BEAUTIFUL it was not, but Sunderland Ladies are today sitting pretty in the upper echelons of the Women’s Super League.
The Lady Black Cats are third in WSL1 following their second victory of the season, when a second-half fightback beat Bristol Academy.
Sunderland had started Saturday’s game in a rare position as favourites given Bristol arrived at Eppleton CW as the division’s bottom side, without a goal to their name.
But the South West outfit tore up their copy of the script by taking a 10th-minute lead through Angharad James.
Sunderland hit back through Brook Chaplen just 24 seconds into the final 45 minutes, with Rachel Furness heading in the winner from sub Vicky Greenwell’s free-kick to atone for the mistake which helped gift Bristol the lead.
“That error was disappointing, but I’m just thankful that we pulled it back and came away with three points,” said Furness.
“I don’t care who scored the winner – it’s the three points that we wanted and have got.
“Bristol are a physical side who are fighting as much as we are.
“We’re the underdogs in this league, so we’re a fighting team and we were determined to get the three points and we’ve come away with that, so we’re happy.
“If you’d asked us at the start of the season after playing Liverpool, Manchester City and Bristol how many points we would have had, I don’t think we would have said six.
“We aim to get as many points as we can and we’ve had a great start and hopefully we can take that into the next game.”
While Sunderland’s win does not guarantee their WSL1 place for 2016, it allows them to look up, rather than down. And hopefully they will kick on from here.
They have shown a bit of everything in their three matches to date.
At Liverpool, it was ruthless finishing and defensive resilience, while game two was characterised by some quality football against Manchester City, albeit in defeat.
And the win over Bristol needed some good old-fashioned blood and snot and Sunderland delivered.
Now, head coach Carlton Fairweather and assistant Mel Reay will look to bring all three together in matches at Arsenal on Sunday and Notts County a week on Wednesday.
They will also need to eradicate, or certainly reduce, individual mistakes or lack of concentration.
An error from Furness led to Bristol celebrating their first goal of the campaign. The midfielder’s blind pass in the middle of the park allowed James time and room to run forward and fire from outside the box.
It was a good, low shot into the keeper’s bottom right corner, though Rachael Laws may be upset not to have got to it.
To the credit of both long-standing Cats stars, they did not let it affect them.
Furness rose highest for a Beth Mead corner and, while her header was well wide, it was a sign of what was to come later.
In fact, it was hard to recall the midfielder losing an aerial challenge all game.
Laws saved from Nadia Lawrence in the 17th minute and held on well to a long-range James shot when she was allowed to advance from midfield unchallenged. Sunderland had not learned their lesson.
But, overall, Sunderland were the dominant force.
Chaplen was a constant menace to the Academy defence, Mead and Keira Ramshaw had some nice interchanges and Abby Holmes got forward into advanced positions.
The home side did everything but score.
They went agonisingly close from a slick 44th-minute move between Chaplen and Ramshaw. The latter’s great cross was met by Mead, whose header smashed off the bar.
At the death, Tori Williams was wide with her right foot.
Whatever Fairweather and Reay said inside the confines of the dressing room at the interval certainly had the desired effect.
Sunderland were level just 24 seconds after referee Graeme Fyvie re-started play. The Wearsiders attacked down the right, with Mead pulling the ball back and Chaplen firing home with her right foot for her second WSL1 goal since her move from Everton.
Diving keeper Mary Earps got her fingertips to it but could only divert it onto her right-hand post and in.
Sunderland maintained a stranglehold on the game, with Mead, Holmes, Ramshaw and Sarah McFadden all impressing in the final third.
It looked only a matter of time before another goal came, though it was almost at the other end, where Laws had to be alert to palm over the bar a ricochet off Ramshaw after Bristol had a rare sortie outside their ow territory.
Sunderland, though, were ahead in the 72nd minute. Mead, who has been involved in every Cats goal this season, was brought down down the right.
Greenwell, on for Abbey Joice, delivered the perfect free-kick with her trusty left foot and Furness headed home with real venom from eight yards.
Alas, the Cats allowed themselves to be forced back and good defensive work by Holmes was required in the 82nd minute.
There were still two good chances at the other end, but Mead was denied on both occasions by Earps.
But the drama was not over.
Sunderland switched off inside their own area in the third minute of stoppage time, but, just when Bristol sub Gabbi Bird looked set to pull the trigger, Holmes showed she was very much switched on with a match-winning interception.
SUNDERLAND LADIES: Laws, Holmes, Sharp, Bannon, T Williams, Joice (Greenwell 68), McFadden (McDougall 80), Furness, Chaplen, Ramshaw, Mead. Subs not used: Harkness, Wilson, Kelly, Bass, Gutteridge
BRISTOL ACADEMY: Earps, Dykes, Matthews, McCatty, Lawrence, Ladd, Murray, Watts, Ingle, James, Fantom-Brown (Bird 88) Subs not used: Passariello, A Evans, G Evans, Dalton.
Referee: Graeme Fyvie. Attendance: 523