Sunderland Ladies travelled to Wales to face Cardiff City Ladies in their final league game of the season on Sunday needing all three points to retain the Women’s National Premier League title.
The game was played in atrocious conditions with gale force winds and driving rain but the Lady Black Cats prevailed and took the honours in a 2-1 victory to pip closest rivals Leeds Utd to the Championship. Nicola Devine gave Sunderland an early lead but Terri Beddows equalised before Beth Mead grabbed the winner in the second half. The Wearsiders now face Leeds Utd next Sunday in the League Cup Final at Northampton hoping to complete the double.
The visitors began brightly and pushed Cardiff onto the back foot as Sophie Williams’ pace took her beyond her marker and she crossed but Keira Ramshaw just failed to make contact in front of goal. The early pressure paid dividends as Sunderland grabbed a 9th 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. However from their first period of 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. McDougall brought the ball through the middle and lifted it into the penalty area for Williams to head narrowly over before Vicky 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 petered out McDougall and Rachael 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 the visitors regained the lead after 52 minutes. Ramshaw turned her marker on the edge of the box and played in Lee who drove it goal ward and as the ball bounced off a defender Mead was first to react and steer it beyond the despairing dive of Rhian Nokes 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 3rd 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.
Full-Time: Cardiff City Ladies 1 vs 2 Sunderland Ladies
Sunderland Line-up: Laws, Christon(Holmes), Salicki, Greenwell, Devine, Ramshaw, Lee, McDougall, Williams, Gutteridge, Mead.
Subs: Atkinson, Wilson, Chidester, Caldwell.
Mick Mulhern was delighted after the game as he spoke amidst the bubbly... ”It was fantastic to win this league last year but the real challenge was to retain it. We’ve done that after a hard and challenging season and that’s the mark of true champions. I’m very proud.”
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