Sam Allardyce’s men did it. Now Sunderland Ladies have followed suit to make sure the club is represented in the top flight of the women’s game.
The Lady Black Cats are all but safe in Women’s Super League 1 after fighting back from a goal down to hammer rivals Doncaster Rovers Belles 4-1 last night
Sunderland are now nine points above the Belles who still have three games in hand, but it would take something drastic now for Carlton Fairweather’s side to go down.
The Wearsiders had unlikely goal heroes – full-backs Tori Williams and Abby Holmes, with veteran midfielder Kelly McDougall adding a spectacular third and sub Madelaine Hill the fourth late on.
Sunderland moved up one place to seventh and the head coach is looking for this to be a catalyst for a strong finish.
“We’ve got to keep this going,” said Fairweather.
“We are not mathematically secure yet. There are still three games to go and we go all the way until the end of the season. It’s very important we try to finish as high as we can.”
Williams, playing against her hometown club, inadvertently had a hand in the opening goal for her former side in the ninth minute at the Keepmoat Stadium.
The Doncaster-born defender headed Sophie Barker’s cross against her own bar, which allowed Maz Pacheco to tap in the rebound from a yard out.
It was a blow to the Lady Black Cats, who had started well.
But Sunderland levelled in the 34th minute through Williams. Beth Mead showed brilliant skill to flick the ball over her marker’s head and threaded the ball through to the right-back, who tucked away her shot nicely from 12 yards.
Soon after, Holmes showed that what her fellow defender could do she could emulate.
The left-back cut in strongly from the flank before letting fly with her shot deflecting off a defender and looping over Nicola Hobbs.
Keeper Rachael Laws needed to be at her best after the re-start, tipping over Sam Tierney’s dipping long-ranger.
But Sunderland should have extended their lead in the 57th minute when Mead was clear on goal, only to push her shot inches wide of the keeper’s left stick.
Mead failed with another gilt-edged chance in the 68th minute. Barker was penalised for handball, only for Hobbs to dive low to her left to superbly turn Mead’s spot-kick out for a corner.
However, from Steph Roche’s flag-kick, Sunderland made it 3-1, McDougall volleying in from close range high into the net.
Sunderland were not finished, adding a fourth goal 10 minutes from time.
Hill had only been on the pitch seconds, but she showed skill and composure in the area in equal measure before shooting into Hobbs’s left corner.
It was a fine night’s work for the Wearsiders who were missing two key players, Rachel Furness (ankle) and Brooke Chaplen (knee), and had to recover from the early setback.
“The fact we gave them the first goal didn’t help,” said Fairweather. “We shot ourselves in the foot.
“But the girls showed fantastic character to get themselves back into the game.
“It could have been five or six, we created more chances.
“The goals are not just credit to the four individuals who scored the goals but the whole team. I’m very proud of the players.”
Doncaster: Hobbs; Barker, Little, Roberts, Pacheco; Simpkins (Rayner 58), Tierney, Lipka, Humphrey; Omarsdottir (Bakowska-Mathews 77), Murray (Cresswell 84). Subs not used: Moorhouse, Newborough, O’Donnell. Goal: Pacheco 15
Sunderland: Laws, Williams, Bannon, Sharp, Holmes, McDougall, Staniforth, Roche (Hill 79), Ramshaw (Kelly 87), Joice (Brown 71), Mead. Subs not used: Olsen, Beer, Potts, Leon. Goals: Williams 34: Holmes 39, McDougall 69, Hill 80
Referee: R Wooton