Sunderland Ladies fell to a 3-1 defeat to league leaders Liverpool in the Women’s Championship on Saturday evening.

Emily Scarr opened the scoring for the Black Cats midway through the first half but two quickfire goals from Yana Daniels and Leanne Kiernan gave the visitors the advantage heading into the break. A fantastic strike from Melissa Lawley on the hour put the result beyond doubt.

Mel Reay welcomed Maria Farrugia back into the starting XI with the Malta international leading the line after recovering from a leg injury, with Abbey Joice also returning to the midfield missing last week’s draw with Watford due to illness.

Expected to be their toughest test so far since returning women football’s second tier, Sunderland started on the back foot with Alison Cowling called into action to punch clear before Rachel Furness glanced Ceri Holland’s cross inches wide.

But the home side took a shock lead in the 20th minute – Liverpool failed to clear Emma Kelly’s corner and Emily Scarr pounced on the loose ball to coolly slot the loose ball low past ex-Black Cats goalkeeper Rachael Laws.

The Reds, however, showed why they are favourites for promotion as they dominated possession and laid siege to the Sunderland goal, Cowling saving point blank from Kiernan before pulling off an unbelievable save to tip Lawley’s volley onto the bar. From the resulting corner Niamh Fahey smashed a header against the woodwork, with Cowling again called into action to deny Holland from distance.

With half-time approaching, their pressure paid off as Lawley’s corner was flicked on by Furness and headed home by Daniels from yards out.

Minutes later Liverpool hit the crossbar for the third time from Holland’s well struck effort but turned the game on its head and took a deserved lead in stoppage time. Kiernan ran onto Furness’ ball over the top and kept her composure to find the bottom corner.

The goal was a devastating blow Sunderland were unable to recover from. Knocks to both Faye Mullen and Scarr to knocks forced Reay into changes as her side looked for a way back into the game but Liverpool kept them at arm’s length for large periods after the interval.

Jasmine Matthews nearly added a third from a set-piece, but her header was stopped on the line by some last-ditch defending. Then, on the hour mark the third goal arrived in spectacular style. Lawley collected the ball on the edge of the area and her swerving strike dipped into the top corner.

Sunderland battled on but to no avail, as the table-toppers sought a fourth and their second successive win on Wearside in seven days after overcoming Durham last weekend. Lawley almost found it as the clock wound down, trying another speculative shot which Cowling clawed away to safety.

The Lionesses’ World Cup qualifier against Austria at the Stadium of Light on Saturday gives the Black Cats an opportunity to reflect and rest ahead of their Continental League Cup clash against Aston Villa in two weeks time.

Sunderland: Cowling; Mullen (Beer 38’), McCatty, Potts, Griffiths; Herron, Kelly, Joice (Manders 63’); Ramshaw (c), Scarr (Blakey 82’), Farrugia.Subs not used: Moan, Brown, Ede, McInnes.