Sunderland Women claimed a deserved point at Durham in their opening match of the FA Women’s Championship season

Durham 1 Sunderland Women 1

Published in the Sunderland Echo on Sunday 21 August 2022

The hosts took the lead in an entertaining Wear Derby at Maiden Castle when Saoirse Noonan nodded in from close range early on. The Black Cats hit back minutes later through Brianna Westrup’s powerful far post header from a corner.

The Scotland international was one of five new signings in Mel Reay’s line-up who added experience and strength to her talented young squad in the summer. Young midfielder Grace Ede, who was outstanding against Nottingham Forest last week, was also handed a start against tough opposition which demonstrates her stellar progress.

Conceding early was a regular problem for Sunderland last season and, despite having the first chance of the game when Tyler Dodds flashed her 25-yard strike wide, they fell behind within the opening 10 minutes.

Durham worked the ball out to Ellie Christon on the right whose whipped cross was missed by Claudia Moan and turned in by Noonan who beat Abby Holmes to the ball.

But Sunderland are nothing if not resilient and immediately went pushing for the equaliser, their front three closing down the home side’s defence with a high press. It was this tactic which forced a series of corners from which Westrup eventually converted.

After hitting the bar, the defender was in the mix again to meet Dodds’ delivery far post delivery which bounced low past Tatiana Saunders and into the net.

Now firmly on the front foot, they pushed forward in search of more goals – Dodds reaching Holmes’ cross but firing straight at Saunders who then bravely dove at the feet of Emily Scarr, and Emma Kelly firing past the upright from the edge of the area.

Sunderland survived a penalty scare when Mollie Lambert was bundled over moments after Noonan failed to find the target following a smart exchange with Beth Hepple.

Within minutes of the restart, Moan was called into action to brilliantly tip Lambert’s shot around the post, and the midfielder went close again but stabbed inches wide. Moan then did well to palm a low free-kick out for a corner when Hepple was fouled by Louise Griffiths.

With play becoming a little frantic as the game wore on both managers made changes – the most notable was Malta international Maria Farrugia coming on against her former club after moving down the A690 in search of full-time football.

Although there were some half chances in the final stages, both sides seemed happy to play out the draw – a result which highlights Sunderland’s progress from last year when they were steamrollered by a more experienced and stronger Durham side.

Mel Reay and her squad will be hoping to carry this performance into Saturday’s double header at the Stadium of Light when the Women take to the field against Birmingham City after the Men’s clash with Norwich City.

Sunderland: Moan; Holmes (Beer 82’), McCatty, Westrup, Griffiths; Kelly ©, Danielle Brown, Ede (Watson 66’); Scarr, Dodds (Joice 66’), Gears.

Substitutes: Cowling, McInnes, Manders, Jessica Brown, Mullen.