Manchester City 1
Sunderland’s hopes of clinching the Women’s Super League title are all but over.
But the Lady Black Cats could yet have a major say in the destination of the WSL1 trophy.
Chelsea hold a five-point lead at the top from Arsenal and Man City with Sunderland a further point back.
Last last night’s televised clash at the City Academy Stadium was a must-win game if they were to stay in title contention while it was a must-not-lose match in the race for the Champions League spot.
Mathematically, they are not out of the battle for runners-up spot.
But defeat to the Sky Blues from a 32nd-minute header one of the smallest players on the field, Izzy Christiansen, has left them with a very tall order.
Sunderland have just two games left, a home clash with Arsenal and a visit to champions-elect Chelsea.
Head coach Carlton Fairweather said: “We still have an outside chance of making the top two. But we are may be more in a position to affect the winners of the league.
“If we get points from our next two games we can affect the outcome of the title.
“We want to go out on a high and if we can produce a performance like that we’ll get some points without a shadow of a doubt.
“We’ll keep plugging away to the end.”
It was an evening of mixed emotions for Sunderland.
There was pride at how well they performed against a star-studded City but there was disappointment in only their second blank of the season, the Sky Blues again the opposition after winning by the same margin at Hetton at the start of the season.
England keeper Karen Bardsley made saves from Brooke Chaplen, Abbey Joice and Beth Mead as the away side failed to turn pressure into goals.
“I was pleased with the way we played and the fantastic attitude the players showed,” said Fairweather.
“It’s just a shame we could not get the result.
“We caused them some problems, we created a couple of opportunities and some half-chances.
“We just needed to be a bit more clinical in and around the final third.”
Unfortunately for Sunderland, the majority of the openings fell to Brroke Chaplen rather than Beth Mead.
That is no disrespect to the attacking midfielder who had a fine game in a more advanced role but you would wish the best chances to fall to your most potent scorer.
Chaplen had the first shot of the evening, Bardsley going down to save to her right in the fourth minute and the keeper produced an even better diving effort to keep out Joice in the 20th minute after the winger had cut in from the left side.
City were a threat on the break and Steph Bannon and Tori Williams were required to make good interceptions.
Sunderland were having more shots on goal but the game was decided in a hectic 60 second period.
Joice made a sumptuous turn and run towards the City box and slid the ball to Chaplen, whose shot was saved by Bardsley.
But City broke and Krystle Johnston put over a great cross from the right.
The 23-year-old, surely a candidate for the England squad being named this evening, met it superbly with her head though Rachael Laws will be disappointed she could not keep it out of her net.
Mead went close to creating a Sunderland equaliser in the 62nd minute when she got the better of former Sunderland star Demi Stokes and broke into the box.
She found Chaplen but Kiera Walsh made a crucial block and Jen Beattie hacked clear.
Sunderland had plenty of possession but the final execution did not match the approach work.
Chaplen did well on one occasion down the left but her cross was a wild one while Mead, in one of her rare sights at goal, went for Bardsley’s near-post 16 minutes from time and the World Cup keeper collected comfortably.
The far stick may have been a better option but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Sunderland never gave up, but it was to be their last real sight of the home goal.
Man City: Bardsley, McManus, Houghton, Beattie, Stokes, Walsh, Scott, Christiansen, Harding, Johnson, Stanway (Flint 64). Unused subs: Brooks, Brougham, Lipman, Radtke, Bronze
Goal: Christiansen 32 Booked: Scott 40
Sunderland: Laws, Holmes, Bannon, Williams, Greenwell, Joice, Furness, McDougall (McFadden 87), Chaplen, Ramshaw (Kelly 76). Mead. Unused subs: Olsen, Roche, Beer
Referee: Natalie Aspinall Att: 992