Sunderland might be a city feeling on the raw side today after the end of 10 years as a Premier League club.
But Sunderland Ladies are still flying the flag in the women’s top flight after maintaining their unbeaten start to the WSL1 Spring Series.
Every single player in the team put their body on the lineMELANIE REAY
Having pulled off a fine 0-0 draw last weekend at FA Cup finalists, Birmingham City, they repeated the trick yesterday against glamour club Arsenal Ladies at Hetton.
It was a tremendous result from the Lady Black Cats, who produced a performance of great discipline, never-say-die defending and a bit of football too.
In fact, but for a couple of stunning saves from Sari Van Veenendaal, Sunderland could have been celebrating a famous victory, the Dutch goalie thwarting her compatriot, Dominique Bruinenberg. Anke Preuss made a superb save late on for Melanie Reay’s side.
The Gunners controlled much of the possession, without really threatening the home goal, such was the amazing defensive work of, in particular Abby Holmes, Steph Bannon, Hayley Sharp and Tori Williams.
And on one of the few occasions the defence was beaten, keeper Anke Preuss pulled off a couple of brilliant saves of her own to complete her third successive clean sheet.
It was a terrific team-effort with top marks too to the midfield of Lucy Staniforth, Maddie Hill and Bruinenberg, who looks a very shrewd winter acquisition.
“It’s always important that we are well structured and hard to beat,” said Reay. “We were too easy to beat last season.
“It’s a mentality thing that I’ve tried to change –we’ve done loads of work, on and off the pitch.
“Including a pre-season friendly, that’s three clean sheets in a row. To get one against a side like Arsenal who are full of internationals, I’m really pleased for them.
“Every single player in the team put their body on the line and they deserved the point.”
Arsenal had the better of the opening stages at Eppleton CW, but Sunderland, kept a very good shape and were not unduly troubled at the back.
Preuss saved a close-range shot from Jodie Taylor but the two best chances of the half would fall to the home side and Bruinenberg
The ex-Verona midfielder arrived in the area to meet Sharp’s cross from the right perfectly only for Van Veenendaal to pull off an acrobatic save from the header. And the Dutch girl had an opportunity following the resulting corner, firing her right-foot shot wide of the target.
England midfielder Jordan Nobbs was looking to exert her influence for Arsenal, but Sunderland handled the Gunners well.
The Lady Black Cats started the second half with real zest and Bruinenberg was again denied by Van Veenedaal who tipped over her excellent shot from the edge of the box.
And the home side had a great chance in the 52nd minute when Beverly Leon played in Maddie Hill but her shot was a tame one and easily saved by the Dutch keeper.
At the other end, Dan Carter had a chance in the 63rd minute when Danielle Van De Donk’s cross from the left made it all the way through the area but the England international could not make a clean contact when only six yards out.
Twenty minutes from time, Staniforth tried her luck from 30 yards but her free-kick sailed out of the ground, while at the other end, Fara Williams was similarly off target.
Arsenal sub Katie McCabe has good chance in the 76th minute but shot weakly at Preuss.
The German stopper was in excellent form late on, making a brilliant save low to her right from McCabe.
“Anke’s made a great start for us and that’s three clean sheets for her, you can’t get better than that,” added Reay. “But credit to the Arsenal keeper – Dom’s probably had the best chance of the game and she’s made a brilliant save.”
Sunderland: Preuss, Holmes, Sharp, Bannon, Williams, Hill, Staniforth, Bruinenberg, Roche (Lambert 72), Joice, Leon (Ramshaw 65)
Unused Subs: Watt, Stonehouse
Booked: Holmes 31
Arsenal: Van Veenendaal, Scott (McCabe 60), Patton, Wubben-Moy, Jansson, O’Reilly, Nobbs, Williams, Carter, Van De Donk (Quinn 83), Taylor (Kelly 60). Unused Subs: Moorhouse, Humphrey, Mead
Referee: Rebecca Welch. Attendance: 577