Sunderland Ladies battled to a 2-2 Women’s Championship draw with Sheffield United in their first home game of 2022.
The Black Cats twice took the lead through Abbey Joice and Holly Manders but were pegged back in both halves by Courtney-Sweetman Kirk who also missed a penalty.
Hoping to build on last week’s impressive performance against Birmingham City in the FA Cup, the much-needed draw halts a run of three successive defeats and edges Mel Reay’s side closer to securing another season in the second tier.
After surviving an early scare – Alison Cowling parrying Chaley Docherty’s far-post volley for a corner – Sunderland went ahead within 10 minutes when Abbey Joice coolly finished Maria Farrugia’s pass following a sweeping passing move.
Seconds later, Sheffield United had the ball in the net themselves but play was pulled back for a penalty after referee Sophie Dennington judged Neve Herron had handled in the area. The Blades were aggrieved at the decision, and their mood wasn’t improved by Sweetman-Kirk firing the spot kick wide.
But she made up for it midway through the half, meeting Georgia Walters’ cross from the left to finish first time past Cowling.
The home side were quite happy to allow United most of the possession, closing down their opponents and swiftly hitting on the counter – a tactic which saw Emily Scarr break into the box and go down under a clumsy challenge. Despite loud appeals – mostly from Reay and the Sunderland fans behind the goal – the officials waived away the protests.
The final chance of the first period went to the visitors with Cowling pushing away Maddy Cusack’s dangerous in swinging freekick from danger.
There was nothing of note in the early exchanges following the break, aside from lengthy stoppages as Georgia Robert and Kasia Lipka received treatment, but the action cranked up on the hour when both sides struck the woodwork.
First, Emily Scarr was denied by the crossbar after flicking a loose ball over Fran Kitching with Manders reaching the rebound with an acrobatic effort which flew high and wide. Then, after Cowling had saved from Sweetman-Kirk, the Blades number seven was also frustrated by the frame of the goal. Sunderland scrambled away the danger but had to clear the resulting corner off the line with some desperate last ditch defending.
Perhaps against the run of play, they regained their advantage. Scarr’s high cross was met by Manders whose first shot was saved, but she reacted first to smash past Kitching.
It looked to be the winner, but with 15 minutes remaining, the Blades once again drew level. Lucy Watson’s freekick caused panic in the Black Cats defence and the ball fell at the feet of Sweetman-Kirk who slotted home her second.
Both sides pushed for a winner as we headed into four minutes of added time – Reay calling on Katy Watson from the bench whose pace and determination caused problems for United’s back line – however neither were able to do enough to claim all three points.
With defeats for Coventry United and Watford, Sunderland are now 17 points above the drop zone with eight games to play and are sure to cement a credible mid-table finish.
Sunderland: Cowling; Griffiths, Beer, Herron; Brown, Ramshaw, Joice, Mullen; Manders (Watson ’78), Farrugia, Scarr.
Subs: Moan, Ede, Burt, Boyes, Blakey, McInnes.