RACHEL Furness fired a superb equaliser to keep Sunderland Ladies two points ahead of opponents Doncaster Rovers Belles at the top of FA Women’s Super League 2.
Both sides remain undefeated in the league, though Saturday night’s Keepmoat Stadium showdown was the first time Sunderland have failed to win a league game this season.
That has led to some suggestions that the title chase is now a two-horse race – with Sunderland on 19 points from seven games, two clear of Doncaster, with Reading third, a further four points down – but Sunderland manager Mick Mulhern dismissed those claims.
Mulhern said: “I would say that Reading aren’t out of this and it would be foolish of us and the Belles to think it was between us, because I don’t think it is.
“The most important thing for us was not to lose this game.
“We’re sitting top of the league, and a point would have done us to keep us top of the league, and that was the important thing.”
Sue Smith gave Donny the lead from a tight angle on 14 minutes, just seconds after Furness had hit the post at the other end.
Furness went one better on 33 minutes, carrying the ball well before putting a wonderful 25-yard strike past home keeper Hobbs.
That came moments after Doncaster had spurned a chance to go 2-0 up, with Reanne Thomas shooting straight at Sunderland goalie Rachael Laws after going clean through on goal.
Mulhern indicated that his side had worked on that, saying: “We worked a lot on our counter attack play, and it was a great run from a player who’s really on form at the minute, and a sweet strike – lovely goal.”
The second half was less frenetic: Rebekah Bass went close with a 40-yard lob for Sunderland, and Courtney Sweetman-Kirk hit a weak shot at Laws late on.
Belles boss Gordon Staniforth was happy with a point that keeps his team pushing for promotion, saying: “I think in the first half we should have had three or four goals and been out of sight, so to go in at 1-1 was a bit disappointing.
“But the fact is we’ve drawn, we haven’t got beat. We were very very good, especially in the first half, and we just needed that run of the green to get the winner.”
On the title race, he added: “I think we are by far the better teams and we’re creating more chances, and we’ve both got decent defences.
“Although we’ve still got to be wary of Reading and probably Millwall, I think these two will go right to the wire.”
DONCASTER: Hobbs; Cunningham, Roberts, Little, Cresswell (Bright 54); Williams, Lipka; Thomas (Mills 69), England (Knight 87), Smith; Sweetman-Kirk. Subs not used: Govier, Johnson M, Purfield, Johnson E.
SUNDERLAND: Laws; Beer, Bannon, Wilson, Greenwell; McDougall, Furness; Bass (McHugh 89), Kelly (Briggs 55), Williams; Ramshaw. Subs not used: Alderson, Sharp. Bookings: Briggs 61, Williams 70.
Ref: N Hopton