Preview: Sunderland v Blues

Lucy Staniforth is looking forward to going back to where it all began in the FA Cup on Sunday.

The attacking midfielder made her debut in senior football aged 16 for Sunderland, in her first spell at the club.

She joined Blues from the Black Cats in 2018, after a very successful two-year stint during which she became Captain and earned Player of the Season plaudits.

It's a very different Sunderland who take on Blues at the Eppleton Colliery Welfare ground on Sunday (2pm).

They have dropped from the top-flight to the FA Women's National League.

Blues, therefore, are firm favourites to progress to the Quarter-Finals.

"I loved it up there," said the England international. "I have some really fond memories and the team was really good.

"I really enjoy the FA Cup. It's always nice to play teams you don't necessarily associate with or think about. You get that opportunity in the competition.

"But for me, especially going home and taking the team home with me, to show them where I'm from is quite cool. 

"When I first started we were fully integrated with the men's team and when I left we were training out of an old university rugby pitch. So the transition from when I started to when I left was immense.

"They have gone through a massive change. There's maybe four or five players who were on the fringes of the first team when I was there.

"I know the coach (Melanie Reay) very well. She will definitely have the players fired up and thinking anything can happen on the day.

"They will probably play like that too and try and take any chances that they get.

"I am just really looking forward to going back there and seeing some old faces.

"Hopefully we will be able to just enjoy the game, too. In the previous round we thought Sheffield United would be a tough tie but it didn't end up being that much of a challenge for us because we played so well.

"It needs to be more of that this weekend."

Staniforth says a run in the FA Cup is something to be coveted.

"The further we can go the better as it builds so much confidence. You can start to build momentum.

"And you never know. I look at West Ham United and they got to the Final last year and played only one Women's Super League team, Reading, on the way."

Staniforth, who reached the 2009 FA Cup Final with Sunderland and again in 2013 with Bristol Academy, admits this season has not been plain sailing for her, or her teammates.

A lot of responsibility has fallen on her shoulders due to injuries to key players and the need to assimilate WSL rookies.

"I do like responsibility but I can't lie, the season has been really difficult for me. I think there have been some really hard challenges to overcome.

"Especially when the captain, Kerys Harrop was out of the team. I missed someone to get me going and that person to look at and pick you up.

"It has been a learning curve for me. There have been some good moments. Like when we played Arsenal away and Manchester City, I enjoyed the challenge. I loved those games because of the challenge they posed for us.

"But, yes, as you get older I suppose if you are having to deal with tough moments as a team you take the brunt of them and try and pull the rest through it with you."

"It's a cliché, isn't it, but you don't really learn much when everything is rosy; you learn through the hard times," Stanforth added.

"Unfortunately for some of the girls they were thrown in at the deep end.

"Especially some of the Academy kids, they were literally learning on the spot. Bloomin' Lily (Simkin), I don't know how she coped going to school, coming here, going to was admirable the way people have attacked those challenges and come out the other side.

"It has made us stronger and made us appreciate the players who have come back in as well, in terms of their leadership and experience. 

"Having those players back has given them more confidence to the players who hadn't played previously in the WSL.

"I just think everyone is feeling a lot better about the situation now.

"We're looking like a team that is going to win some games and get people excited. Definitely it's a lot more positive now we've brought in some good signings and managed to get people fit.

"It was down to riding the storm a bit in the first part of the season. People were putting in absolutely great shifts, all over the park. Regardless of whether we ended up winning games or not, it was a huge learning curve for many.

"Obviously it was difficult but everything is looking really positive now."

Blues' FA Cup tie away to Sunderland kicks off at 2pm on Sunday 16 February. 

Follow the live commentary on the @BCFCwomen Twitter page.