SUNDERLAND came from behind to claim victory and seal the Women’s National Premier League title yesterday.
Two late goals from Kelly McDougall and Abby Holmes completed the comeback and ensured the Championship came to Wearside for the first time.
The Lady Black Cats got off to the ideal start when they took the lead after just two minutes.
Skipper Steph Bannon sent a deep free-kick into the Millwall box and Keira Ramshaw pulled the ball back across goal for Natalie Gutteridge to slot home from close in.
Demi Stokes and Sophie Williams went close to adding to the score before Millwall levelled in the eighth minute. A quick break down the left saw the ball crossed for Lindsey Morgan to head in at the back post. Despite close efforts from Kelly McDougall and Gutteridge, the home side stepped up the pressure and went in front on 31 minutes.
A fine move through the middle saw the visiting defence split and Emma Beckett was left in the clear to slot past Rachael Laws.
The second half began at a furious pace with Millwall enjoying the bulk of the early possession.
Edwards and Jones threatened but Sunderland stood firm with Sarah McFadden and Bannon linking well at the back.
Rachel Furness and McDougall were finding it difficult to contain the strong running of the home midfield and Laws was called into action again to deny Beckett.
Despite their dominance, the Lionesses could not kill off their opponents and the Lady Black Cats bared their teeth again,
In the 80th minute, Bannon broke up a home attack and Vicki Greenwell took the ball away down the left. The ball was played inside for McDougall to unleash a screamer from 30 yards which flew into the net.
This gave Sunderland a huge lift and they could sense victory as Millwall tired.
As the game entered the 90th minute the visitors gained a corner and Stokes swung the ball over for Abby Holmes to outjump everyone at the back post and head powerfully home. Wild celebrations ensued as Holmes was buried beneath a pile of bodies and the home side were left cursing their luck.
Manager Mick Mulhern was delighted to seal the title with two games still to play.
“We were severely tested today,” he said.
“Millwall were fighting for their lives but my players showed maturity, quality and mental strength in dealing with everything thrown at them, just as they have done all season.
“I’m delighted we have won the league and I’m very proud of the girls.”
Sunderland: Laws, Holmes, Bannon, McFadden (Vaughan), Greenwell, Stokes, Furness, McDougall, Williams, Gutteridge (Christon), Ramshaw. Subs (not used): Alderson, Salicki, Potts.