Sunderland still in title hunt after Birmingham draw

Abbey Joice scored for Sunderland
Abbey Joice scored for Sunderland
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Birmingham City Ladies 1

Sunderland Ladies 1

If we can get something out of those three important games, hopefully we can finish where we are now or higher.

Rule out Sunderland from the Women’s Super League championship race at your peril.

On paper, the Lady Black Cats would be appear to be the underdogs alongside the ‘big three’ of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

But Sunderland have been up in the top echelon of WSL1 throughout their debut season in this format and they are showing no signs of leaving quietly.

To win the title, you could argue that this was a game Carlton Fairweather’s side simply had to win at Solihull Motors.

They threw everything at the Blues, who had conceded just two home goals in WSL1, but theIR only goal was Abbey Joice’s coolly-taken 54th-minute equaliser.

Fairweather admitted it was “two points dropped” - a win would have taken his side top, albeit temporarily.

But, with Arsenal (H), Man City (A) and Chelsea (A) still to play in their last three fixtures, they are not out of it yet.

Chelsea are favourites after yesterday’s 2-0 win at Arsenal.

“It’s still in our hands,” said Fairweather. “We stayed second after Man City drew with Notts County, which was a good result for us.

“If we can get something out of those three important games, hopefully we can finish where we are now or higher.”

Sunderland had a glut of chances with Becky Spencer making great saves from Rachel Furness, Beth Mead and Abby Holmes.

“It’s two points dropped, without a shadow of a doubt,” said Fairweather.

“It’s disappointing that we created a lot of chances but couldn’t finished them off.

“It’s probably the best we’ve played in a while so it’s upsetting for the girls that we could not finish them off and get the three points.

“We had a lot of chances but, to be fair, their keeper was outstanding - she made some very good saves.

“But, at the same time, we had enough chances to put the game to bed.”

Spencer took the player of the match award with a string of saves to deny Sunderland.

She dived full length to her left to keep out a 25-yard Furness drive in the 17th minute and then tipped over the midfielder’s goalbound header from the resulting corner by Vicky Greenwell.

And the luckless Furness was frustrated again seconds later when the Blues scrambled another header off the line with the away side appealing for a penalty.

Sunderland were then hit by something of a sucker-punch five minutes before the break.

They were happy to allow the gifted Karen Carney to stand alone on the left touchline.

But the England star received, got Holmes with ease before pulling a pass back to Freda Ayisi, the striker finishing hard and high with her left boot past Rachael Laws, who had been preferred in goal to Hilde Olsen.

Given Birmingham’s miserly defensive record, it looked a big ask for Sunderland.

But Joice, preferred in the starting XI to Stephanie Roche, justified that decision by equalising nine minutes into the second half.

Brooke Chaplen played a dangerous ball across the home six-yard box, which Joice controlled and finished with aplomb.

Sunderland went on to dominate the second half and it’s hard to fathom how they did not find the net again.

Spencer saved well from a Holmes piledriver on 71 minutes as the Lady Black Cats went on the rampage with a chance-per-minute sequence.

The best fell to Mead after Joice robbed Alex Windell and teed up WSL1’s top scorer who blasted wide from edge of box.

Her next two shots were on target but Spencer got down to her right to save them while the Blues stopper also kept out an effort from Holmes after another barnstorming run forward by the full-back.

Birmingham came to life at the end with Mel Lawley going wide two minutes from the end before Laws got down well to her left to save Carney’s shot from the edge of the area.

Over five minutes into stoppage time, Sunderland were indebted to Holmes who produced a last-ditch sliding clearance in her own six-yard box with Remi Allen and Emily Westwood breathing down her neck.

Birmingham City: Spencer, Carter, Mannion, Harrop, Alle, Ayisi (Wellings 68), Westwood, Carney, Windell, Lawley, Linnett (Potter 76). Unused subs: Baggaley, Sargeant, Edwards, Haines, Peplow. Goal: Ayisi 40

Sunderland: Laws, Holmes, T Williams, Bannon, Greenwell, Joice, McDougall, Furness, Chaplen (McFadden 83), Ramshaw (Roche 83), Mead. Unused subs: Olsen, Wilson, Kelly. Goal: Joice 54

Ref: Shaun Barry Att: 704