Sunderland Ladies held to dour goalless draw at home to Coventry United

Sunderland Ladies were held to a dour goalless draw at home to Coventry United in the Women’s Championship.

Two outstanding saves from Lucy Thomas from Faye Mullen and Jessica Brown in the closing stages were the highlights of the stalemate which stretches the Black Cats’ unbeaten run to three matches.

Forced into a defensive reshuffle heading into the game, Megan Beer replaced Abby Towers in a back line which was rarely threatened with United’s Katie Wilkinson setting the tone for an uneventful first half with a skied effort within the opening minutes.

The away side saw a flurry of corners come to nothing before Neve Herron fired over at the other end as both sides enjoying spells of possession without troubling the other. It would be another half-an-hour before either had a sight of goal – Coventry’s Wilkinson playing through Elisha N’Dow who failed to hit the target and then Mollie Green shooting straight at Claudia Moan in added time.

After the break things livened up a little, Maria Farrugia throwing herself at a dangerous Abbey Joice cross but scuffing the ball out for a goal kick, and Olivia Ferguson unleashing a strike from distance which was well held by Moan.

But that proved to be another false start as the sides struggled to create clear openings, Coventry United looking happy to take a point back to Midlands that would edge them closer to Watford at the bottom of the table and a remarkable escape from relegation.

It was not until four minutes from time that the 400-plus crowd had something to cheer. Like lightning from a clear sky Mullen’s powerful rising drive came from nowhere, but Thomas somehow got her fingertips to the ball which was heading for the top corner.

Pushing forward in numbers in one last push to win all three points, Emma Kelly slipped a pass through to substitute Brown who took a touch in the box only for her shot across goal to be denied by another acrobatic save from Thomas who palmed out for a corner.

Both sides will be happy to take a point – Sunderland have seemingly put their winter blip behind them with the River Wear Derby up next for Mel Reay her squad at the end of April, while the great escape is still on for Coventry who are six points from safety with three games remaining and rivals Watford to play on the final weekend of the season.

Sunderland: Moan; Mullen, McCatty, Beer, Griffiths; Kelly, Herron, Joice; Manders (Watson 66’); Farrugia (Brown 80’), Ramshaw © (Ede 66’).

Subs: Cowling, Boyes, McInnes, Blakey.

Katy Watson’s first senior goal helps Sunderland Ladies to 2-1 win over Watford

Katy Watson’s first senior goal helps Sunderland Ladies to 2-1 win over Watford in the FA Women’s Championship.

The teenager had only been on the pitch seven minutes when she opened the scoring with a low angled finish in the second half before Neve Herron doubled the lead moments later.

Jenna Legg almost sparked a late comeback when she headed in from close range, but the Black Cats held on to record their second league win in a row.

Head coach Mel Reay named the same starting XI who hammered Sheffield United 4-1 in their previous game, with Louise Griffiths and Keira Ramshaw returning to the squad following suspension and illness respectively.

But Reay was forced into an early change when forward Emily Scarr – who scored twice against the Blades – had to come off after a sickening clash of heads in the opening minutes which required lengthy treatment on the pitch.

Sunderland weren’t troubled too much by the disruption with England youngster Jessica Brown coming on as a like for like replacement, and had the first chance of the game when Abbey Joice drove through midfield and played in Maria Farrugia whose left-footed strike was well held by Georgie Ferguson.

Aside from Holly Manders’ 25-yard freekick which flew over the bar, neither side created much in the way of chances in an even first half. It was a different story after the break as first Neve Herron and then Corrine Henson tested goalkeepers Ferguson and Claudia Moan.

On the hour, Reay introduced Watson and Griffiths in place of Brown – who seemed to have rolled her ankle – and Holly Manders, with the former making an almost instant impact.

Farrugia slipped away from Francesca Ali and unleashed a dipping, swerving shot which was parried into the path of Watson who hit the ball first time across goal, underneath Ferguson and into the bottom corner.

The Golden Girls barely had time to react when Herron made it two. Emma Kelly sung in a deep corner and the midfielder rose highest in the box and her looping header crept in under the bar despite Rosie Kmita’s desperate attempt to keep it out.

Herron almost claimed her second with another header from a Kelly set-piece but this time her effort was blocked by Ferguson.

Sunderland have found their scoring touch recently and threatened to run riot again as Farrugia – who netted her first of the season a week ago – missed two opportunities to put the result beyond doubt. Creating space in the box, the Malta striker first put a left-foot strike inches wide of the upright and then saw a certain goal headed off the line.

The visitors gave themselves a glimmer of hope in the 93rd minute when Kmita’s corner was headed back across goal and Legg reacted first to nod past Moan, with Sunderland holding out until the final whistle in front of over 500 fans.

The Black Cats face Watford’s relegation rivals Coventry United at home on Sunday who are now just six points behind them with four games to play and the two sides facing each other on the final day. Mel Reay and her young squad have targets of the own now safety has been secured, with a place in the top six still within reach.

Sunderland: Moan; Beer, McCatty, Towes, Mullen; Kelly © (McInnes 83’), Herron, Joice (Ramshaw 83’); Scarr (Brown 3’, Griffiths 68’), Farrugia (Blakey 83’), Manders (Watson 58’)

Subs: Cowling, Boyes.

Sunderland Ladies thrash Sheffield United to secure place in the Women’s Championship next season

Emily Scarr scored a first-half brace as Sunderland Ladies thrashed Sheffield United to secure their place in the Women’s Championship next season.

The forward cancelled out Sophie Bradley’s opener to turn the game on its head at half time, with Maria Farrugia and Emma Kelly rounding off an emphatic win.

The Black Cats were without captain Keira Ramshaw who was unwell, and the suspended Louise Griffiths for the trip to Yorkshire, with Holly Manders and Megan Beer coming into the starting XI.

And the away side almost took the lead within the first five minutes as Abbey Joice found Farrugia in the box who did well to slip her marker but her shot bounced off the inside of the far post and into the grateful arms of Nina Wilson.

From then on, the chances kept coming for both sides – Claudia Moan tipping Rhema Lord-Mears’ strike around the post before smothering Lucy Watson’s close-range effort. After Alethea Paul was kept out by Grace McCatty’s block, Farrugia drove forward but fired straight at Wilson.

The Blades were racking up the corners in the early stages which they made count after 22 minutes as Sophie Bradley broke free to head Lucy Watson’s set into the roof of the net.

But the hosts’ lead lasted for less than 90 seconds as Joice played a superb pass out wide to Scarr who held off a challenge to loop the ball over the stranded Wilson into the top corner.

Looking for an instant response, Paul skied over from the edge of the box and then Moan reacted quickly to deny Courtney Sweetman-Kirk with her feet on the goal line.

Five minutes before the break, Sunderland made it two – Farrugia won the ball in midfield and played in Scarr who ran behind the defence and slotted low into the corner.

Sheffield United came back out early for the second half, determined to get back into the game quickly and almost did through Georgia Wilson but her shot dipped over the bar.

Any momentum Neil Redfearn’s team hoped to build was immediately halted as Farrugia broke clear to grab Sunderland’s third. The Malta international collected Neve Herron’s ball over the top and, despite Maddy Cusack’s attempts to stop her, lobbed the onrushing Wilson.

At the other end, Moan was called into action to parry Watson’s header away before the visitors put the game beyond doubt with their fourth. Youngster Grace Ede was introduced in place of Emily Scarr and made an immediate impact – forcing a good save from Wilson but the ball fell into the path of Kelly who tapped home.

The victory was the least the Black Cats have deserved for their impressive recent performances with results going against them, and mission accomplished for Mel Reay’s young squad who have achieved their target of staying in the second tier.

Although there are points to play for – starting with Watford at the Stadium of Light on Sunday – Reay and general manager Alex Clark can start to cast a look towards next season and building on a promising first season back in the Championship.

Sunderland: Moan; Beer, McCatty, Towers, Mullen; Herron, Kelly ©, Joice; Manders (Brown 72’), Farrugia (Blakey 85’), Scarr (Ede 77’).

Subs: Cowling, Boyes, McInnes, Watson, Burt.

Keira Ramshaw misses stoppage-time penalty as Sunderland Ladies lose 2-1 to Blackburn Rovers

Keira Ramshaw missed a stoppage-time penalty as Sunderland Ladies lost 2-1 to Blackburn Rovers in the Women’s Championship.

Saffron Jordan and Annabel Blanchard scored either side of half time to give the hosts a commanding lead with substitute Holly Manders’ equaliser igniting hopes of a comeback.

With 90 seconds to go, captain Ramshaw stepped up after Maria Farrugia was fouled in the box, but her well-struck spot kick was brilliantly saved by Alex Brooks as the Black Cats slipped to a disheartening defeat in Lancashire.

Buoyed by last week’s victory over Charlton, the visitors started well, Grace McCatty glancing a header just wide from a tight angle. But Blackburn, one place below Sunderland in the table heading into the game, fought their way back in to the game as the half wore on.

Jordan, a constant threat throughout, stabbed inches past the far post before her powerful strike from the edge of the area was blocked and gathered by Claudia Moan.

A quick free kick over the top almost caught out the away side’s defence but Moan again was in the right place to deny Megan Hornby. But, from the resulting corner, Rovers took the lead. Natasha Fenton’s floated ball was headed back across the face of goal and Saffron couldn’t miss as she smashed home from four yards.

Blanchard was next to test Moan as the midfielder tried to sweep the ball into the corner, with her effort was easily saved after being blocked by McCatty.

Sunderland then crafted a couple of chances of their own – Emma Kelly’s corner was headed over by Emily Scarr, Ramshaw’s swerving freekick flashed past the upright and then Maria Farrugia turned smartly on the edge of the box but fired straight at the goalkeeper on the stroke of half-time.

The Malta international had a sight of goal after the interval, jinking her way past several Blackburn defenders only to scuff her shot into the hands of Brooks.

Crompton and Blanchard then tried their luck from distance, with the latter extending her side’s lead on the hour. Jordan won the ball deep in the Sunderland half and played it to the Rovers number 10 who blasted past Moan.

But three minutes later Manders – on in place of the injured Neve Herron – made an almost instant impact. Scarr’s cross bounced up in the area and the midfielder held off a defender to half-volley beyond Brooks.

The comeback was nearly stopped in its tracks as Blanchard found space 25 yards out and delicately chipped over the head of Moan, but the ball bounced off the inside of the woodwork and was cleared.

In the first minute of stoppage time came the late drama. A through pass was fumbled by Brooks into the path of Farrugia who was bundled over by a Blackburn defender. After a long delay as the referee cleared the box, Ramshaw strode forward only to be denied the equaliser by a superb dive by the goalkeeper to her right.

It was yet another disappointing defeat for Sunderland who looked to have turned a corner with their home victory over the Addicks but are now only one point away from the season’s target of playing Championship football next season.

Sunderland: Moan; Griffiths, Towers, McCatty, Brown; Kelly, Herron (Manders 67’), Joice; Scarr, Farrugia, Ramshaw.Subs: Cowling, Boyes, Mullen, Blakey, Ede, McInnes, Watson, Burt.

Mel Reay sent off as Sunderland Ladies fall to a 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace

Mel Reay was sent off as Sunderland Ladies fell to a 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace in the Women’s Championship.

Molly-Mae Sharpe looked to be offside when she netted the winner and that, plus several other contentious decisions, compounded a frustrating and miserable afternoon for the Black Cats and their head coach who saw red – in more ways than one – late on.

Earlier this month Reay called on the standard of refereeing in the women’s game to be better, with today’s result doing little to change her opinion, and her side will be disappointed not to have secured at least a point in an evenly contested game.

They certainly started the brighter of the two sides, bolstered by the return of Grace McCatty and Emma Kelly after suspension and injury respectively, with the latter finding space in the box and firing wide.

Maria Farrugia, who was a constant threat throughout, then jinked her way past the Palace backline but her left-footed effort, which looked to be creeping in, was superbly tipped around the post by Chloe Morgan.

Moments later, Abbey Joice flashed a shot across the six-yard box before Sunderland’s shouts for a penalty were waved away by referee Abby Deaden when Emily Scarr looked to be tripped just inside the box.

Palace had opportunities of their own but couldn’t find a way past Alison Cowling and when they did, they were denied by the woodwork. After Scarr had struck the bar with a powerful curling strike from out wide, the Eagles broke quickly, Isabella Sibley’s inch perfect pass playing in Millie Farrow who scuffed her chance against the foot of the post.

Sunderland were forced into a defensive reshuffle just before half time, the returning Abby Towers coming on for Megan Beer with the youngster slotting in alongside McCatty, as the hosts finished the half strongly but Farrugia, Kelly and Scarr unable to find the goal their performance deserved.

They did have the ball in the net at the start of the second period – Keira Ramshaw’s powerful header from Kelly’s corner fell to Farrugia whose turn and shot flew past Morgan, but the Malta international was flagged offside.

Less than three minutes later, it was Palace who opened the scoring through Sharpe with those in red and white, their coaching staff and fans behind the goal believing the forward was a good three yards offside when she made contact.

The lack of a flag from the assistant incensed Reay, who vociferously challenged every decision given against her team. They were far from out of the contest – Joice and Ramshaw having shots blocked before Scarr’s low cross was almost bundled into her own net by Gracie Pearse.

At the other end, Cowling pulled off two outstanding saves in quick succession to keep the Black Cats in the game – first diving low to smother a deflected shot then flying across her goal line to somehow tip Sharpe’s header onto the bar.

After making a triple substitution with three minutes remaing – Grace Ede, Holly Manders and Faye Mullen entering the fray in place of Libbi McInnes, Emily Scarr and Louise Griffiths – a series of niggling fouls and contentious calls saw Reay’s frustrations boil over and she was given her marching orders in stoppage time.

Sunderland are yet to win in 2022 despite some excellent performances and although they are currently 10 points clear of Coventry United with seven games remaining, they will be looking to halt their run of poor form at home against Charlton Athletic in a week’s time without their head coach in the dugout.

Sunderland: Cowling; Brown, Beer (Towers 26’), McCatty, Griffiths (Mullen 87’); Kelly (Watson 68’), Ramshaw ©, McInnes (Ede 87’), Joice, Scarr (Manders 87’); Farrugia.

Subs: Moan, Boyes, Burt, Blakey.

Ramshaw insists togetherness is key for Black Cats

Sunderland Ladies captain Keira Ramshaw believes the squad’s togetherness will help them bounce back after Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to London City Lionesses.

The Black Cats legend slotted home from the spot in stoppage time, but with Atlanta Primus and Karin Muya giving the hosts a deserved half-time lead and Amy Rodgers adding a third on the hour, it proved to be no more than a consolation.

Ramshaw and her teammates were disappointed with their performance in the opening 45 minutes in which a slow start saw them fall behind just after kick-off. Sunderland regrouped during the break and despite Rodgers’ goal, offered a much better showing in the second half.

Speaking to FA Player, Ramshaw said: “Credit to London City, they are an excellent side and gave us a good game. But I think first half we came out and weren’t at 100% as we could have been.

“We were disappointed going in at half time, had a little discussion, and I think we came out as a better team in the second half.

“Falling behind early we had a mountain to climb, especially the way we conceded, and I think it could have been prevented. We’ll go back into training and look at where we went wrong and hopefully put things right for next week.

After the game head coach Mel Reay praised her side’s spirit and determination to keep going, demanding they carry their second half display into next week’s clash with Lewes.

“It’s all about togetherness,” Ramshaw added. “We’ve got a fantastic squad at Sunderland and the respect we all have from each other. [The second half] was all about sticking together, pushing on and trying to get more goals and if not a draw. It just wasn’t our day.

“We’ve got to push on now and go again next week.”

Neve Herron sent off as Sunderland Ladies beaten 3-0 at Championship leaders Liverpool

Neve Herron was controversially sent off as Sunderland Ladies were beaten 3-0 at Championship leaders Liverpool.

The England youth international was harshly shown a straight red card early in the second half for a dubious foul on Katie Stengel who put the champions-elect ahead from the spot. The Black Cats valiantly fought on but late goals from Yana Daniëls and Missy Bo Kearns added to a score line which perhaps flattered the hosts.

With Grace McCatty serving the last of her three-match ban and midfielder Emma Kelly recovering from an ankle injury, it was once again a youthful side that took the field at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park.

Speaking to the Echo in midweek, Mel Reay said her side had ‘nothing to lose’ and that’s exactly how they started as Keira Ramshaw blasted over and then tested Rachael Laws from distance.

Liverpool fired back with chances of their own – good build up play from Daniëls finding Taylor Hinds on the edge of the box who shot wide before Rachel Furness tried her luck with a rising drive that cleared the bar.

But the visitors were a threat on the break, a good ball finding Emily Scarr who cut inside and fired towards goal, but her effort was deflected for a corner. Maria Farrugia was next to try her luck, winning the ball in midfield and driving forward but shooting straight at Laws.

The former Black Cats’ opposite number Alison Cowling was then called into action to deny the Reds in quick succession, saving first from Niamh Fahey and then clawing out Rhiannon Roberts’ header. In stoppage time, Neve Herron was in the right place to clear Hinds’ freekick off the line.

Reay’s would have been delighted by the performance, especially after several difficult weeks, but any hopes of building on their sold first half display were shattered within minutes of the restart when Liverpool were awarded a penalty.

Stengel was adjudged to have been tripped in the box by Herron – who was given her marching orders – and after a short delay as Sunderland argued their case, the American forward stepped up and beat Cowling high into the net.

Despite a half chance at the near post for Abbey Joice following a sharp move involving Farrugia and Scarr, the Black Cats were forced to fight a rear-guard action as the Reds pushed forward looking for more goals.

A long ball into the box from Hinds was spilled by Cowling but Louise Griffiths reacted well on the line to block Melissa Lawley’s turn and shot. Leanne Kiernan and Hinds both missed good opportunities to extend the lead – the former hitting the woodwork – before the killing blow arrived with five minutes remaining.

The Sunderland defence failed to properly clear Megan Campbell’s long throw, with Stengel setting up Daniels to neatly pass the ball past Cowling and into the net.

Referee Lucy May pointed to the spot for the second time for a foul on Stengel and No substitute Kearns made no mistake as the found the bottom corner.

A frustrated Sunderland will likely appeal Herron’s red card with the international break giving them time to regroup before facing Crystal Palace in their rearranged fixture in a fortnight’s time.

Sunderland: Cowling; Brown, Beer, Herron, Griffiths; Ramshaw (c), McInnes, Joice, Scarr, Manders; Farrugia.

Subs: Moan, Boyes, Mullen, Blakey, Ede, Watson, Burt.

Sunderland Ladies battle to 2-2 Women’s Championship draw with Sheffield United

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.

Sunderland Ladies battle to 2-2 Women’s Championship draw with Sheffield United

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.

Sunderland Ladies suffer FA Cup heartbreak at St Andrews

Sunderland Ladies suffered FA Cup heartbreak at St Andrews as Lucy Whipp’s extra time winner sent Birmingham City into the fifth round.

The Black Cats fought bravely in a contest in which they more than matched their Super League opponents, with Keira Ramshaw’s close-range strike four minutes from the end of normal time cancelling out Veatriki Sarri’s first half opener.

And although they finished the game strongly, Whipp’s powerful header secured a narrow victory for the Blues and their place in Monday’s draw.

With two of her most experienced players missing – Grace McCatty suspended after seeing red in the defeat to Lewes and Emma Kelly rolling her ankle in the same game – head coach Mel Reay was forced to make changes for the trip to the Midlands.

On a positive note, Faye Mullen returned to the starting XI after recovering from a hip injury and teenage forward Katy Watson, who signed from the Regional Talent Club on deadline day, was named on the bench.

The game quickly settled into a pattern of Birmingham seeing most of the ball and Sunderland working hard to close their opponents down and hit quickly on the break. It was an approach which almost paid off within the first 10 minutes as Maria Farrugia forced a good save from Emily Ramsay after cutting inside from the flank.

But it was the hosts who took the lead just before the half hour as Sarri worked the ball onto her left and unleashed a powerful shot into the top corner from outside the box.

Heading into half time, Birmingham had a flurry of chances as Lucy Quinn fired just over and then Claudia Moan stopped a close-range effort. She was called into action again moments later, tipping a 25-yard freekick around the post.

Moan, recalled in place of Alison Cowling, was proving to be an early contender for player of the match as her heroics helped her side survive an early scare after the interval. Sarri’s clattered the crossbar from distance which was still shaking when the stopper superbly parried Emily Whelan’s glancing header onto the post.

Then, Sunderland deservedly drew level. A mistake at the back saw Ramsay handle a goal-bound back pass six yards out and Ramshaw smashed the ball underneath the wall of blue shirts on the line and into the bottom corner.

As the game edged into seven minutes of stoppage time, Moan came to the rescue as she parried another header clear of danger.

Sensing the tie was there for the taking, Reay called on Watson – who has scored 27 league goals for the Regional Talent Club this season – at the start of extra time to provide a cutting edge in attack. However, their momentum was abruptly halted when Gemma Lawley’s pinpoint delivery was met by Whipp who looked marginally offside.

Moan once again kept Birmingham at bay in the second period, diving to her left to parry a long-ranged effort, and then denying Jade Pennock.

With cup distractions out of the way, it’s back to league duty for the Black Cats as they hope to get back on track against Sheffield United at Eppleton CW. A win would move Sunderland to within a point of the Blades and, with Coventry United, Watford, Bristol City and Blackburn still to play, they will be hoping to put their recent form behind them and finish the season with a flourish.

Sunderland: Moan; Brown (Blakey 106’) Beer, Herron, Griffiths; Mullen (Boyes 91’); McInnes (Ede 79’), Joice, Manders (Watson 91’), Ramshaw; Farrugia.

Subs: Cowling, Scarr, Burt, Blakey.