HOLLY MANDERS insists she has no regrets about swapping Durham for Sunderland after the Black Cats’ FA Women’s National League North campaign was put on hold.

Middlesbrough-based Manders chose to drop down a division last year after becoming frustrated at a lack of game time at Lee Sanders’ Championship side.

Melanie Reay’s team sat at the top of the Northern Premier Division table last season but were denied promotion to the second tier when the campaign was declared null and void.

The Championship is now continuing through the current lockdown but all women’s football from Sunderland’s level down remains suspended.

Midfielder Manders says the situation is far from ideal but believes last summer’s transfer was a necessary step for her development.

The defiant 19-year-old said: “Obviously Durham are in the league above and they were doing really well, but I just thought I wasn’t getting a chance.

“I thought I’d try Sunderland because we won our league last year and were going to get promoted.

“But because of Covid, they didn’t, which is a bit annoying.

“It’s been a bit stop-start – I’ve been doing what I can but it’s frustrating at the minute with things stopping again.

“It was very frustrating [the lack of game time]. I really enjoyed it, and it’s annoying that if I’d have stayed there I’d have still been playing football, as that level is classed as elite sport.

“I wouldn’t like to say that I regret it, because I knew how I felt when I was there. It’s just more annoying that people who are playing for England, and who I’m on the same level as, are still training and getting better. Whereas I’m not doing anything and just can’t play.

“But Mel’s really good and has got good experience. I just want to keep improving and keep playing games, and scoring goals.”

Manders’ football career is fuelled by Entain’s, owner of Ladbrokes and Coral, partnership with SportsAid as part of its Pitching In initiative, which allows her access to funding for training, travel, equipment and mentoring.

The north-east star has represented England at youth level and was involved in the Under-19 setup before coronavirus decimated the sporting calendar.

She is relishing learning under the experienced Reay at Sunderland, however, who played on both Wearside and Tyneside and had steered the Black Cats to fifth when the season was suspended.

The visibility of women’s football continues to expand and Manders, who juggles football with a Sport and Exercise Science degree at Teesside University, harbours future England aspirations.

She’s a huge admirer of the Lionesses and says the earning potential in the women’s game is fuelling her journey to the top.

“England Women haven’t always had a high profile, so they’ve earned it to be where they are,” added Manders, who is treading the same SportsAid pathway as fellow female trailblazers Dina Asher-Smith and Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill.

“It’s really encouraging, because you know that’s it’s something you can do as a job. It’s not just a hobby anymore.

“With what’s going on now, it makes you realise what you want, and how badly you want things.

“The sooner we get back to normal, the better.”

Entain, owner of Ladbrokes and Coral, is proud to be championing the next generation of British sporting heroes by providing talented young athletes with financial support and personal development opportunities in partnership with SportsAid. As part of this three-year partnership, Entain are supporting a diverse group 50 of UK athletes per year from a variety of spots and para-sports. Visit entaingroup.com to find out more.