Sunderland Ladies launched the new season and new era by beating Aston Villa to reach the sixth round of the Women’s FA Cup.
Any fears that the Lady Black Cats, shorn of four of their best players who have left for pastures new, and short of match practice after only two behind-closed-doors friendlies, would struggle were dispelled by goals from Tori Williams, Hayley Sharp and Lucy Staniforth.
They gave new head coach Melanie Reay a winning start against a stubborn Villans, who replied through Tash Baptiste and Lucy Shepherd.
It was the first match for the Lady Black Cats after the club’s decision to revert to a part-time model and it proved a good start.
Sunderland were the first to show with Steph Roche seeing her low shot cannon off Chloe Beattie’s left upright with the keeper beaten.
But the home side didn’t have long to wait to go ahead.
Beattie could only beat out Staniforth’s free-kick and Williams was the first to react to rifle in the loose ball from close range.
However, out of the blue, Villa were level in the 18th minute when Beth Merrick put over a delicious cross from the right which Baptiste superbly headed past Anke Preuss.
Sunderland regained the lead 10 minutes befoe the interval when Beverly Leon played a fine cross from the left which Sharp emphatically headed in from the six-yard box.
It could have been 3-1 when Staniforth, pulling the strings majestically from the centre of midfield, put Abby Holmes clear but Beattie dived to her left to make the save.
Soon after, Staniforth flashed a shot wide as Sunderland threatened to run riot.
However, Villa replied four minutes into the second half when Lucy Shepherd was put through and the midfielder beat Preuss with a thumping finish.
Sunderland came straight back with two of the club’s development team products to the fore, Maddie Hill firing over bar after good work down right from the equally-energetic Danielle Brown.
The Lady Black Cats included two debutants, Preuss and Dutch midfielder Dominique Bruinenberg, and the German keeper came to the rescue in the 62nd minute when the former Champions League winner saved from Shepherd as Villa threatened to take the lead.
But Sunderland were back in front just three minutes later from a Staniforth penalty. Elisha N’Dow was guilty of handball from Leon’s shot and ref Dean Hulme immediately pointed to the spot.
Barely had the decision been taken than Staniforth beat Beattie from 12 yards.
Sub Bridget Galloway had a late shot blocked for the hosts who survived a late Villa flurry to take their place in this morning’s quarter-final draw.
Sunderland Ladies: Preuss, Bannon, Sharp, Williams, Holmes (Lambert 79), Brown, Hill, Staniforth, Bruinenberg (Watt 79), Roche, Leon (Galloway 66). Unused subs: Donnelly, Ramshaw
Goals: Williams 13, Sharp 35, Staniforth (pen) 65
Booked: Holmes 69
Aston Villa: Beattie, Hassall, N’Dow, Richards, George, Merrick, Moran (Welch 86), Porter, Shepherd, Rouse, Baptiste (Hinchcliffe 65)
Unused subs: Smith, Potts, Dale
Goals: Baptiste 18, Shepherd 49
Referee: Dean Hulme. Att: 262