ONE down, 13 to go. Sunderland are up and running already in Women’s Super League 1 after their “perfect start”.
The Lady Black Cats arrived at the reigning WSL1 champions as massive outsiders last night.
Some people might have written us off before we actually came here, but we went into the game believing we could get something out of itSteph Bannon
But Carlton Fairweather’s side overturned the odds in the first match of the season, live on BT Sport, thanks to a great first-half Beth Mead header and a superbly-despatched Brooke Chaplen penalty 12 minutes from time.
Given the fact that the league season lasts only 14 games, a good start was paramount and not only has this put three vital points on the board, the belief it will give WSL1’s new girls is probably immeasurable.
Sunderland were magnificent, from Rachael Laws between the sticks to Mead, ploughing a lone furrow in attack.
But while the two-time champions and the nation was left stunned, Sunderland were NOT shocked.
“It was the perfect start and a massive confidence boost,” said captain Steph Bannon.
“It will be an eye opener for many in the league.
“Some people might have written us off before we actually came here, but we went into the game believing we could get something out of it.
“That was a great start for us, but not a surprise.
“To win your first game in the top flight of the women’s game is a special achievement.
“It was a tremendous achievement for the girls and everyone involved in the club to come here and score two goals and limit them to one.”
Sunderland did not seem fazed by the opposition or the occasion at the Halton Stadium in Widnes, the way they started.
They did almost gift the Reds a 12th-minute lead when confusion in defence opened up a path to goal for Nicole Rolser.
The German striker was clean through, but great work by Laws and Tori Williams blocked her path, forcing her to lay the ball back to Ingrid Ryland, who fired wide of the goal
Liverpool threatened again when they tried to get Rolser down the centre again, but Williams, starting at left-back instead of regular number three Vicki Greenwell, showed her speed to get back and tidy up.
After those two scares, Sunderland got back into their rhythm.
Boosted by the inclusion of player of the year Rachel Furness, making her first start of 2015, and with Chaplen being a real box of tricks, Sunderland saw plenty of ball.
Chaplen linked up particularly well with Mead and they were involved in the build-up to the 28th-minute opener, though Keira Ramshaw was the supplier with a delicious cross from the right.
Keeper Libby Stout came out but was hopelessly exposed as Mead planted her header into the home net.
It stunned the hosts and the Lady Black Cats had their tails up.
Furness fired over with her left foot and Sarah McFadden then started a slick move down the right which again involved Mead and Chaplen, but the cross evaded Abbie Joice.
Midfield ace Furness tried her luck with the outside of her foot from distance in the 54th minute, after linking well with Ramshaw, but keeper Stout held the ball well high to her left.
Chaplen then had a crack with her left foot after another good Sunderland attack, but she could not make a clean connection.
After that, Sunderland found themselves pushed back, conceding several free-kicks and corners as Liverpool began to threaten an equaliser.
There was even an almighty scramble in the away box which Sunderland were lucky to survive.
But Fairweather’s side went up the other end and doubled their lead after more great work by Mead in the 76th minute.
She cut in cleverly from the left, with Tara Murray tripping the red-hot striker and referee Simms having no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
The teenager needed treatment so could not take the spot-kick herself, so up stepped Chaplen.
Despite a lengthy delay, the former Everton star made no mistake, despatching her right-footed strike high to the keeper’s left side.
Unfortunately for Sunderland, Murray atoned for her mistake by blasting in from 10 yards in the 82nd minute after the Cats failed to get a corner clear.
Liverpool had eight minutes to get back on terms, but, despite plenty of possession, they could not threaten the away goal.
When the fourth official held up the board for four additional minutes, it gave the Reds a glimmer of hope, but Fairweather’s cool Cats played out time with some comfort.
LIVERPOOL LADIES: Stout, Harris (Pacheco 88), Williams, Bonner, Oshoala (Staniforth 72), Ryland, Schroder, Zelem (Smorsgard 79), Murray, Rolser, Dowie. Subs not used: Gibbons, Longhurst, Easton, Dale
SUNDERLAND LADIES: Laws, Holmes, Bannon, Sharp, T Williams, Ramshaw, McFadden, Furness (S Williams 66), Joice (McDougall 78), Chaplen, Mead. Subs (not used): Harkness, Greenwell, Kelly, Bass, Gutteridge
Referee: J Simms. Attendance: 1,014