Melanie Reay did not know whether to smile, cry or kick the dressing room door in.
The head coach had seen Sunderland Ladies come within seconds of a draw against Manchester City, only to be sunk by a late, late winner by the WSL1 champs.
Georgia Stanway smashed a superb shot past keeper Anke Preuss in the first of three minutes of stoppage time at Eppleton CW last night.
It was cruel on the Lady Black Cats who had fought every millimetre of the way, playing with heart and incredible tenacity, not to mention plenty of skill, against a who’s who of women’s football.
Not only was defeat cruel, it was unjust too, with Stanway guilty of a foul on Mollie Lambert before, climbing all over the home sub before the ball dropped kindly to her to find the net in emphatic fashion.
“Overall, it was a terrific performance,” said Reay. “We made ourselves really hard to break down.
“They’ve scored in the 91st minute and it’s been a foul, which makes it even more of a sickener.
“I’ve watched it back on the TV monitor.
“I thought we were unlucky not to be ahead at half-time – we had two good chances.
“Second half, we struggled to get out of our half much, but we stayed compact and organised and they still couldn’t break us down – Anke had little to do.
“Fair play to the girls, they put in a really good shift and were desperately unlucky not to get anything out of it.”
Having conceded seven to an irresistible Chelsea last time out at Hetton, the omens did not look good when the reigning WSL1 and FA Cup holders came to town.
But there was no repeat of that and no respect shown to the richest club in the world.
Sunderland won their tackles – a lot of them – and pressed their illustrious opponents, forcing them to turn possession over.
While Chelsea were allowed to dictate play, City were harried to death.
Yes, the champions had a ton of shots, but they either sailed high and wide or were blocked by brave defending.
And when they did get their shot on target, Preuss was excellent between the sticks. City had the first sight at goal when ex-Sunderland defender Demi Stokes shot just wide in the sixth minute and another former Black Cat, Jill Scott, soon followed suit.
But the hosts got forward themselves and Maddie Hill fired over the bar. The Lady Black Cats should have been ahead in the 24th minute, Ellie Roebuck making a great save with her feet after Steph Roche was in on goal.
A yard either side of the keeper and Reay’s side would have been ahead.
However, the Champions League semi-finalists were always a threat and Tori Williams and Steph Bannon both made vital clearances off the line, while Preuss made a good save at her near post from Nikita Parris.
But Sunderland had another brilliant chance when Abbey Joice almost stabbed in from close range, but Roebuck was able to take.
Preuss came to Sunderland’s aid in stoppage time when she made an acrobatic save from a Steph Houghton free-kick.
The Lady Black Cats went near again at the start of the second half, Roche putting her famous left foot to good use fizzing a shot just over from the edge of the area.
City, with sub Toni Duggan exerting her quality, dominated much of the ball, but they could not dominate the home side, who defended as though their lives depended on it.
And they were so close to earning a point, until Stanway’s late, late intervention.
Sunderland: Preuss, Holmes, Bannon, Sharp, Williams, Ramshaw, Bruinenberg (Lambert 76), Staniforth, Hill, Joice (Leon 76), Roche
Subs not used: Olsen, Brown, Patttinson, Watt
Man City: Roebuck, Stokes, Beattie, Houghton, Scott, Walsh, Christiansen (Lawley 64), McManus, Parris (Toone 79), Stanway, Ross (Duggan 64)
Subs not used: Hourihan, Campbell
Goal: Stanway 90+1
Referee: Andrew Miller. Att: 1,054