Mel Reay discusses Sunderland form and the development of her side ahead of Charlton test

Never too high in victory, it's no surprise that Mel Reay is never too low in defeat.

Sunderland may have suffered back-to-back league setbacks before the international break but a bonus point win over Sheffield in the Continental Cup allowed them to enter the international break on a high.

The bigger picture this season is survival and progression, worth remembering given the margins against strong Bristol City and Durham sides were fine.

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All the same, a win would be more than welcome against another strong opponents in Charlton Athletic on Saturday afternoon.

Sunderland boss Mel ReaySunderland boss Mel Reay
Sunderland boss Mel Reay

"That's what we're striving towards," Reay said.

"We do feel like we're getting there.

"The results have been close, one goal in it for the most part. The overall picture is two wins, two draws and two losses in the league and that's good form.

"But we certainly want to get three points on the board quickly just to give us that cushion going into a block of league games."

Sunderland are a side very much still developing, a young group finding their way in a new division.

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Reay's various gameplans reflect that, and are likely to continue being a feature through the campaign.

Against Durham, for example, Emily Scarr returned to offer more counter-attacking threat, in turn allowing Keira Ramshaw to bolster the midfield.

Versatility is a key feature of this squad and a real weapon for Reay as her groups navigate a tough fixture list.

"So for that Durham game we wanted that experience in the midfield because we knew just how strong they were there, and we wanted to flood it with as much experience as we could," Reay explained.

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"We felt it worked in the first half but we did taper off in the second half.

"We're still learning in every game we play and we're still developing relationships.

"Every time we play is slightly different and we have to do our preparation properly to get the right side out.

"It's important we have that versatility.

"If you look at [Neve], it's giving her opportunities. I know there's that thought of 'jack of all trades, master of none' but she has given herself great opportunities to always be on the pitch.

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"It's like that for a lot of the players, especially in the attacking area.

"Abbey Joice, Emma Kelly can play at right back, Keira for example can play as the nine, the seven, in central midfield, and that gives me options.

"It's a good problem for me to have."

The international break has allowed Reay, always with one eye on the future, to promote five players from the RTC setup into the senior environment.

A return to competitive action is nevertheless welcome, against an upwardly mobile side who have made a strong start to the campaign.

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"I'm good friends with Karen [Hills] and Riteesh [Mishra] so it will be a good battle," Reay said.

"They've gone professional this year which helps, but doesn't automatically mean they'll be better than us.

"They've got good players who'll hurt you if you don't defend properly, they're aggressive and look to go forward quite quickly.

"We'll come up with a plan and the girls are fully prepared."

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