SUNDERLAND Women were pushed all the way before sealing a place in the League Cup semi-finals with victory over Cardiff in Hetton yesterday.
In freezing conditions, the cup holders just had the edge in attacking threat to seal a place in the last four.
The first half was a tight affair with neither side getting on top.
Cardiff keeper Rhian Nokes collected a Sophie Williams cross well just before Natalie Gutteridge could get to the ball. Ellie Christon and Kelly McDougall then combined well to release Beth Mead, but Nokes blocked the shot.
At the other end, Nadia Lawrence broke clear but Sunderland keeper Rachael Laws was out smartly to smother the danger.
The deadlock was broken in the 28th minute when Vicki Greenwell broke up a City attack and fed the ball to skipper Steph Bannon, who released Williams on the right.
Her fine cross was helped on by Gutteridge and Mead hit a low drive into far corner past a helpless Nokes.
Cardiff continued to test the Sunderland back line on the break as Ellie Smith combined with Lawrence to set up Katie Aldridge but her effort was lifted well over the bar when she should have done better.
Soon after, the tricky Aldridge broke through again but this time she was denied by a fine challenge from centre-half Becky Salicki.
Keira Ramshaw beat the Cardiff offside trap to run through before pulling the ball back for Williams to have a fierce shot beaten away.
And soon after, Rachel Furness hit a thunderbolt effort which Nokes did well to turn around the post.
Sunderland pushed for a second goal at the start of the second half as Williams crossed into the box but Nokes palmed the ball away as Mead closed in.
Gutteridge intercepted a clearance to release Williams on the left but her effort on goal went agonisingly wide.
Salicki also saw a header scrambled away, biut it was not one-way traffic.
After a defensive lapse, Paige Stewart closed in on goal only for Laws to come out quickly and gather the ball bravely.
Williams and Ramshaw had efforts beaten away before the Wearsiders gained some breathing space with their second goal in the 80th minute.
Mead intercepted a short goal-kick to bear down on goal and she rounded the keeper before pulling the ball back for Williams to tap home.
Cardiff still didn’t give up as Aldridge and Lawrence linked well before being denied by a fine tackle from Christon.
Sunderland almost made it three in the dying seconds in an almighty scramble.
Mead had a shot parried away by Nokes but the striker picked it up again only to be denied once more by the keeper. The ball broke to Williams only for a defender to finally clear the danger.
Manager Mick Mulhern said: “It was a tough game against a well-organised side.
“Obviously after a few weekends without a competitive game we were a bit rusty. I’m pleased with my players and it’s a sign of a good team who can dig in and win ugly.”
Sunderland: Laws, Christon, Bannon, Salicki, Greenwell, Ramshaw, McDougall (McFadden), Furness, Williams (Atkinson), Gutteridge (Sutcliffe), Mead. Subs(not used): Caldwell, Chidester.