SUNDERLAND Women pushed Arsenal all the way before losing their FA Cup quarter-final in a five-goal thriller at Eppleton CW yesterday.
In an evenly-contested game, the illustrious visitors grabbed the winner in extra-time but Sunderland pushed them all the way.
In front of a crowd of just under 600, Sunderland belied their amateur status against the semi-professional might of the Super League giants.
The game got off to a physical start, with both sides showing their early commitment.
Arsenal’s Ellen White broke down the right to cross for Julie Fleeting, who headed narrowly wide.
Then fine play from Rachel Furness on the left resulted in a cross for Natalie Gutteridge to hit a shot on the turn, which Emma Byrne got down well to save.
The Wearsiders got the breakthrough their play deserved as they took the lead in the 21st minute.
Demi Stokes took a right wing corner and Furness outjumped the defence to head past Byrne and send the crowd wild.
It was end-to-end stuff as both sides pushed forward at every opportunity, with Gutteridge having a header from a Keira Ramshaw cross saved by Byrne.
Sunderland were dealt a blow as Wilson had to be replaced through injury, with Sarah McFadden slotting into central defence.
The Lady Black Cats were caught cold two minutes into the second half as sub Rachel Yankey crossed from the left and Ellen White headed over the despairing Laws and into the top corner.
A Stokes effort was well blocked by Grant before Chapman poked a shot just wide of the Sunderland goal.
Then the move of the match saw Kelly McDougall win the ball and bring in Furness down the left to play in Ramshaw, who switched it for Stokes to drive in a shot which scraped the bar.
Another fine move involving McDougall and Ramshaw resulted in a Sophie Williams effort being saved by Byrne.
A slick Arsenal move opened up the home defence and they were grateful to see Kim Little’s shot come back off the bar.
Moments later, the visitors should have taken the lead, with Fleeting steering a header wide when well placed.
Fleeting made amends, though, as she gave Arsenal the lead in the 78th minute, stooping to head home from a White cross.
The Wearsiders would not lie down through and stormed back to level in the 80th minute. Stokes swung in a corner from the right and Furness headed back across goal for Bannon to volley home from close range.
Extra-time began with another quick Arsenal goal. The ball was played across the face of goal and as the clearance fell short, White pounced to hit a low shot beyond Laws and into the bottom corner.
Little then played a clever one-two with Fleeting to go clear, but Bannon somehow got back to make a brilliant tackle.
Ramshaw and McDougall linked well to set Williams free and her cross caused panic in the visiting defence as the ball was scrambled off the line.
A McDougall free-kick was met by Bannon but her header was saved by Byrne.
At the death, Bannon delivered a dangerous ball into the box which Byrne could only parry. Ramshaw fired the loose ball on target but was unlucky to see it hit the unsighted Byrne, who was on the ground.
Sunderland: Laws, Holmes, Bannon, Wilson (McFadden), Greenwell, Ramshaw, Furness (Vaughan), McDougall, Stokes, Williams, Gutteridge (Potts). Subs (not used) Salicki, Christon.
Arsenal: Byrne, Houghton, Flaherty, Grant, Nobbs, White, Fleeting, Beattie (Fahey), Carter (Yankey), Little, Chapman.