SUNDERLAND Ladies manager Mick Mulhern hailed his side’s defensive resilience – after going close to holding out for a goalless draw in their Women’s Super League Continental Cup group tie yesterday.
The Wearsiders rarely threatened the City goal and were defensively resolute for 74 minutes before former Sunderland midfielder Steph Houghton’s superb free-kick put City on the road to a 2-0 victory.
Sunderland-born Jill Scott threatened twice in the opening few minutes for hosts City, first with a long-range effort before heading tamely at keeper Rachael Laws.
A spectacular save from Laws denied City captain Houghton as she tipped a free-kick onto the bar, before doing the same thing to a dipping Krystle Johnston effort.
Sunderland’s first real effort came in the second half when Kelly McDougall’s shot had Karen Bardsley scrambling, but it went harmlessly wide.
Laws yet again kept out Johnston low to her left, but the Sunderland resistance was finally broken in the 74th minute when Houghton curled a low free-kick home.
City doubled their advantage five minutes later to wrap up the result as top scorer Toni Duggan, on her return from injury, slotted past the Sunderland keeper from inside the six-yard box.
Boss Mulhern said: “It’s always a challenge because you are putting yourself against a professional outfit who are training five times a week where we are training twice.
“We wanted to see where we were with regards to that, playing against a WSL 1 side. I thought we worked hard and matched them and stayed in the game for most of it.
“Maybe it was a bit of a tired challenge that led to the free-kick and obviously Steph Houghton has punished us as she has done several times for club and country.
“I think at that point that was it, a few of the girls died a little bit more as they were going on adrenaline at that point.
“But I am pleased that we have gone 75 minutes against one of the top sides. We came here to win but we were not good enough.”
City manager Nick Cushing commented: “I think we have now got back to how we want to play and how we want to perform.
“We dominate the ball and put passes together and build out from the back so that we gain control and momentum of the game.
“That was evident throughout the game and whether the score was we had control of the game so we could then build on that momentum to get the win.
“We talk quite a lot about not chasing goals and we tried to get the message onto the pitch and I knew at half-time we just needed to keep playing our style and the goal will come and it did.
“We try to make sure on our home pitch, in our stadium it is a tough place to come, I think we are starting to get that, it’s very pleasing.
“We are pleased to get some pitch time into Toni, she is made up that she scored a goal but the pitch time was more important.”
MANCHESTER CITY: Bardsley; Lipman, Hughton, Radtke, McManus; Hassett, Scott, Christiansen; Flint, Johnston, Young (Duggan 69). Subs not used: Brooks, Brougham, Harding, Nightingale.
SUNDERLAND: Laws; Holmes, Bannon, Sharp, Greenwell; Ramshaw, McDougall, Furness (Briggs 79), Bass; Kelly (Williams 45); Mead. Subs not used: Anderson, Beer, McHugh.
H The FA Women’s Super League has been newly expanded to two leagues for 2014. To watch all 18 clubs live in action buy tickets here: http://www.ticketstores.co.uk/fawsl