Having reverted back to a part-time model, this season was always going to be trying for the Lady Black Cats, the team an unwitting example of the chasm that can be formed when professional sides come up against semi-pro’s.
Having already played Reading countless times since the Royals were promoted, Sunderland kicked off their league campaign with a narrow win at Adams Park before being hit for six by Chelsea the following weekend. Another 1-0 followed, this time away to Yeovil Town before a scoreless league cup draw against fellow North East side, Durham.
With a win in the bag, a loss always seemed to be around the corner for Sunderland, a 4-1 loss at home to Liverpool preceded a Conti Cup win over Aston Villa before another loss, this time to Arsenal, another Conti Cup drawn then slender win over the Reds back in the cup.
The year ended with back to back losses on the road, first a bruising 5-1 at the hands of Everton before another loss away to Arsenal, halting their progression in the league cup. A 3-0 win over Birmingham City followed by a 3-0 at home to Manchester City, the number three plaguing the Lady Black Cats.
A 13-0 win over Brighouse Town in the early rounds of the FA Cup could have left the hosts thinking they’d already used up their goals for the year before another two wins. First away to Bristol City then at home to Aston Villa, three points in the league and progression to the next round of the cup respectively.
The good and the bad
Despite having strengthened in the summer, signing Kasia Lipka, Simona Koren, Ellie Stewart and Zaneta Wyne, the new year wore heavy on the squad and the loses began to mount. There were of course things for the fans to cheer, the team overall looked a much better side under Melanie Reay and Lucy Staniforth was playing like a woman possessed, Bridget Galloway and Lipka doing enough to catch the eye, as well as faithful defender Tori Williams.
The results, however, made for poor reading, the team without a win in the next nine outings, a loss to Sunderland proceeding a loss to Manchester City in the FA Cup, the fact the Citizens were taken to extra time speaking to the growth of the side. A score draw at home to Everton in March would be the lasts points Sunderland would pick up until the last day of the season.
Frequently not played off of the part, but flagging in games, unable to find the goals to turn the ties, Sunderland slipped further down the table. The season at least ending on a high as the Lady Black Cats came from behind to snatch all three points at home and leave Yeovil without a win.
As already stated, the team have looked far stronger since Reay took the reins from Carlton Fairweather, the return of Staniforth nothing but a boost for the team but too often it seemed as if the team were battling against the tide. Defensively a much stronger team than in the 2016 season, they remained a little too toothless in attack, the problems of a part-time team in a professional league.