SUNDERLAND bowed of the FA Cup at the fifth round stage on the back of a spirited effort against the best side in the country.
It was always going to be a big ask for the Black Cats to get past the WSL Champions and a goal in each half saw the game go the way of the form book.
But no one could complain at a chilly, blustery Eppleton Colliery Welfare Ground that the home side did not give it a go in front of more than 300 fans.
Sunderland kept it tight in the opening stages, restricting Liverpool to a long-range shot from Gemma Bonner wide of the target in the fifth minute and a better effort from Gemma Davison in the sixth which home keeper Rachael Laws held confidently.
The Lady Black Cats caused problems for the visitors in the 11th minute when Steph Bannon’s deep free-kick to the edge of the 18-yard box was fumbled by Reds’ keeper Libby Stout but no one could capitalise.
Good skill by Liverpool and England striker Natasha Dowie then put her in on goal on the quarter-hour but she curled her shot over the target.
Liverpool threatened to get on top as the game went on.
Keeper Laws - a star on loan at Liverpool last season - pulled out a smart stop, Kelly McDougall was booked for a mistimed challenge, Bonner drove a free-kick wide and in the 24th minute a gloriously inviting ball across Sunderland’s six-yard box went unpunished.
Sunderland for their part relied on the occasional counter-attacks with only England Under 19 striker Beth Mead up front against two full England defenders.
Liverpool debutant Martha Harris made the breakthrough, scoring from close range when Sunderland failed to clear a 40th-minute corner.
The home side started the second half well with Keira Ramshaw racing on to a well-judged long ball in the 47th minute, which Stout raced out of goal towards but failed to clear and Ramshaw’s precise chip towards goal needed to be headed off the line by former Sunderland defender Lucy Bronze.
Liverpool got in behind Sunderland ‘s defence in the 55th minute - Gemma Wilson managing to clear the danger for the home side after the visiting strikers got in the way of each other.
But the lead was doubled in the 57th minute through Natasha Dowie.
She had the simple task of slotting home from close range after a shot at goal from the right could only be parried and the England striker was quickest to react to the loose ball.
Seconds later and Liverpool midfielder Kate Longhirst danced through the defence and threatened to make it 3-0, only to shoot wide.
That left Sunderland still in with a fighting chance and on the hour Rachel Furness took aim with a shot which just failed to curl enough to sneak into the top corner.
Liverpool, though, took the sting out of the game as it wore on - the champions showing their quality with solid defensive work and the occasional dangerous move forward, as the benefits of being a full-time side against part-time opponents threatened to emerge in terms of different fitness levels.
In the closing stages, if there was going to be another goal, it looked certain to go Liverpool’s way and the Reds’ Corina Schroder squandered a great late chance, while Sunderland keeper Laws made a couple of good saves.
In the end, Liverpool’s superior quality had told but Sunderland had pushed the champions all the way and though beaten, were unbowed.
Sunderland: Laws, Beer, Bannon, Greenwell, Wilson, McDougall, Joice, Furness (Kelly), Mead, Bass (Holmes), Ramshaw (Dodds). Subs not used: Alderson.
Liverpool: Stout, Harris, Bonner, Bronze, Longhirst, Omarsdottir, Dowie, Davison, Easton, Schroder, Dale. Subs: Dacosta, Gibbons, Stewart, Hodson.