in the other half of the draw, Germany are probably the best in there and they are beatable too
“It won’t be as straightforward as that, but they have beaten these sides and they can do it again.”
A number of the region’s representatives in Neville’s squad have shone brightly during their run to the last four of the competition.
Captain Steph Houghton has led from the front and scored in the controversy-laden second round tie against Cameroon.
And midfielder Jill Scott also got on the score-sheet with the opening goal in the 3-0 quarter-final win against Norway on Thursday.
But it is right-back Lucy Bronze that has perhaps shone brightest over the duration of the last three weeks.
The Lyon star was hailed as the best player in the world by Neville ahead of the tournament and Mulhern would not disagree with that assessment.
“Lucy Bronze could play anywhere you asked her to play,” explained the man recently named as assistant manager at Northern League club Hebburn Town.
“When I had her at Sunderland, she was a midfielder.
“She moved back into defence and now she is unquestionably the best right-back in the world, and I think Phil is right to say she is amongst the best players around.
“That right-hand side of the team is so strong.
“Nikita Parris has been outstanding down that side and it’s a real plus for the manager.
“Lucy has his trust and belief and that is a reason why she has taken her game to another level during the tournament.”
The Lionesses have captured the imagination of football supporters around the country – with the BBC reporting record figures for the women’s game for their last three fixtures.
With such a strong North East representation in the squad, Mulhern is hopeful that the exploits of the likes of Bronze, Houghton, Scott and Telford will inspire a whole host of new stars from the region over the coming years.
He said “We should be proud of the North East representation and it shows the calibre of talent in the region.
“It has always been there, it’s just a case of bringing that out and giving it a chance.
“Now, with the progress made and the interest shown in the region, it’s about the next generation, are they inspired by what the girls are doing during the tournament?
“Can they be the next Jill Scott? Can they be the next Lucy Bronze or Steph Houghton?
“This is a really exciting time for the women’s game, and it is a golden opportunity to create something long-lasting.”