Carlton Fairweather: Sunderland have surprised people

By Jo CurrieBBC Sport
Sunderland Ladies manager Carlton Fairweather
Manager Carlton Fairweather says Sunderland Ladies have been WSL1's "surprise package" this season

Sunderland Ladies manager Carlton Fairweather says his side have surprised people with their impressive start to the season.

The Black Cats are enjoying their first campaign in Women's Super League One after gaining promotion last year.

They are currently fifth in the table, with six points from their opening five matches.

"You can understand why people have looked at us as a surprise package," Fairweather told BBC Sport.

"The first part of the season has gone well but we've still got to keep our feet firmly on the ground."

Sunderland announced their arrival in WSL 1 by beating defending champions Liverpool 2-1 in the season opener away from home.

They also beat bottom side Bristol Academy but Fairweather insists the club are not getting carried away.

"The main objective for us is to make sure that we stay up.

"We're still looking behind us, you can't take anything for granted."

Next up for the North East outfit is a home tie with strugglers Birmingham this weekend and Fairweather says winning that game could be a big step towards securing top-flight football next year.

"If we can get something out of Saturday's game, that'll probably put a different spin on it.

"It gives you that chance of being safe."

Victory in that match will see Sunderland finish the first half of their campaign with nine points before the league stops for a nine-week international break.

Fairweather says he would have happily accepted that scenario at the start of the season.

"Yes I would, without a shadow of a doubt. You look at last season and Everton got relegated on four points."

Sunderland are expected to have midfielder Rachel Furness back for the match against Birmingham, after she missed the last two games with groin and back problems.

However, they will be without captain Steph Bannon, who has been ruled out after damaging right arm ligaments.