Sunderland Ladies missed the chance to go level on points with fourth-placed Liverpool Ladies in the Women’s Super League last night.
Jess Clarke’s brace helped the Merseysiders end a difficult period of back-to-back defeats, moving them back up to third place in the table.
Two strikes either side of the break from Clarke, plus Bethany England’s seventh league goal of the season, meant that Dominique Bruinenberg’s equaliser was not enough for Sunderland.
The hosts’ 3-1 victory also provided the perfect send-off for former England captain Casey Stoney, who skippered the Reds as she made her final appearance before retirement.
Liverpool were in control of the game during the opening exchanges but took almost 20 minutes to make their pressure count.
A pinpoint cross from the left by Alex Greenwood left Clarke with the simple task of tapping home past Rachael Laws.
Sunderland didn’t look like responding, but they but found an equaliser out of the blue in the 32nd minute.
Patient build-up play gave Bruinenberg a chance from the edge of the box and the midfielder picked her spot to power an effort past Becky Flaherty.
Scott Rogers’ Liverpool side came out flying after the break though and were back in front just five minutes into the second half.
Greenwood and Clarke combined again, the latter this time heading past Laws from close range.
Five minutes later, it was game over when England continued her good form to seal the deal for the hosts on what could have turned out to be a tricky night.
A slick move ended in Caroline Weir slotting in England and the striker coolly converted her effort into the corner.
The game didn’t end well for the Chelsea loanee though, as she hobbled off after a collision in the box.
Sunderland manager Melanie Copeland said: “It’s really annoying because we’ve been in good form coming into the game and I thought we could get a result.
“But we slipped back into some of those bad habits I thought were gone.
“We started really shaky and conceded the goal, but I was really happy with how we responded and how we got back into the game.
“We were happy with where we were at half-time.
“We spoke about what we needed to do and, for some reason, in that opening 10 minutes, we’ve conceded two goals.
“Liverpool will probably think they’re great goals, but we’re disappointed with how we’ve defended them and it’s given us a mountain to climb.
“We couldn’t get a goal back, but we had a lot of the ball.
“We created a few things but we weren’t clinical enough to get back in it.
Sunderland must wait until March 18 to get back in action, when they entertain Manchester City Women in the Women’s FA Cup quarter-final at Mariners Park in South Shields.
Copeland added: “The girls have got to go away now because it’s a long wait, but it’s a chance to get back on the training ground and get some hard work in.
“We just have to keep doing the basics well – lots of repetition ahead – and we have to plan properly to get a result.
“I think it’s about who performs on the day. It’s an FA Cup quarter-final with an opportunity to play at Wembley.
“It’s a huge motivation for the players to go out and get a result on the day.
“Simona Koren should be back for the FA Cup game, but Stephanie Roche is still doing some rehab out in Ireland – but I should have a pretty full squad to choose from.”
Liverpool Ladies (4-3-3): Becky Flaherty, Martha Harris, Amy Turner, Casey Stoney (Kate Longhurst 89), Alex Greenwood, Sophie Ingle, Laura Coombs, Caroline Weir, Jess Clarke, Beth England (Rinsola Babajide 86), Ali Johnson. Subs not used: Emily Ramsey, Amy Rodgers, Ash Hodson
Sunderland Ladies (4-3-3): Rachael Laws, Hayley Sharp, Ellie Stewart, Victoria Williams, Kylla Sjoman (Keira Ramshaw 61), Kasia Lipka, Rachel Pitman, Lucy Staniforth, Dominique Bruinenberg (Mollie Lambert 84), Zaneta Wyne (Abbey Joice 84), Bridget Galloway. Subs not used: Anka Preuss, Danielle Brown, Georgia Gibson, Anna Young
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