Richard Laverty previews each team before the FA Women’s Super League (FA WSL 1) Spring Series begins on April 22.
After taking the FA WSL by storm after promotion in 2015, Sunderland and Carlton Fairweather returned to reality with a bang during 2016. Despite the best efforts of star player Beth Mead, Sunderland were in a relegation scrap for the majority of the campaign and were only aided by the fact Doncaster Rovers Belles couldn’t buy a point.
This year hasn’t been any easier. The club announced they were reverting to a part-time model, which has now seen not only their manager depart, but key players such as Mead, plus the likes of Rachel Furness and Brooke Chaplen.
Where to Find Sunderland
The Hetton Centre, Hetton-le-Hole
After Fairweather’s departure last month, assistant manager Melanie Reay has stepped up to bring the quota of FA WSL 1 female managers back to three for 2017. Reay is a former striker for Newcastle United and Sunderland and is also the cousin of former Newcastle legend Alan Shearer. It’s a tough job to step into but with players still training full-time and plenty of coaching experience under her belt, Reay will relish the opportunity.
Former 2014 FIFA Puskás Award nominee Roche is now a household name in the world of women’s football and with Mead gone, a large part of the goal-scoring responsibility could fall on the Irish striker’s shoulders. Capable of playing across the forward line, Roche now has the chance to lead the attack for Sunderland in 2017.
After a successful spell with Liverpool, midfielder Staniforth returned home to Sunderland last January and the 24-year-old is now reaching the peak years of her career. One of the few key players at Sunderland who hasn’t yet moved elsewhere, she showed her quality last season and will take on an even bigger role this season.
Despite her role as a defender, Williams has popped up with a couple of crucial goals in recent times for Sunderland and has taken on the mantle of becoming a real leader for the Mackems since joining from Doncaster in 2015. With Sunderland likely to be doing more defending than ever, Williams will have to continue to show her quality in the Spring Series.
One to Watch
We didn’t see much of Sunderland’s summer signing last year but former Verona attacker Leon came to England highly rated and with a strong CV, which included time spent in America where she won several awards for her performances at the college level. An imposing forward with physical strength, Leon could be the surprise package for Sunderland if she gets a bigger run in the team during the upcoming Spring Series.
Sadly for Sunderland, most of their business has been players leaving the club rather than players coming in after the club decided to revert to a part-time model. The biggest absentee this season is that of Mead, who has joined Arsenal while midfield duo Chaplen and Furness have moved to Reading.
Youngster Emma Kelly left for Middlesbrough toward the end of 2016, but the Mackems have managed to bring in two new faces over the winter: midfielder Dominique Bruinenberg and goalkeeper Anke Preuss.