No question, for Pete Sixsmith, of straight home for pipe, slippers and tea in front of Saturday evening telly after the welcome home win against Stoke City. Instead, he joined more than 1,000 others willing Sunderland Ladies* to a victory that would have clinched an outstanding achievement, promotion to the top tier of the Women’s Super League. It was not to be, but glory may well be delayed, not denied …
To Chelsea 1963, Manchester City 1990, Charlton Athletic 1998 and quite a few more, we can add Doncaster Belles 2014 as a game Sunderland needed to win but didn’t.
Unlike the first three mentioned, this one probably won’t be terminal as we have two games left to secure the six points needed to clinch the title and replace Everton in the Women’s Super League top tier.
The team is good enough to overcome this disappointing blip and many Sunderland fans will be awaiting news from Oxford United and Millwall with quiet optimism rather than bated breath.
The scene was set for a splendid Saturday. The men’s team had had a rousing first win of the season in front of an excellent 42,000 crowd – 10,000 more than Villa attracted for Manchester City- and a good few of those who had witnessed Fletcher and Wickham dispatch Stoke City, arrived at the Hetton Centre hoping for a double.
It started well, with Doncaster on the back foot and when the always impressive Beth Mead opened the scoring in the 15th minute, taking advantage of some Stoke-like defending in the box, the large crowd of 1,117 sat back and waited for the Yorkshire team to fold and Sunderland’s procession to the title to continue.
But it wasn’t like that. Rachel Furness, a midfield powerhouse, failed to stamp her usual authority on the proceeedings and Doncaster clawed their way back into the game.
Their head coach Gordon Staniforth, once of Carlisle United and York City changed their game plan in the second half, and it led to a complete turnaround. Sunderland had no answer to this much more positive approach and it was little surprise when Jess Sigsworth equalised.
There was some huffing and puffing from our players, but no real chances and when Tori Williams scored a good second, our young team looked deflated. No leveller was forthcoming and the league was left wide open.
It was an enjoyable game to watch, free of the cynicism that is all too apparent at most levels in the men’s game.
Tackles are made fairly and when players go down, they get up as quickly as they can. Referees are not surrounded by snarling players, managers do not try to get from A to B via an opposing manager and fans do not boo a former player who happened to sign for another club because their manager no longer fancied re-signing him.
Like the excellent Rugby League that I witnessed at Headingley on Sunday, there is a deep-seated honesty about the women’s game. The skill levels are high and there is a feeling that the players actually enjoy what they are doing. How many Premier League players have a smile on their face as they play? Not many – the odd smirk perhaps, but not much smiling.
Promotion or not, I shall be paying more visits to Eppleton to watch this blossoming team. Others may well enjoy it, too.
WSL2 League Table:
P W D L F A Pts
1 Sunderland AFC Ladies 16 13 2 1 40 13 41
2 Doncaster Rovers Belles 15 11 3 1 43 14 36
3 Reading FC Women 16 11 2 3 54 20 35
4 Aston Villa Ladies FC 16 7 3 6 19 25 24
5 Yeovil Town Ladies FC 15 6 2 7 25 22 20
6 Durham Women FC 16 5 2 9 18 29 17
7 Watford Ladies FC 16 5 2 9 21 33 17
8 Millwall Lionesses 16 4 3 9 19 29 15
9 Oxford United Women 16 3 3 10 14 39 12
10 London Bees 16 2 2 12 15 44 8
Oct 12 Oxford United Women (a) Noon (at Abingdon United FC)
Oct 26 Millwall Lionesses (a) 2pm (Millwall FC)
* See the Sunderland Ladies AFC website at http://sunderland.fawsl.com/index.html