Sunderland Ladies boss Carlton Fairweather has taken a leaf out of Claudio Ranieri’s play-book for the Black Cats’ second season in the top flight.
Fairweather’s side arguably over-achieved during their debut campaign in Women’s Super League 1 last year after challenging for the title and eventually finishing in fourth spot.
But, despite immediately acclimatising to the top flight after promotion, Fairweather is wary of ‘second season syndrome’ prior to Sunderland beginning their campaign against Reading tonight (6pm kick-off at Eppleton CW).
Fairweather has followed the lead of Ranieri at Premier League leaders Leicester, who continued to stress the importance of reaching the safety mark from relegation, before the Foxes could even think about casting their gaze further up.
“We have to make sure we don’t get second season syndrome and make sure we’re firing on all cylinders,” said Fairweather.
“Again, the main objective is to make sure we accumulate enough points to stay up, and then look at it again and set different targets.
“Obviously, you’d like to finish higher up and that’s what we’ll work towards.
“But, from a psychological point of view, you have to make sure you can do that before reassessing.
“I said that a lot last season and it’s similar in the men’s game. Claudio Ranieri has been top of the league and people have been asking him about it, and he says it’s one game at the time, which is the right way to do it.”
Tonight’s opponents, Reading, are in the same boat as Sunderland from 12 months ago after topping WSL 2 last season and earning promotion.
“Coming into this first game against Reading, it will give us a benchmark of where we are or where we need to be,” said Fairweather.
“They’ve just come up, everything is going to be new and a lot of teams won’t know much about them.
“You have to give them the respect they deserve after they won their league. We won’t be taking anything for granted.”
Fairweather’s options have been boosted by the capture of four summer signings – Krystle Johnston, Rachel Pitman, Kylla Sjoman and Lucy Staniforth – with 12 players at the club now on full-time contracts.
But Sunderland are still facing an uphill battle to compete against those sides with the biggest bank balances. “You expect Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool to be up there after spending what they have done,” he added.
“Those sides are full of international players from all over the world, whereas, in our side at the moment, we’ve only got one or two internationals.
“That’s what we’re competing against week in, week out.
“The fact that we did what we did last year was excellent, but can we do that again?
“That’s the challenge now.”