Keira Ramshaw’s dramatic stoppage-time penalty helped Sunderland Ladies begin their Continental League Cup campaign with a 1-1 draw at Sheffield United.

The captain came off the bench to cancel out Courtney Sweetman-Kirk’s second half opener, calmly slotting home from the spot to take the game to a shoot-out which the Black Cats won to secure a vital bonus point.

Heading into the tie manager Mel Reay promised a host of changes to the side who lost to Durham last Sunday and didn’t disappoint, with five players coming in to a starting XI with an average age of under 23. Forward Eve Blakey made her first appearance of the season, with new signing and Regional Talent Club graduate Grace Ede named among the substitutes.

In a cagey opening 20 minutes the visitors enjoyed most of the possession but neither side was able to create any clear chances. Midway through the half Alison Cowling was eventually called into action, confidently claiming Lucy Watson’s drilled cross before palming away Maddy Cusack’s freekick from the left

The Blades started the second half the brighter and tested the Sunderland defence on several occasions – a deflected clearance almost catching out Cowling who then got down well to save from Sweetman-Kirk from close range – before taking the lead before the hour.

Jess Clarke’s deep cross from the right flank found Sweetman-Kirk at the far post who netted her fourth goal of the season with a neat finish.

The former Liverpool player was causing a lot of problems for Sunderland’s make-shift backline, which was missing Charlotte Potts and Grace McCatty, and almost doubled her tally minutes later as she expertly rounding Cowling but was unable to find the target from a tight angle. Then, finding herself in a good position after being played in by Mia Enderby, her sliced shot failed to trouble Cowling.

With 15 minutes to go, Ede came on for her debut to a rousing reception from the few Black Cats supporters who had travelled to South Yorkshire, having only turned 16 this month.

Ede’s introduction seemed to galvanise her team who kicked up a gear, Emily Scarr throwing herself in front of Charley Docherty’s point-blank shot on the line before Ramshaw’s powerful drive from distance was blocked by Bex Rayner and Iris Achterhof’s deflected effort was well saved by Nina Wilson.

But just when it seemed they would be heading back to Wearside empty-handed, their luck turned. Deep into the fifth minute of added time the referee pointed to the spot after Sophie Walton was adjudged to have handled in the box, despite claiming a push in her back.

The experienced Ramshaw stepped up calmly passed the ball into the net to sparked wild celebrations from those in yellow and blue.

United had no time to find an answer as the final whistle blew to signal a penalty shoutout to decide who would claim the bonus point.

Ramshaw, unnerved, took Sunderland’s first and made no mistake. Sunderland took a 4-2 lead after Emma Kelly, Neve Herron and Emily Scarr all converting their spot kicks, with Kasia Lipka having to score to keep her side in the tie. However, the former Black Cat clattered the post from 12 yards to give the away side two points and boost of confidence following a difficult recent run of results.

Sunderland: Cowling; Mullen (Brown 64’), Griffiths, Herron, McInnes (Ramshaw ‘64); Kelly ©, Manders (Achterhof 78’), Joice; Farrugia, Scarr, Blakey (Ede 75’).

Subs (not used): Moan