SUNDERLAND ensured Portsmouth endured a baptism of fire in their first game in the Premier League with a convincing victory.
It was a clash between two champions – Sunderland having won a second successive title earlier this year while Portsmouth won promotion as Southern Division champions.
And the early minutes were closely contested in sweltering heat.
The first real chance for either side fell to the visitors’ Beth Mead in the 16th minute. A free-kick swung in from the left seemed to catch everyone off guard, but the Sunderland forward sent her header just wide of the upright.
Further chances fell to the lively Mead, but the Portsmouth goalkeeper thwarted the young forward. The keeper then made a poor clearance only for Natalie Gutteridge to send a long-range effort just wide.
In the 31st minute, a mazy run from Keira Ramshaw had the Portsmouth defence in trouble, but her shot trickled wide.
Sophie Williams, Mead and Ramshaw’s came to nothing as the teams went in at the break still goalless.
The second half began with Sunderland starting to take control again. Williams blazed a shot over the bar and Mead went through on goal but the home keeper smothered as the striker tried to round her.
Sunderland pushed on with Rachel Furness, Kelly McDougall, Mead and Williams all peppering the Portsmouth goal.
The breakthrough finally came in the 62nd minute. A half-cleared Sunderland corner fell to centre-back Vicki Greenwell, who fired home a superb shot from 30 yards into the top corner.
Two minutes later, Sunderland doubled their lead. McDougall played a pin-point diagonal ball into the path of Williams, and the winger calmly slotted the ball past the helpless keeper.
Portsmouth got back into the game five minutres later when an effort from Charley Wilson deflected over the helpless Laws, and dropped into the net.
The home side had a spell of pressure as they looked for an equaliser but some last-ditch tackles kept Sunderland in front.
In the 76th minute Sunderland put the result beyond doubt when Mead let fire with a thunderbolt from the corner of the box that left the Portsmouth keeper with no chance.
Sunderland began to play keep-ball and in the 87th minute they added the fourth goal when McDougall beat the offside trap and coolly chipped the keeper.
Sunderland: Laws, Christon, Wilson, Greenwell, Halliday (Holmes), Furness, Williams, Gutteridge (Atkinson), McDougall, Ramshaw, Mead (Caldwell). Subs not used: Alderson, Bannon.