Steph McDougall’s late equaliser earned Sunderland Ladies a well deserved point against reigning champions Liverpool at Hetton-le-Hole in a frenetic game full of skill, speed and tough tackling.
The Lasses, who move one point ahead of Arsenal at the top of the Women’s Super League, started the game brightly as wingers Steph Roche and Keira Ramshaw threatened out wide early on. However, it did not take long for Liverpool to find their stride with Kate Longhurst and Ashley Hodson winning two corners in quick succession, the latter of which saw Lucy Staniforth’s delivery hit the top of the crossbar.
Despite this, it was not until the 21st minute that the game saw its first clear opportunity as leading goalscorer Beth Mead was hacked down in the area by Rebecca Easton before converting the penalty herself for her thirteenth goal this season. It was just the start of the problems for Easton and fellow centre back Gemma Bonner, who were severely tested throughout by Mead’s pace and skill on the ball as she put in yet another performance that will surely result in a senior England call-up sooner rather than later.
The concession of that goal seemed to spring Liverpool into life and five minutes later they were level as Natasha Dowie, determined to prove a point after being left out of England’s World Cup squad, charged down a Steph Bannon clearance before spectacularly lobbing Hilde Gunn Olsen from over 30 yards out. Like her opposite number Mead, Dowie was by far Liverpool’s most attacking threat and should have had a goal two minutes earlier as she fired wide at Olsen’s near post after good work down the right.
She was not the only Liverpool player guilty of missing a straightforward opportunity as Rosie White blazed over in front of an open goal at the start of the second half after a great cross from 16 year-old Mayumi Pacheco, who was a constant threat during the 70 minutes she was on the field. It was substitute Line Smorsgard, though, who set up Liverpool’s second goal in the 69th minute as she split the otherwise solid Sunderland defence with a sublime pass for White, who made no mistake this time as she cooly slotted the ball past Olsen for her second goal of the season.
Faced with the prospect of their first loss since April, the Lady Black Cats piled forward in search of an equaliser, with substitute Abbey Joice and fullback Abby Holmes in particular looking dangerous. This, however, left their defense exposed and the game was end-to-end with chances aplenty for either side. In the end, the pressure eventually paid off with Mead setting up McDougall to score with just two minutes to go. The excitement did not stop there though as both teams, spurred on by a vociferous crowd, continued to try and find a winner. For Liverpool, Katrin Omarsdottir missed another gilt-edged chance in front of goal after a Staniforth free-kick hit the post, before Sunderland countered with Mead firing wide, whilst the last moments of the game involved some heroic defending as both Holmes and Bannon threw themselves into the path of fiercely struck Liverpool shots.
The result sees Sunderland move onto 19 points at the head of the WSL table, although if both Arsenal and Chelsea win today (09/08) they could slip down to third place. As for Liverpool, they remain in sixth, 9 points behind Sunderland. Their next game is at home against Durham in the Continental Tyres Cup, whilst Sunderland host Manchester City in what is sure to be another enthralling game next Saturday.