Sunderland Ladies’ winless run in the Women’s Championship stretched to five games as they were beaten 2-0 by Lewes.

Isobel Dalton fired the hosts into an early lead with Ellie Mason doubling their advantage just before half time. Despite an improved performance in a fiercely contested second half in which both sides went down to 10 players, the Black Cats were unable to halt their mid-season slump.

There was positive news heading into Sunday’s game with the signing of defender Grace Boyes from Middlesbrough who went straight into the squad, and the return of Megan Beer who has missed the past few weeks with injury.

But, in a similar vein to last week’s defeat to London City, the visitors made the worst possible start and were behind within the opening five minutes. The Sunderland defence failed to clear a throw in and, after ricocheting around, the ball was played to Dalton who took a touch and lashed a left-footed strike into the top corner.

Their response was encouraging, Emma Kelly seeing her shot blocked after Abbey Joice had danced through the Lewes back line and cut the ball back to the edge of the box. At the other end, they still looked shaky and were lucky not to fall further behind as Dalton’s freekick from wide flashed across the face of goal.

All the visitors’ good play was coming through Joice, the midfielder drawing players out wide to create space for Kiera Ramshaw who shot inches wide of the far upright.

Moments later, Lewes should have extended their lead. Freda Ayisi beat Grace McCatty to the ball down the left and found an unmarked Lucy Ashworth-Clifford yards out, but Alison Cowling pulled off an unbelievable point-blank save to tip the ball wide.

After Maria Farrugia had tested Tatiana Saunders from distance, the Rooks did find the net. Mason drove into the opposition half, continuing her run after playing the ball wide and was in the right spot to fire home after Ayisi’s shot was stopped by Cowling.

Early in the second half the Sunderland’s hopes of mounting a comeback were boosted after Ayisi was shown a second yellow for a high challenge on Neve Herron, but Lewes continued to create chances, Zöe Cross clipping the outside of the post with a speculative effort.

With players picking up knocks and hoping to make the numerical advantage count, Mel Reay changed things up with Holly Manders, Jess Brown and Libbi McInnes entering the fray in place of Eve Blakey, Farrugia and Grace Ede.

The triple change almost paid off immediately as Ramshaw headed against the post from Brown’s deep cross with the home defence frantically clearing the loose ball. But six minutes from time, a bad day got worse as McCatty was shown a straight red for a robust challenge on Georgia Timms.

Sunderland are now without a win in the league since November, but are still well placed to achieve their target of avoiding relegation with Reay’s side still to face Blackburn, Watford, Coventry United and Sheffield United.

They have a better recent record in the cup competitions and with Birmingham City coming up in the Women’s FA Cup, the Black Cats will be hoping for a confidence boosting display at St Andrews from her side to carry into the coming weeks.