'Getting stronger': Every word from Mel Reay on Sunderland form, team news & January plans

Sunderland boss Mel Reay reflects on two River Wear derbies and looks ahead to the visit of Blackburn Rovers

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Sunderland return to Championship action on Sunday looking to extend their unbeaten run to ten games.

The Black Cats sit top of the table after a 1-0 win over Durham last Sunday, with Katie Kitching's free kick on the stroke of half time proving the difference.

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The two sides then met in the Conti Cup at Eppleton on Wednesday night, with Durham taking the bonus point after the penalty shootout which followed the 2-2 draw.

Mel Reay's side face Blackburn Rovers at Eppleton on Sunday (2pm kick off), and the head coach spoke to the media on Thursday to give an update on all the latest at the club. You can read more below...

On the Conti Cup penalty defeat to Durham on Wednesday night...

"We made seven changes to the XI and on Wednesday night because it's important that we give these players an opportunity to get out on the grass and showcase what they can bring to the side. I was really disappointed with the goal, to concede that early and in that manner. But after that, I thought we were really brave on the ball and played some of our best football in a while. We built well from the back, and we won the set pieces we scored from because of the way we built through the thirds.

It's important that we have that depth and I was delighted to bring the young players into the squad, they're showing their worth in the academy games and in training. We have a constant dialogue with Courtney [academy boss] and her coaching team, and these players are here on merit.

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For Mary Corbyn to play 90 minutes at that level when she was playing grassroots football last season is a phenomenal achievement. She was a real threat for us in the game.

On the 1-0 win at Durham in the Women's Championship last Sunday, which extended the unbeaten league run to nine games and put Sunderland top of the league....

"It's a tough place to go and I thought it was a really professional performance. I was delighted with the way we started, I was delighted with the way we came out in the second half as well because we were right at them, and sometimes we can have a bit of a lull.

Overall, just a professional performance.

On winning without two of the regular back four so far this season...

"The difference with this squad is that they're all versatile and they can play a number of different positions. I actually think left back is Grace Ede's best position, and she was excellent in the game. She shows great maturity for someone so young, really comfortable with the ball at her feet and she gives us a really good balance as well as he's a left-footed player.

On the injury latest and the challenge Blackburn Rovers will pose on Sunday...

"We haven't got any fresh injuries from Wednesday night which is good.

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Jenna is seeing a specialist about her shoulder. Beyond that I don't want to say too much, because if I give too much of an insight I'm just handing over information to the opposition. So beyond that, I'll keep it close to my chest.

Blackburn have struggled over the last couple of weeks to get those positive results but that makes a dangerous team on Sunday because they're going to be wanting to rectify that very quickly.

We'll recover today [Thursday] and then it's all eyes on Blackburn, it's a game we want to win and we'll do whatever we can to make that happen.

We don't quite know how they're going to set up, but we'll concentrate on ourselves and I'm a big believer that with the squad we've created, if we're at the races we can hurt any side. I think we're getting better, with bringing so many new players in, I think you can see the relationships are getting stronger with time.

On handing a debut to Ella West in the Conti Cup on Wednesday...

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"With the injury to Amy [Goddard], Ella has had an opportunity to step up and be part of the training squad. She's a tall girl, 16 and with a bright future I think.

She's absolutely loved the last ten days, basically being a full-time player. She'll probably be disappointed to go back but she knows the standard now so she can hopefully take that back with her.

On being named the Women's Championship Manager of the Month for October...

“I know this is supposed to be a personal award, but I see it more as recognition for the great hard work done by a tremendous set of players and just rewards for the diligent efforts made by our staff behind the scenes. Long may it continue.