The big surprise of the inaugural FA WSL season has been that Sunderland were not selected - if going on footballing ability alone they would certainly be there. They won the National Division and then went on to prove they can mix with the big teams by defeating Lincoln and taking Arsenal into extra time in the FA Cup. Long-serving skipper Steph Bannon speaks to WSR about her side.
INS: Megan Beer, Nicola Devine, Beth Gardener, Lindsay McCubbin (all Newcastle), Beth Mead (Middlesbrough).
GROUND: Hetton Centre , Park View, Hetton le Hole, DH5 9NE
"We did quite well but we were a bit disappointed that we didn't get to the League Cup final if I am honest. Last year was very promising and very pleasing because we did lose a lot of players so it was good for us to re-group and go again. Winning the league was a massive achievement, everyone enjoyed it and it is something we would love to do again."
"I think we have to aim to at least be in and around challenging for the league title, we would be disappointed if we weren't. We have had a good pre-season and I see no reason we can't be up there. Our first game has been cancelled so we still have two weeks to go which is a shame because you always look forward to the first one so it being off is a bit of a nightmare. Having said that it gives us a bit more time to prepare to go away to Watford, which everyone is buzzing for now."
KEY PLAYER: RACHAEL LAWS
"I don't really think we have one key player. We have signed Beth Mead up front, we have Kelly McDougall in the centre of midfield who will probably pull most of the strings for us and then I have to look at our goalkeeper Rachael Laws. I think, as much as you can have a great team going forward, if you don't have a great goalkeeper behind you, you are going to struggle. Luckily we have a good keeper and if she is on form it sets a good precedent for the team in front of her to do well."
ONE TO WATCH: KEIRA RAMSHAW
"I think I would have to look at some of the younger players coming through and would probably say Keira Ramshaw. Very solid, she plays right wing for us but can also play up front, she has great pace, great touch and she is a great attribute to add to our team. She is certainly one to look out for. She came back from the [England under 19] training camp and was on fire so that is good for us."
BEST SIGNING: BETH MEAD
"Beth is a centre forward who we have brought in from Middlesbrough and I think she will be key for us. Everyone needs a goalscorer in their team and I think she will probably be ours."
CAPTAIN: STEPH BANNON
"I love being captain, there is no better honour than being captain of the club you have grown up playing for and that you love so much. I think all the lasses really enjoy training and just to be the leader of them and to lead them out every week is a massive achievement and one that I thoroughly enjoy and hope to continue for years to come."
MANAGER: MICK MULHERN
"He is a massive asset to the club and one we never want to lose. He is now probably the longest serving manager in women's football now Vic Akers has left and he has served us very well. Everyone learns from him all the time and we have a lot of respect for him. We have learnt a lot from him and I wouldn't change him for the world!"
Who do you think will be the biggest title threat? "I think we will be looking at Nottingham Forest, Watford and Barnet. I know Barnet just escaped relegation last year but they managed to get to the League Cup final and did well in the FA Cup, I think they are going to be tough. Nottingham Forest are a strong, physical side who are going to be around the top and Watford have signed a few decent players this summer."
Can you predict the WPL's round one scores?
Aston Villa 0-3 Barnet
Charlton 0-2 Nott'm Forest
Leeds 2-2 Watford
Reading 3-1 Coventry
Sunderland - Cardiff
WSR's Verdict: 1st. Impossible to look beyond Sunderland this season. A young, talented side, they should probably be plying their trade in the FA WSL now but have made the best of their omission by lifting the National Division title last season and will be the ones to beat again this year.
Steph was speaking to David Brenchley . Sunderland's first game of the season against Cardiff has been called off due to a Wales international fixture so they travel to Watford to open their account on Sunday 28 August with a 1400 kick off.
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Photography: Michael Bradley
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