SUNDERLAND Ladies tonight sit proudly in the top half of the Women’s Super League after their biggest win of the season.
The Lady Black Cats smashed three first-half goals past a Birmingham City defence which had gone into the match at Hetton with the meanest defence in the top flight.
Sunderland were not at their best by any means but superb strikes by birthday girl Beth Mead, Brooke Chaplen and Vicky Greenwell puts them in the top half of the table going into the mis-season break.
Carlton Fairweather made two changes to his starting XI, bringing back Abby Holmes after her one-match suspension.
She resumed at right-back, with Tori Williams starting at centre-half alongside Hayley Sharp.
In midfield, Rachel Furness returned after a groin injury ruled out of the 4-2 defeat at Notts County.
She replaced Sarah McFadden with Kelly McDougall making her first home start of the season
Fairweather’s side made a sensational start, taking the lead after just 25 seconds.
Mead got behind central defenders Kerys Harrop and Aife Mannion from Rachel Furness’s header with the leading scorer’s left-foot shot flying into the keeper’s left corner.
But Birmingham were the better side in the first period but failed with to take advantage.
Freda Ayisi should have equalised in the eight minute when she out-muscled Tori Williams, only to fire well wide of Rachael Laws’ right-hand post.
Six minutes later it should have been 1-1 when Mel Lawley sent a good cross in from the left which Kirsty Linnett put back across goal but skipper Karen Carney could not force it in from in front of goal.
England star Carney went just over the bar from a 30-yard free-kick and the Blues Ladies were made to pay for failing to turn their pressure into goals.
Mead got the better of Harrop only to fall over in the box. But she was still able to get her pass away to Chaplen whose fierce shot from 12 yards went high past Sarah Baggaley and into the away net.
Sunderland had a gilt-edged chance to make it three in the 44th minute when Furness put Abbey Joice through after ythe best home move of the half, but the diminutive midfielder fired wide.
But a third Lady Black Cats goal came in stoppage time. Furness was tripped in a central area and full-back Greenwell’s superb dead-ball strike went into Baggaley’s top left corner.
The second half was short on openings though City went close to a goal when Mannion’s 62nd-minute flick from a corner was cleared off the line by Keira Ramshaw.
Mead, celebrating her 20th birthday, had the best opportunity for the Lady Black Cats but sent her shot from 20 yards high, wide and not so handsome.
But it proved a great night for the striker and for Sunderland.
Fairweather gave Natalie Gutteridge and Rebekah Bass their first taste of WSL1 action after bringing them off the bench late on.
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 (capt) (Haines 74), Linnett (Allen 76), Ayisi, Lawley
Subs not used: Torkildsen, Weston
Booked: Moore, Harrop 90
Referee: Rebecca Welch