Sunderland Ladies head coach Carlton Fairweather admits his side need to be at their strongest defensively against Arsenal

Rachael Furness: Fitness test
Rachael Furness: Fitness test

Carlton Fairweather stopped short of saying Sunderland Ladies will park the bus against Arsenal.

But the Lady Black Cats head coach admits his side need to be at their strongest defensively tomorrow when they host the Gunners at Eppleton CW (kick-off 1pm).

Against Arsenal we need to be strong, organised, switched on and do the right things

Carlton Fairweather

Sunderland have faced Arsenal twice this season and conceded a dozen goals in the process - a 7-0 humiliation in the FA Cup semi-final and a 5-1 defeat in the Women’s Super League.

Admittedly, both matches took place at Borehamwood but a 12-1 aggregate score, wherever the location, is not one to inspire confidence.

But Sunderland are improving, having hammered Doncaster 4-0, while they should have collected a point at Birmingham City last time out, only to concede a late winner to the Blues.

“We’ll have to be defensively minded,” admitted Fairweather. “We’ll need to play a similar game plan to the one we had at Birmingham and look to counter-attack.

“It worked well at Birmingham and hopefully we’ve learned our lesson from that day.

“Our defence and work-rate was good and we probably deserved a point.

“Birmingham did have a lot of possession without really hurting us and Rachael [Laws] didn’t have a lot of shots to save.

“We dealt with the long throws all game until near the end when we switched off and it cost us.

“Tomorrow against Arsenal we need to be strong, organised, switched on and do the right things.”

If Sunderland can keep it tight, they have the perfect counter-attack weapon, Beth Mead.

The 21-year-old is fast over the ground and if the Lady Black Cats can release her, they have a chance.

Incredible sporting turnarounds have happened before and Sunderland’s players need to back themselves on home soil with the fans behind them.

“We’ve been building [form] over the last few games and the confidence has come back,” said Fairweather. “The girls have to believe in themselves.”

Fairweather doesn’t believe over-confidence will be a factor in the Arsenal camp, despite what’s gone on this season at their own ground.

“I don’t think there’ll be any complacency,” he added.

“Arsenal have such a good and big squad that whichever players are picked, those girls know they have to perform to stay in the team.”

Fairweather hopes to have midfield dynamo Rachel Furness fit to face the Gunners.

The 28-year-old Washington girl took a blow to the head in the defeat at Birmingham but the head coach hopes she will be given the all clear.