It all began with England’s World Cup heroes – but it ended with surely an international star of the future.
Notts County’s England contingent was given a guard of honour at Eppleton CW’s ground, a rousing reception from the 955 fans and flowers from the host club.
Beth has been working very hard on her game and the fact she’s getting England recognition is fabulous.
But by the end, all the talk was about a breathtaking injury-time winner from Beth Mead, a goal which sent Sunderland third in Women’s Super League 1.
Set up by supersub Abbey Joice, the striker got the better of England centre-half Laura Bassett on the edge of the area and then fired a spectacular right-footer into the top-left corner of the net of another World Cup star, keeper Siobhan Chamberlain.
The 20-year-old could have already had a hat-trick and had spurned better opportunities, but this was a finish of the highest calibre.
Mead has already represented England at Under 23 level this season but it must be a matter of time before she is given an opportunity to play even higher.
While she captured the headlines – and rightly so – there was another contender for player of the match.
New keeper Hilde Gunn Olsen made a dream debut with a string of superb saves – almost all of them from Ellen White.
The 23-year-old denied her with her first real contribution of the afternoon when the England ace was one-on-one with the Norwegian in the 14th minute.
But she saved her best until last, blocking White in the dying moments of normal time when the score was 1-1 and the forward was favourite to score the winner.
Without that superb intervention there would have been no Mead winner – so top marks to the Norway U23 stopper.
Top marks too to head coach Carlton Fairweather.
He took off the club’s star summer signing, Stephanie Roche, after a quiet debut and sent on Joice on 63 minutes.
Before her arrival, Sunderland were looking quite flat and there for the taking against a vibrant Notts County.
But the diminutive midfielder was a little box of tricks and her positive play and energy lifted the Lady Black Cats – and she has probably played herself into the starting XI for Saturday’s third against first clash with Chelsea at Hetton.
“To be fair to Abbey, she’s done really well in training over the last couple of weeks,” said Fairweather, who says that Roche needs time to settle in.
“Steph will take a little bit of time to adapt and get up to pace in WSL1.”
Fairweather was thrilled with the goal from Mead, adding: “It was a fantastic finish.
“The great thing about Beth is that she is getting in these positions and she’s finished the hardest of them.
“There were easier chances but I’m pleased for Beth because she’s working very hard on her game and the fact she’s getting England recognition is fabulous.”
Ultimately, it’s about the team and Fairweather says displays and results like this will keep the side moving forward.
“The girls are doing very well,” he said. “We can’t take anything for granted and we won’t, we’ll keep working hard at our game and keep developing,” he added.
Just like last time out, Sunderland made a ligtning start. On this occasion, the goal was 91 seconds.
Vicki Greenwell, preferred to Tori Williams at left back, swung over a free-kick from 35 yards, which Hayley Sharp met with a superb right-foot volley which flashed past Chamberlain.
Having denied White with her first top save, Olsen was beaten in the 17th minute when the livewire Jess Clarke finished emphatically from inside the area.
Notts County’s passing and movement was top notch, but the finishing less convincing and Sunderland were not shy of chances.
Mead had a glorious chance in the 53rd minute but could not hit the target before Joice set her up three times in a Sunderland purple patch.
She went just wide of the keeper’s right-hand post with her first attempt, dithered on the second occasion and lost the ball and in the 78th minute she tried to place it and it went just past Chamberlain’s left-hand post.
It wasn’t all Sunderland, and skipper Steph Bannon needed to produce some great defensive work, making several crucial tackles and putting off sub Aileen Whelan when she was in a glorious position late on.
Olsen then saved the day, but the last word went to Mead after great work by Joice.
Sunderland: Olsen, Holmes, Bannon, Sharp (T Williams 28), Greenwell, Ramshaw (Kelly 88), McDougall, Furness, Chaplen, Roche (Joice 63), Mead. Subs (not used): Wilson, McFadden.
Goals: Sharp 2, Mead 90
Notts Co: Chamberlain, Turner, F Whelan (Susi 7), Bassett, Greenwood, Buet, Walton, Crichton, Clarke, White, Williams (A Whelan 73). Subs (not used): Plumptre, O’Neill
Ref: John Matthews Att: 955