SUNDERLAND moved back to the top of the Women’s Premier League with a hard-fought win at Hetton yesterday.
The win was a welcome and vital response after a first league defeat in 18 months the previous Sunday.
Leaders Watford crashed 3-0 at third-top Leeds, who are now right in the thick of the title race.
The Lady Black Cats started cautiously, though Sophie Williams had a dangerous cross well held by City keeper Andrea Worrel.
At the other end, Lynda Shepherd tried her luck from 20 yards but cleared the bar.
Williams sent in another dangerous coss from the left, which striker Beth Mead headed just wide.
Fine play down the right between Megan Beer and Keira Ramshaw resulted the ball being switched out to Williams, who crossed again. Kelly McDougall headed across the face of goal, but Mead just failed to add the finishing touch.
A long ball over the top almost caught the home defence out as Buffel headed wide under pressure from Gemma Wilson.
The deadlock was broken after 38 minutes, though, with a super strike form top scorer Mead. A patient build-up saw the ball played in to the edge of the City box and Mead cleverly made space before thumping home a superb shot.
Sunderland carved out an early chance in the second half following good play between McDougall and Abbey Joice. The ball was played through to Sarah McFadden, who had an effort hacked off the goal-line.
McFadden soon flashed a header just over, and then combined with Williams to to set up Mead, whose shot was cleared the second attempt.
As the game developed, City were finding more space as they pushed for an equaliser. A free-kick put Abbie McManus in the clear but keeper Rachael Laws made a great block before the ball was cleared.
As the game entered the final minutes, Sunderland were living dangerously as they dropped deeper to defend their advantage.
Saffron Jordan should have done better for the visitors as she shot wide from a good position before a Lyndsay Savage free-kick caused a moment of panic in the home defence as Megan Beer cleared off the line.
Manager Mick Mulhern said: “I was looking for a response from my players after last week’s performance and I certainly got one.
“We really dug in against a very good City side. The girls should take a lot of heart from their performance and build on it moving into the last four games of the season.”
Sunderland: Laws, Beer, Bannon, Wilson, Greenwell, Ramshaw, McFadden, Joice (Atkinson), McDougall, Williams, Mead. Subs not used: Alderson, Salicki, Holmes, Kelly, Christon.