Sunderland Ladies are prepared for a “massive test” for the return of Women’s Super League 1 tomorrow.
The Lady Black Cats play stage a fourth v third showdown with Notts County at Eppleton CW (kick-off 2pm).
County, who are just two points above their hosts, bring a strong side featuring World Cup heroes Ellen White and Laura Bassett, whose cruel own goal put England out in a dramatic semi-final, though she went on to play a leading role in the third-place play-off win against Germany.
Notts have also signed another England star this week, with Arsenal’s Siobhan Chamberlain joining them on loan after ex-Sunderland keeper Carly Telford came home from Canada with a shoulder problem.
Sunderland head coach Carlton Fairweather said: “We’re all looking forward to the second half of the season and hopefully we can get something out of the game.
“Notts County have a lot of England girls in their team and beat us 4-2 when we played them at Meadow Lane, so this will be a massive test.
“We did have a made 15 minutes that night, so we’ll be looking to correct that.
“On the night, we created a load of chances, in actual fact we probably played better in that game and lost than when we did when we beat Birmingham 3-0.
“It’s swings and roundabouts I suppose, but we’re looking forward to this.”
Fairweather hopes the interest generated by England’s incredible run will reflect in a bigger crowd, with people giving women’s football a try.
“Definitely,” said the former Wimbledon star.
“Obviously, they’ll have three or four of England’s World Cup players plus a Canadian too, so that will raise interest in our game.
“We’re hoping for a good crowd and to continue the momentum which has been achieved by the England team.”
But Fairweather hopes Sunderland could benefit from County’s England girls finding their feet again at domestic level.
“It may be hard for the Notts County girls to adjust having to come back to league football and, physically, coming home from all those time zones,” her said.
“Hopefully, it could be a little bit of an advantage for us but you can never take anything for granted.”
Until England’s success at the World Cup, Stephanie Roche was one of the best-known names in women’s football.
Her signing was the big news for Sunderland in the mid-season break, with the Irish forward famous as the 2014 world goal of the year runner-up.
Roche will line up on the left flank and Fairweather is delighted to have one of the best left feet in the business in the side.
“We’ve been missing a left-sided forward player for quite a while so, at this particular time, Steph fits the bill very well there,” he said.
“She’ll add something to our game and to the team.”
Norway U23 keeper Hilde Olsen also joined the Lady Black Cats and looks set to deputise for Rachael Laws, who is still recovering from a knee problem
Admission is £4 for adults and £2 for concessions, with entry free for SAFC supporters who have renewed season cards for the 2015-16 campaign at the Stadium of Light.