SUNDERLAND took a massive step towards sealing a third successive National Premier League title with an impressive display at League Cup winners Aston Villa.
A late first half goal by Kelly McDougall and second half goals by Beth Mead and Abbey Joice sealed the victory.
Title rivals Leeds won 2-1 at Coventry, but Sunderland can clinch the title with a win against Cardiff City at Eppleton CW this Sunday.
The Lady Black Cats won 4-0 at Cardiff last month.
Sunderland started brightly, keeping possession in the early stages and the first effort on goal came following a McDougall free-kick which was headed narrowly wide by Keira Ramshaw.
At the other end, an Aston Villa free-kick was comfortably collected by keeper Rachael Laws.
Sunderland then had penalty claims denied when McDougall appeared to be pulled back as she was through on goal.
A quick throw by Vicki Greenwellled to Abbey Joice having a shot saved by the Villa goalkeeper as the Black Cats started to increase the pressure.
A Steph Bannon free-kick was headed goalwards by Gemma Wilson but Megan Walsh in the Villa goal beat it away. McDougall fired home the rebound, only to be denied by the offside flag. On the stroke of half-time, though, Sunderland took the lead.
Another Bannon free-kick which was headed on by Sarah McFadden into the path of McDougall and she cleverly lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net.
Sunderland doubled their lead early in the second half.
Joice picked up the ball in the middle and played the ball out wide to Sophie Williams, whose great cross into the area was met by Beth Mead, who glanced a header into the far corner. Further efforts by Ramshaw and Mead almost added another.
Excellent build-up play led to Sunderland’s third goal as Ramshaw laid the ball off for McFadden, whose through ball found Joice and she calmly slotted the ball past Walsh into the far corner.
The home side went in search of a consolation goal but were initially denied by the post and then Greenwell was on hand to clear the rebound.
Manager Mick Mulhern said: “I am delighted to get all three points at Villa as it’s a hard place to come and get a result.
“My players have grown up a lot in the last year and that was shown today in the professionalism we displayed, especially in the second half.”
Sunderland: Laws, Holmes, Bannon, Wilson, Greenwell, McFadden, McDougall, Joice, Ramshaw (Kelly), Williams, Mead. Subs not used: Alderson, Salicki, Atkinson, Beer.