Sunderland Ladies marked their Women’s Championship return with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Coventry United Ladies.

The Black Cats got their season off the perfect start through Jessica Brown’s strike midway through the second half.

New signings Charlotte Potts and Emma Kelly, who returned to Wearside during the summer, both started at the Butts Park Arena against one of the sides tipped for promotion.

Coventry signalled their intent early on, with Anna Wilcox trying her luck from 30 yards but failing to hit the target. Despite a nervous start, Sunderland grew into the game and had a penalty shout waved away with Louise Griffiths adamant the ball was handled in the box.

The hosts hit back almost immediately, a good run by Destiney Toussant finding Katie Wilkinson but her effort was deflected wide by Griffiths, and the resulting corner missed everyone as the ball flashed agonisingly across the face of goal.

The left-back was in the thick of the action again at the other end, finding space on the edge of the area but fired her shot over the bar after good work by Kelly and Abbey Joice to win the ball back.

Although United looked increasingly dangerous from set-pieces, they were unable to find a way past Claudia Moan who repeatedly came off her line to punch clear.

Sunderland too had their chances to break the deadlock, with Potts heading powerfully wide and Neve Herron chipping her shot straight into the arms of Olivia Clark.

The goalkeeper was forced off injured before the break following a nasty collision with Keira Ramshaw saw five minutes added on at the end of an even half as they received treatment.

Matching their opponents Sunderland sensed the game was there for the taking and started the second period with a flurry of chances.

Maria Farrugia played in Brown after a driving run but the youngster was unable to trouble substitute Lucy Thomas, before the away side had their second penalty appeal turned down after the Malta international collided with Naomi Hartley in the box.

The pressure began to build as Kelly tested Thomas from range and Brown glanced a header wide before opening the scoring with a superbly taken goal. Ramshaw broke down the right and shrugged off a challenge, laying the ball back to Brown who skipped past a couple of challenges to strike low into the net.

It was all Sunderland from then on, Kelly and Herron having shots saved and Thomas pulling off an acrobatic stop to turn Ramshaw’s vicious strike round the post.

In the closing stages the Black Cats were forced to dig in, Grace McCatty denying Rio Hardy with a last-ditch block, but they held on to record a deserved victory which proved they have nothing to fear from the coming season.

Sunderland Ladies: Moan; Beer, McCatty, Potts, Griffiths; Brown, Herron, Kelly; Ramshaw, Joice, Farrugia.

Subs: Cowling, Manders, McInnes, Mullen, Blakey, Hutchinson, Scarr (Brown ’67).