Sunderland Ladies head into the new season with something to prove – to both themselves and their detractors.
That was the message from Tori Williams ahead of the club’s WSL1 Spring Series opener at Birmingham City this Sunday.
There is no pressure but, in the same breath, we’re not just going out for a kick-aboutTORI WILLIAMS
It’s a case of all-change at both Sunderland AND the women’s game.
The Lady Black Cats have undergone great upheaval, with Sunderland not just announcing the decision to return to a part-time model but removing head coach, Carlton Fairweather, who guided the side to fourth and seventh in his two seasons in charge.
Sunderland will start the new campaign minus four key players who left in the close season, Brooke Chaplen, Rachel Furness, Rachael Laws and Beth Mead, and will start with a new boss, Melanie Reay.
They start a new era in a new format, with the WSL1 Spring Series, a stop-gap competition with no relegation, ahead of a return to winter football in September.
Williams, who will play a key role in the centre of defence, says the squad are determined to make the new set-up work.
“The Spring Series will give us the chance to settle down again.
“There is no pressure but, in the same breath, we’re not just going out for a kick-about.
“We are going into the Spring Series like we would the main WSL winter league.
“It’s more a test run, there is no real consequence but we feel as though we have a point to prove because everyone is desperate for it not to work.
“I’m sure some people can’t wait for it [to go wrong].
“But we are motivated to not just prove people wrong but prove to ourselves that we can compete in the league.
“There’s no doubts in the team that we can compete.”
The central defender says the squad, which includes new signings, keeper Anke Preuss, and midfielder, Dominique Bruinenberg, are united and that makes Sunderland a strong force, despite the loss of several star players.
“I don’t think anyone here sees it as ‘we’ve lost X, Y and Z, how are we going to cope?’,” she said.
“What’s gone is gone, they have left, that’s football, and we move on.
“Everyone who is here is pulling in the same direction.”
Reay’s side face a tough Spring baptism, travelling to a side, who put the miser into miserly defence.
The Blues finished fourth in the 2016 WSL, conceding just 13 goals in 16 matches, and on Monday won through to the FA Cup final after beating Chelsea in the semi-finals.
“They are a really hard team to break down,” added Williams. “But we’ve been working hard trying to maximise our attacking options. I’m looking forward to that test.”