Sunderland Ladies set to welcome Durham Women in first North East derby of the Women’s Championship season

It will be a significant day for Melanie Reay and her Sunderland Ladies team on Sunday (KO noon) when they host Durham Women in the River Wear derby at Eppleton Colliery Welfare.

By Joe Ramage
Friday, 8th October 2021, 4:36 pm

The Black Cats are enjoying life in the Women’s Championship having been granted promotion from the National League North, the third tier of the women’s football pyramid, in the summer after the league was declared null and void for the second season in a row because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

And in a way it is no less than Reay’s side deserve having had to endure three years in the wilderness from women’s football’s top two tiers after being demoted from the Super League in 2018.

Despite finishing seventh, the Black Cats were relegated following their decision not to apply for a licence.

Sunderland Ladies welcome Durham Women to Eppleton Colliery Welfare on Sunday. (Photo credit: Chris Fryatt)

It came after a shake up by the FA who took the decision to restructure women’s football by including a new, fully-professional top flight and a semi-professional second tier, and when Reay’s side finally did appeal for a licence, it was turned down.

It was a devastating blow to the North East scene of women’s football - where stars such as Jill Scott, Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, Jordan Nobbs, Beth Mead and Demi Stokes all started their playing careers.

But while the uncertainty surrounded Sunderland, the void in women's football in the North East needed to be filled. It is a mantle which Durham Women have taken hold of in recent years.

Last season the Wildcats, who moved to their new home at Maiden Castle, narrowly missed out on promotion to the Super League with Lee Sanders’ side falling just short of full-time outfit Leicester City.

Charlotte Potts rejoined Sunderland Ladies this summer. (Photo credit: Chris Fryatt)

But following a comfortable win over Lewes last time out to take them to the top of the table, Durham already look as though they could be the ones to beat this season.

And that, you feel, adds an extra motivation to Sunday’s derby clash for Reay’s Black Cats as they look to wrestle back the title of North East’s top women’s team that they never truly lost. Throw in the number of Wildcats with Sunderland connections and it’s a derby with added incentive for both teams.

Becky Salicki, Lauren Briggs, Mollie Lambert, Sarah Robson, Danielle Brown, Bridget Galloway and Abby Holmes all have ties to Sunderland in their careers - Briggs and Lambert featuring the last time the two sides met in a cup tie back in 2017.

Meeting’s between the two sides have been few and far between since Durham’s inception in 2014 but just four points separate the teams when they meet this weekend.

Reay’s side have adjusted well to a higher level of the pyramid and are unbeaten at home this season - albeit both of those fixtures came at the Stadium of Light.

A lot has changed at both ends of the Wear in those four years, but the first North East derby of the Women’s Championship era could well be a foundation for how the next four years will shape up.

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