Chelsea looking to close gap on leaders at Sunderland
The Blues are unbeaten in the Spring Series but chasing Liverpool atop the table
Unbeaten Chelsea will look to gain ground on FA WSL 1 Spring Series leaders Liverpool when they take the field against seventh-placed Sunderland on Sunday.
The Blues sit second in the table after being held to a 2-2 draw on Wednesday in a thrilling London derby against Arsenal - their first dropped points of the campaign.
Sunderland suffered their first loss of the Spring Series last time out and will be looking to bounce back with home support on their side at the Hetton Centre.
The defeat that ended the Black Cats’ unbeaten run came at the hands of league leaders Liverpool, who triumphed 4-0 at the Select Security Stadium.
A fortnight before, Sunderland beat Bristol City 1-0 after commencing the Spring Series with 0-0 draws against both Arsenal and Birmingham.
Prior to the London derby with Arsenal, Chelsea were in spectacular form, dismantling Reading 4-0 away from home and hammering Yeovil 6-0 in the season curtain-raiser.
Chelsea and Sunderland have already met this season, with the London outfit securing a 5-1 victory in the SSE Women's FA Cup quarter-final thanks to doubles from Ramona Bachmann and Hannah Blundell, as well as a Drew Spence effort.
The sides met twice last summer in FA WSL 1 and the Blues also had the edge in both fixtures.
In the first clash, the Black Cats almost secured a vital away point but Chelsea came from behind to win 2-1 thanks to a glancing header from Fran Kirby.
The reverse fixture wasn’t as tight, a Claire Rafferty brace opened the scoring in a 5-0 win for the Blues at the Hetton Centre.
ONE TO WATCH – Drew Spence (Chelsea)
In Sunday’s fixture midfielder Spence has the chance to continue an impressive run of scoring in all three of the Blues’ Spring Series games so far.
Her clinical finish in injury-time looked to have secured three points against Arsenal on Wednesday, only for the Gunners' Jordan Nobbs to equalise with the last kick of the game.
A versatile midfielder, Spence has been with the Blues since moving from Fulham in 2008, and gained her first England cap in October 2015 against China.
WHAT THEY SAID
Melanie Reay, Sunderland manager:
“We had a taste of what Chelsea can offer in the FA Cup so it’s not too dissimilar from what Liverpool threw our way on Wednesday.
"We’ve reflected on the loss and will make sure we’re a little bit harder to beat on Sunday.
"I think that we just started really slowly against Liverpool, we’ve done really well for the opening three games and that lack of concentration at the beginning of the game gave us a mountain to climb.
“They didn’t do anything we didn’t know that they were going to do which is the frustrating thing. We didn’t manage to cope with what they threw our way and with individual mistakes sometimes it’s hard."
Crystal Dunn, Chelsea forward:
“They've (Sunderland) started better than some people would have expected and I think that's the nature of this league.
“You have to show up on the day and you have to perform and I think Sunderland have been doing a good job so far in the Spring Series.
“It's going to get quite congested for us now in the next few weeks and this is the time where it's important for us to have a deep bench and I think that's exactly what we have.
“Anyone on this team can step on to the field and perform, so with the Sunday-Wednesday kind of routine I think it's just important that everyone is ready.
“The girls who came on against Arsenal made an impact and, as I said, it's not about the starting 11, it's probably about all 18 players in the squad or however many are on the bench.
“Everybody has to be prepared.”
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Hetton le Hole