WHAT a day if you were wearing red and white stripes!
Saturday began with Dick Advocaat’s Premier League relegation battlers grabbing a priceless 2-0 win at Everton and it ended with Sunderland Ladies going third in the Women’s Super League.
Danny Graham’s first goal for Sunderland may have caused a bigger tremor than the Lady Black Cats going into the mid-season break in the top half of the elite division.
But this was a day when Sunderland’s women made an impact as last season’s runners-up were despatched 3-0.
And while there were no Goodison Park-style flukes at Hetton, all three goals by Beth Mead, Brooke Chaplen and Vicky Greenwell were superb finishes, there were similarities.
Sunderland had to ride their luck, but the Ladies demonstrated they know how to win and when to win.
“I’m very pleased with the result, not so much the performance,” said coach Carlton Fairweather.
“We’ve played better before and lost, but the result is the ultimate thing – it’s about points.
“There are things to be happy about – the girls defended very well and the finishing was very clinical.
“At the end of the day, it was all about getting as many points as we can in the first half of the season.
“We know where we sit in the league and hopefully we can build from here.”
Sunderland go into the two-month shut-down for the World Cup in fourth, after being leapfrogged by Notts County yesterday when they beat Liverpool 1-0.
But what a position to be in. Few could have dreamed they would have beaten last season’s top two, plus a club who played in the Champions League.
Saturday’s win was remarkable – a 3-0 margin would surely indicate a walk in the park, but the reality was something different.
In fact, in terms of possession and pressure, the scoreline should perhaps have been the other way around.
But, football is measured in goals and Sunderland had them all, the girls responding to Fairweather’s rallying call in the Echo to be more clinical.
And how they followed orders, starting inside 25 seconds.
It was a familiar route, Rachel Furness heading on and Mead using her pace to get beyond the central defenders before firing her left-footed shot past Stephanie Baggaley.
A breathtaking start was followed by a half in which the Lady Black Cats barely set foot over the halfway line.
The Blues should have equalised in the eighth minute, but the powerful Freda Ayisi pulled her right-foot shot wide of Rachael Laws’ right-hand post and six minutes later England star Karen Carney was a whisker away from a ball which whizzed across the face of the home goal.
Carney also sent a dipping free-kick just over the crossbar as Birmingham controlled play against a side which struggled to control the ball.
However, in the 33rd minute, Sunderland had their second shot and second goal.
Mead broke clear of Kerys Harrop only to fall over in the area. Despite being on her backside, the birthday girl was still able to slide the ball to Chaplen, who blasted an unstoppable 12-yard shot which left Baggaley clutching at thin air.
You had to feel a little sympathy for the side in blue – one goal down seemed harsh and two cruel.
But it got worse.
After failing to put together a couple of passes, Sunderland put on the move of the half in the 44th minute, culminating in Furness threading a through ball to Abbey Joice, only for “Messi” to put her shot wide of Baggaley’s right-hand post.
However, number three arrived with the last kick of the first half.
A second flowing home attack ended with Furness tripped 25 yards from goal in a central position.
Greenwell, who provided assists for both Sunderland goals at Notts County, this time got her name on the scoresheet with a Hristo Stoichkov-style free-kick into the keeper’s top-left corner.
Four shots in 45 minutes and three goals – what a success ratio.
The second half was not quite a non-event, though Sunderland had only one shot – this time Mead was high and wide after being put away by Furness in the 63rd minute.
Birmingham went close when Aoife Mannion’s 62nd-minute flick from a corner was cleared off the line by Keira Ramshaw, but while the Blues saw plenty of the ball again, Sunderland defended well with top marks going to the returning Abby Holmes, Tori Williams, Hayley Sharp and Greenwell with Kelly McDougall an influential hand just in front of the back four.
A clean sheet was a just reward, though there were two scares at the death both involving Coral Haines.
There was much screaming whe she went down in the area, but referee Rebecca Welsh ruled no penalty while she was off-target with an overhead kick.
Saturday was all about hitting the target – and the Lady Black Cats did just that. Again and again.
Sunderland: Laws (capt), Holmes, T Williams, Sharp, Greenwell, Joice (Kelly 68), McDougall, Furness, Chaplen (Gutteridge 82), Ramshaw (Bass 89), Mead. Subs not used: Harkness, Wilson, McFadden, Hill. Goals: Mead 1, Chaplen 33, Greenwell 45. Booked: Holmes 71
Birmingham City: Baggaley, Westwood, Mannion, Harrop, Carter, Moore (Windell 86), Potter, Carney (Haines 74), Linnett (Allen 76), Ayisi, Lawley. Subs not used: Torkildsen, Weston. Booked: Moore, Harrop 90
Referee: Rebecca Welch. Att: 438