BETH MEAD’S second half strike sealed the Premier League title for Sunderland at Cardiff.
The Lady Black Cats went into yesterday’s game knowing only a win would do on the final day of the league campaign.
And they did just enough, with the three points lifting them above rivals Leeds United to seal a successful defence of their title.
The game was played in atrocious conditions with gale force winds and driving rain but Sunderland prevailed to start loud celebrations!
The visitors began brightly and pushed Cardiff onto the back foot as Sophie Williams’ pace took her beyond her marker. She crossed but Keira Ramshaw just failed to make contact in front of goal.
The early pressure paid dividends as Sunderland grabbed a ninth-minute lead.
Natalie Gutteridge and Kelly McDougall combined to feed Nicola Devine on the left wing and after beating a defender her deep cross eluded everyone to drop into the far corner of the goal.
With the conditions worsening, the game became scrappy with neither side able to stamp their authority on it.
However, from their first period of sustained possession, Cardiff grabbed an unlikely equaliser in the 15th minute.
Sunderland conceded a soft corner on their right hand side and as the ball came over Terri Beddows drove the ball through a crowded goalmouth and into the corner of the net.
Kelly McDougall brought the ball through the middle and lifted it into the penalty area for Williams to head narrowly over before Vicki Greenwell’s strong run from defence resulted in her long-range effort going inches past the post.
Cardiff replied with a dangerous free-kick which was headed over by Beddows.
As the first half ended, McDougall and Rachel Lee had efforts beaten away as the score remained level at the break.
Sunderland came out for the second half in determined mood and Devine ran clear on the left but her cross was headed over by Beth Mead.
The visitors began to turn the screw with Williams and Mead going close and it was no surprise when they regained the lead after 52 minutes.
Ramshaw turned her marker on the edge of the box and played in Lee, who drove it goalwards. As the ball bounced off a defender, Mead was first to react and steer it beyond the despairing dive of Rhian Noakes in the home goal.
Minutes later, McDougall’s dangerous free-kick was well held by Noakes before Williams’ fine cross was volleyed over by Ramshaw.
The returning Abby Holmes showed her fitness with a fine overlapping run down the right and her low cross just evaded the outstretched Gutteridge in front of goal.
Sunderland were in complete control now as Cardiff were reduced to the occasional breakaway and their task became even harder when Beddows was shown a red card in the 74th minute for hauling down Mead on the edge of the box as she closed in on goal.
The visitors were unlucky not to grab a third goal as Williams cut in from the left to unleash a powerful shot which hit the underside of the bar and came down on the line before bouncing off the post and away to safety.
In a nervy final minute, Cardiff gained a free-kick in a dangerous position and as the ball was delivered in Rachel Laws was up to the task as she grabbed hold of the ball at the second attempt.
Sunderland: Laws, Christon (Holmes), Salicki, Greenwell, Devine, Ramshaw, Lee, McDougall, Williams, Gutteridge, Mead. Subs: Atkinson, Wilson, Chidester, Caldwell.
MANAGER Mick Mulhern hailed his side’s team spirit after their battling win in dreadful conditions sealed a second successive Premier League title.
Sunderland deservedly triumphed 2-1 at Cardiff yesterday to seal the championship ahead of rivals Leeds United - who they meet in the League Cup final next Sunday.
It was a satisfying moment for Mulhern and his young side.
“It was an emotional weekend,” admitted the Lady Black Cats boss.
“We have a lot of young players and I tried to play down the importance of the game and make the build-up as normal as possible,
“There were maybe one or two anxious faces when Cardiff equalised, but only for a few minutes. It was their first effort on goal and it went in.
“But we were always in control and were confident that we would score again.”
The game was switched to an all-weather pitch, with all grass surfaces in the Welsh capital waterlogged – but the weather still had a major affect on the game, with lashing rain throughout and strong winds blowing across the pitch.
“We had plenty of chances to kill the game off but in the end we had to rely on just the second goal,” added Mulhern.
“It was a goal out of nothing; another excellent finish from Beth (Mead), who has been fantastic for us in her first season.
“That’s a goal a game she has averaged for the season and 29 in total this season. She was injured for our last league game and she was a big miss as we only drew the game.
“She was targeted in this game and took some clatterings, including when the player was sent off when Beth would have been clean through.
“But full credit goes not only to the ones that played today but everyone who has contributed throughout the season. The spirit and effort has been fantastic
“We’ve has injuries along the way and it’s full credit to the whole squad for winning the championship a second successive year.”
Mulhern will now take training tomorrow and Thursday night as the Lady Black Cats look to complete a double by winning the League Cup at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium.
“The pressure is off us now,” said Mulhern. “If we had lost this game, the cup final would have been our last chance of some silverware and the pressure would have been on. I believe we are the best team in the league and we did not want to go into the final as a make-or-break game in our season.
“Now, we have the championship in the bag, so we can look forward to a big final. But of course we now want to win that.”