TABLE-TOPPING Sunderland Ladies hope the return of World Cup Under-20s star Beth Mead will help extend their season-long unbeaten run, as they prepare to face third-placed Reading in the FA WSL this evening.
Mead, 19, started all three games in Canada as England were eliminated at the group stage, with her 30-yard wonder goal against Mexico going viral.
As thousands of music fans gather at the Reading Festival, the Lady Black Cats travel to Farnborough on the back of three wins from the past four games, conceding just once.
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Both sides won their last game 4-0, with the hosts boasting a perfect home record and 16-goal striker Fran Kirby.
Head coach Claire Robinson is aware of Reading’s strengths: “We’re not going there complacent; they’re a very good young side. They’ve got Fran Kirby who’s flying at the minute, so part of our game plan is to limit what she’s doing and stop any deliveries.
“It’s an added bonus to have Beth back – she’s had some learning experiences out there and adds to the squad by bringing her qualities back to us.”
Mead’s seven goals have aided Sunderland’s promotion charge and Robinson wants to maintain momentum.
She said: “We’ll go into each game looking to get something but it’s very tight. We have to make sure that every game is like a cup final and that the girls remain focused.”
Robinson is also hopeful that long-term injury victims Abbey Joice, Natalie Gutteridge and Sarah McFadden will return “in the next few games” to strengthen their small squad.
Further down the league, eighth-placed Durham Ladies have signed England Under-17 international Jemma Purfield from Doncaster Belles ahead of their game at Millwall.
General Manager Lee Sanders is optimistic that the full back-cum-striker can revive a team whose performances have improved of late.
“We were bottom of the league a month ago. But we had a very good display against Doncaster, drawing 0-0, and the Manchester City game prior to that was encouraging too.”
The Wildcats are in danger of being cut adrift in the bottom three if they lose to Millwall on Sunday - the team directly above them.
“I think it’ll be tough, they’re slightly more established than us, with some powerful and strong girls. With it being our first season, we’re just finding our feet and seeing who can compete at this level.
“We’ve got to be mindful that our forward line is very young, so it’s a steep learning curve for them."