SUNDERLAND Women boss Mick Mulhern says head girl Natalie Gutteridge is no longer his “unsung hero”!
The 23-year-old took the Player of the Match plaudits for her two goals which sealed the Lady Black Cats’ League Cup triumph against Leeds United at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium yesterday.
And Mulhern was delighted that Gutteridge, who has been at Sunderland for six years, took a deserved place in the limelight thanks to two fine headers.
“Natalie works so hard for the team,” said Mulhern. “She takes all the knocks, holds the ball up well and brings the other players into the game.
“In a lot of ways she is an unsung hero. She has a great work ethic and just gets on with it.
“Maybe a lot of her work goes unnoticed, but we all recognise what a great job she does for us.
“Getting the first goal early was a big boost for us, and I think we were in control throughout.
“It was disappointing when Kelly McDougall missed the penalty, but the girls responded really well. It was an excellent performance throughout the team.”
Mulhern made a tactical switch which worked a treat, pushing Gutteridge forward from her usual deep-lying role to a more traditional centre-forward position.
That meant 29-goal striker Beth Mead was pushed wide on the right flank, with the excellent Sophie Williams marauding down the left.
The Leeds full-backs suffered a torrid time as the Sunderland players’ pace and trickery left them chasing shadows at times. Both goals stemmed from runs and crosses by Williams.
“Beth’s been great this season, but we’ve played Leeds three times already and they knew all about her,” said Mulhern. “I just thought I’d change things around and give Leeds something different to think about.
“I thought Sophie in particular was superb.”
Mulhern was delighted to add the League Cup to the Women’s Premier League championship trophy they retained last Sunday with a victory at Cardiff in their last game of their league campaign.
“We always knew we had a good chance of winning the cup,” he said, “We won the league last season and, as well as retaining it this year, we wanted to go one better and we did that today.
“Playing in the Super League is an ambition for the future but we can’t think of that until 2014 at the earliest. We will play where we are and try to win as much as we can.
“Leeds pushed us close in the league and we beat them by just one point, and we’ve beaten them in the cup final. They are a good and well-organised side, I’m sure we’ll be competing hard with them again next season.”
Match report and pictures in tonight’s Sunderland Echo.