Sunderland face huge test at home to champions Chelsea

Beth Mead scored for Sunderland at Arsenal
Beth Mead scored for Sunderland at Arsenal
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Sunderland Ladies manager Carlton Fairweather wants his players to give WSL champions Chelsea a real battle at Hetton tonight (7.30pm).

The Lady Black Cats resumed their campaign after the mid-season break on Saturday with a 5-1 defeat at Arsenal.

We’ve got a batch of games coming up where we can affect our situation.

The game began badly with two own goals from skipper Steph Bannon and Sunderland were 4-0 down at the break.

They improved in the second half with Beth Mead netting a late consolation goal.

The defeat left them second bottom with just three points from seven league games so far – with memories of last season’s superb fourth-placed finish in their debut season in the WSL seeming very distant.

One of the highlights of last year’s campaign was a stunning 4-0 win over the Blues at Hetton thanks to a Beth Mead hat-trick and a strike from Abby Holmes.

That result lifted Sunderland to second in the table, but this year it’s more of a scrap against relegation.

“That game was probably our best performance last season,” said Fairweather, who is hoping to add a couple of experienced recruits to his squad this week.

“We have to go into tonight’s game, looking to build on the second half display at Arsenal.

“In the first half we gave away some sloppy goals, but the girls fought really hard after the break. It was much better and we have to take that into the Chelsea game.

“Of course we have to stop giving away bad goals and stay in the game.”

Fairweather’s squad has been badly hit by injuries this season, with new signings Rachel Pitman and Kylla Sjoman both suffering acl setbacks, and Lucy Staniforth having knee trouble that rules her out of tonight’s game.

The fourth signing this season, Krystle Johnson, failed to make an impact on Wearside and moved on to WSL2 side Everton last week.

With a touch of second-season syndrome kicking in – opposition sides are defending better against the threat of star striker Mead – and leading teams spending big to bolster their squads with foreign players, it has been a tough spell for the Sunderland squad.

But Fairweather is keeping pragmatic about their position and looking to kick on in coming weeks.

“We are where we are,” he said. “We’ve had bad luck with injuries, but that happens and it’s tough to compete with sides that are spending a lot and bringing in very good players.

“We’ve had a run of tough games against top sides, but we’ve got a batch of games coming up where we can affect our situation and we’ll be looking to do that.

“We’ll go into tonight’s game as underdogs so we’ll give it a real go.”

This is Chelsea’s first game after the mid-season break. They are second in the table, five points behind leaders Manchester City, with five wins and one defeat (to City) so far.

They include the likes of England stars Katie Chapman, Karen Carney, Eni Aluko, Fran Kirby, Claire Rafferty and Gilly Flaherty as well as South Korean star Ji So Yun.