Sunderland WFC boss’s blueprint for success.
Sunderland WFC boss Mick Mulhern says he will stick to his principles of promoting the very best home-grown talent as he looks to take his reigning champions to new heights.
The Lady Black Cats are a picture of stability with Mulhern taking his place as the longest-tenured boss in the womens’ game.
They followed up their National Premier League title in 2011 with a league and cup double last season, beating rivals Leeds on both occasions.
Those successes have established Sunderland as undoubtedly the top club outside of the newly-created WSL (Womens’ Super League).
That success has been built on a production line of young talent, off which has rolled the likes of Steph Houghton and Jordan Nobbs, now both full England internationals and Olympic stars plying their trade with Arsenal.
The loss of key figures may have crippled other clubs in an ultra-competitive environment with the ladies’ game growing in prominence with every passing season.
But the departed stars have been replaced by a new wave of talent with Mulhern making youth development an absolute priority for the club.
“We were stripped of some very good players a couple of years ago, but I have always believed in developing our own talent,” he said.
“We’ve had some players move on to the Super League in the past but that’s given us a chance to work with and develop other players.
“I’m also particularly pleased we don’t use loan players from Super League clubs, which a lot of sides at this level do.
"That says a lot about the quality we have in the system here at Sunderland.”
The likes of Kelly McDougall, Natalie Gutteridge and keeper Rachael Laws have become mainstays and form the backbone of the side along with long-serving captain Stephanie Bannon, who skippered the club in the 2009 FA Cup Final.
And Mulhern’s focus on development has seen the group augmented by some exciting young talent, including attacker Keira Ramshaw and young striker Beth Mead.
The latter has drawn plenty of attention since breaking into the side aged just 16. She was the country’s leading scorer last season with 31 goals and has begun the 2012-13 campaign in a similarly impressive vein.
Both Mead and Ramshaw have won recognition with England at under-19 level and have established integral roles within a formidable attacking unit which has generated 35 goals in just 10 games.
“Both Beth and Keira have been doing very well and as long as they continue to work hard at their game then they have bright futures ahead of them,” Mulhern explained.
“There are a lot of good players around now and it’s getting tougher at international level.
“If they stand still then they will find people going past them.”
He added: “Beth has received a lot of attention this year, but if opponents concentrate just on her they soon find problems coming from other areas.
“Keira is up there in terms of goals and the likes of Sophie Williams and Kelly McDougall have been dangerous.
“Kelly makes plenty of runs from midfield while our captain, Stephanie Bannon, has weighed in with a couple of goals and is dangerous at set pieces.
“Beth appreciates the service she gets but we are very much a team.”
A 4-1 home win over Charlton Athletic last weekend saw Sunderland open up a four-point gap at the top of the Premier League with a game in hand on second-placed Leeds.
The win snapped a two-game sequence of draws for the Lady Black Cats, who are now undoubtedly seen as a prize scalp by opponents as they chase a third successive league crown.
“Teams raised their game against us last year when we won the title and it’s even more so this season,” Mulhern explained.
“We emphasise that every week and keep changing our preparation to keep things fresh.
“We’ve had a bit of a blip recently with a couple of draws in games in which we didn’t play that well.
“Watford pinched a point and then we drew at Leeds in the cup, but the response last weekend [against Charlton] was fantastic.”