Sunderland Ladies start not just a new season tomorrow and a new calendar – but a new era.
The Lady Black Cats begin the Women’s Super League 1 season at Reading as top-flight female football returns to a winter game after a spell as a summer sport (kick-off 2pm).
Sunderland go into the campaign minus their captain marvel, Stephanie Bannon. The central defender and cornerstone of the club has retired after leading Melanie Reay’s side to fifth place in the WSL1 Spring Series.
Reay has installed midfield schemer Lucy Staniforth as skipper and believes she has the right woman for what is a big job.
“Lucy is an experienced player for us,” said Reay.
“Her professionalism and attitude towards the game is what left me with no doubt she was the player I wanted to take the armband and lead the team going into the new season.
“Lucy’s presence in midfield is very influential to the other players.
“And her game understanding is pivotal in organising the players and team to succeed when they are on the pitch.”
Staniforth has settled in nicely to her role off and on the pitch.
It’s bringing the best out of the 24-year-old, who scored both goals last Sunday when the Lady Black Cats beat Doncaster Rovers Belles in their final pre-season friendly.
While the gifted Staniforth assumes Bannon’s place as skipper, one of the club’s new signings looks set to fill her position at the heart of the defence.
Sunderland signed former Liverpool and Everton defender Ellie Stewart, from Blackburn Rovers.
Reay has been impressed with the 20-year-old, who has played youth international football for England.
“Ellie has a lot of experience from her time at Liverpool and especially Everton,” said the head coach.
“She’s been in a good couple of weeks and has settled in. She’s a good centre-back and good talker.”
Sunderland visit the Royals, who they finished one point and ome place above in the WSL1 Spring Series.
They play their opening home fixture at their new base, at Mariners Park in South Shields, against Chelsea next Saturday (kick-off 7.30pm).