SUNDERLAND Ladies proved they belong in Women’s Super League 1 in the opening round of the season.
And last night, Sunderland and its surrounding area proved WSL1 belongs here after their first home match in the competition.
It was disappointing that we didn’t get something out of that gameSunderland Ladies defender Tori Williams
A crowd of 1,433 was at Eppleton CW last night, a not-so-small matter of a thousand up on last season’s home WSL2 attendances.
That Sunderland did not get anything from their first home match of the season will be disappointing – but they will surely have earned a lot of new fans.
The size of the crowd will have been swelled by a variety of factors – last week’s stunning 2-1 win at Liverpool, the fact Manchester City were in town and more likely than not, curiosity.
But whatever the reasons, hopefully those who braved a cold night at the Hetton ground will come back again.
The new fans can’t fail to have been impressed with the quality of football – from both teams – in a hugely-entertaining spectacle.
While there was no shortage of openings at both ends of the field but, ultimately, only one goal was needed, Nikita Parris heading in a 20th-minute winner for the visitors.
Sunderland, though, could be proud of their performance against one of the richest clubs in the world.
The Lady Black Cats more than matched City. In fact, Carlton Fairweather’s side did had everything – tempo, football and passion.
All that was missing was a goal, but if they play like that, they will win enough, hopefully starting against Bristol Academy a week on Saturday.
Defender Tori Williams said: “We got the chance last night to get the ball down a bit and show what we’re about.
“It was disappointing that we didn’t get something out of that game.
“We can take a lot of positives from it.
“I think we made people sit up and take notice last week and showed we are serious about staying up.
“We’ve not come into this league to go straight back out of it.
“We’re looking to set out our stall in WSL1 and push on. The support was absolutely fantastic, we hope they can come here week in, week out.
“Bristol is a big game for us and if we can get the support like we did last night that will help us to push on.”
Every Sunderland player can take heart – there was not one weak link.
Rachael Laws again excelled in goal, the defence of Abby Holmes, Steph Bannon, Hayley Sharp and Tori Williams was excellent against a very good City front three of Toni Duggan, Parris and Sarah Wiltshire.
Sarah McFadden played her part too just in front of the back four, while the midfielders, the outstanding Rachel Furness, Keira Ramshaw and Sophie Williams – and her half-time replacement Emma Kelly – saw plenty of ball.
Brooke Chaplen was unable to make the same impact as at Liverpool, but the ex-Everton midfielder was again mesmerising at times, with some sublime vision and passes.
And, up top, Beth Mead had City frightened countless times. It was just a shame her shot or final ball did not match her approach play.
She was in action early, skinning Abbie McManus down the right and shortly afterwards she lost the ball in the box when Sunderland had a three-on-two break.
A brilliant Furness ball seemed to put her through in the 18th minute, but City keeper Alex Brook – in for England stopper Karen Carney – came out superbly.
City showed in the next few seconds why they are so good by turning defence in to attack by freeing Duggan, who was kept out by magnificent Bannon defending.
But the City goal did arrive and it was too easy. Isobel Christiansen’s corner was flicked on by ex-Sunderland girl Jill Scott for Parris to nod into the net from close range.
Two minutes later, Christiansen’s free-kick got through to Wiltshire, who looked certain to score, but Laws made a tremendous save.
Sunderland then had some promising openings, with Chaplen twisting and turning but unable to get in a shot, before playing a great long pass to Mead, who was thwarted by the defence.
A super Furness run gave Mead another chance, but Brook got down left well to save the shot from outside the area.
Mead then turned provider with lovely play and a cross from the right, but Chaplen could not quite get to the ball.
City had a gilt-edged chance when the imperious Scott played a ball through which Sharp inadvertently headed Duggan clear from, but the England striker tried to place her shot to the left of Laws and, thankfully for Sunderland, it also rolled left of the post.
A rare Furness mistake allowed Scott to stroll forward and tee up Duggan on 70 minutes, but Laws palmed the left-footed drive over the bar.
That seemed to spark Sunderland into action at the other end, Mead blasting a shot wide after turning Kath Radtke inside out, Furness going close with a free-kick and Chaplen failing to get a teasing Ramshaw cross on target with her head.
In the 78th minute, City could only half-clear a Chaplen cross from the left, but the long-range header from Furness was straight at Brook, while the visitors needed to defend bravely in a fierce goalmouth scramble, with Sunderland making appeals for handball.
There were more loud appeals in the final minute when City midfielder Jennifer Beattie felled Mead on the edge of the area. It seemed a foul but referee Lucy May ruled otherwise.
City had three opportunities in added time, Scott shooting wide before subs Krystle Johnston and Natasha Harding both hit the bar.
A second Manchester goal would have been harsh on Sunderland, who deserved something out of the game but must now wait until a week on Saturday.
SUNDERLAND LADIES: Laws; Holmes, Bannon, Sharp, T Williams; Furness, Chaplen, McFadden; Ramshaw, Mead, S Williams (Kelly 46). Subs not used: Black, Greenwell, Gutteridge, McDougall, Wilson, Bass. Booked: Furness 45, Kelly 46, Bannon 66, T Williams 68, McFadden 80
MANCHESTER CITY WOMEN: Brooks; McManus (Lipman 82), Nightingale, Radtke, Stokes; Christiansen, Scott, Beattie; Parris, Duggan (Johnston 71), Wiltshire (Harding 67). Sub not used: Seasman. Goal: Parris 20
Referee: Lucy May (Northumberland). Att: 1,433