SUNDERLAND protected their lead at the top of the Women’s Super League 2 table by doing the double over local rivals Durham tonight.
Goals at the start of each half took the wind out of Durham’s sails, and while the visitors’ played with pride they struggled to hold on to Sunderland’s shirt-tails at times.
Having started the evening five points clear of nearest challengers Doncaster Belles, the Black Cats performed like champions elect.
They imposed themselves from the start and never looking troubled after taking a fourth minute lead.
The reverse fixture had seen Sunderland triumph 4-2 – Beth Mead doing damage with two of those goals at New Ferens Park – and it was the England Under 20 striker who inflicted the early pain last night.
A free-kick from Victoria Greenwell was chipped forward into the box and when Durham failed to clear their lines, Mead was there, just inside the area, to drive a rasping shot beyond keeper Danni Hill’s dive.
Sunderland might have doubled the lead just after the quarter-hour when Rebakah Bass fastened onto a defence-splitting diagonal ball and cut in from the right, but she drove her shot into the side netting.
Durham were a tad fortunate to escape huge appeals for handball from a free-kick fired into the box in the 25th minute.
But the visitors enjoyed their best spell of the game after surviving that call, with Durham striker Zoe Ness produced her side’s first effort of the game on goal in the 29th minute when she rose highest in the box to a long ball forward but could only loop her effort into the grateful gloves of England call-up Rachel Laws.
Five minutes later, Beth Hepple curled a free-kick well over Laws’ crossbar, five minutes after that Jemma Purfield curled in a long-range shot which Laws took down gloves over her head.
And then a couple of minutes before the break, Jennings struck a first-time shot from 25 yards with the outside of her boot which flew a couple of yards over the target.
None of the efforts particularly troubled Sunderland but there would have been words in the home dressing room at the interval about needing to up their game.
The Black Cats did just that from the restart, pressing with speed and power from the opening whistle.
And their high-tempo play paid off within 60 seconds when Rachel Furness headed a ball down the left flank, chased after it and crossed first time for Keira Ramshaw who cracked her shot confidently back across Hill.
Furness could have put the contest beyond doubt just a couple of minutes later from another home attack but blasted a shot high over an open goal, much to her disgust.
The hour approached with some slack passing creeping into Sunderland’s play – they did get the ball in the back of the net just after the 60 minute mark, only for it to be disallowed.
And Ness might have made the last few minutes twitchy had she managed to keep her 86th minute shot down instead of firing over the bar from six yards out.
But in the end the Black Cats had done enough though to earn victory on the night and extend their unbeaten run to a dozen games.
Sunderland: (4-3-3) Laws, Holmes, Bannon, Sharp, Greenwell, McDougall, Furness, Bass (sub Williams 53), Joice (sub Kelly 58), Mead (sub Briggs 87), Ramshaw. Subs not used: Kelly, Wilson, Beer, Alderson, McCubbin, Briggs.
Booked: Furness (85), Briggs ((94)
Durham: (4-3-3) Hill, Christon, Wilson, Linsley (sub Jordinson 80), King, Hepple, Ness, Scott (sub Round 80), Atkinson, Purfield, Jennings. Subs not used: Moorhouse, Hanratty, Bradley, Hardy.
Booked: Christon (70 mins)
Ref: Paul Brown