Sunderland Ladies maintained their unbeaten run but were pushed all the way by a determined Watford side at Hetton on Sunday. The Lady Black Cats twice came from behind as Beth Mead scored a goal in each half to ensure the defending champions remained at the top of the National Premier League.
A bitterly cold day at the Hetton Centre, was warmed up by a strong Sunderland faithful that packed into the ground.
Sunderland moved the ball around well in the early stages and on 12 minutes the home side should have taken the lead. Mead broke away down the right channel and delivered an excellent low cross across the Watford six yard box. Devine was inches away from burying this chance and the opportunity seemed to spur the home side on to a period of dominant possession. However Watford were well marshalled by Lincoln's Super League loan signing, Bonny Harwood who was solid all afternoon.
Sunderland continued to patiently build across their back line as they looked to probe a way through their opponents. Unfortunately for Sunderland they played one pass to many and Watford broke on the counter attack.
A defence splitting pass lead to Kate Natkiel bending a deep cross to the unmarked Josie Green, who from 5 yards out put the ball wide of the upright.
The Sunderland powerhouse Rachel Furness tried her hardest to take the game by the scruff of the neck, and was inches away with a 30 yard pile driver.
Watford were now restricted to playing on the counter attack and this led to the first goal of the afternoon 34 minutes in. The impressive Sarah Wiltshere broke through the Sunderland defence, and squared to Jo Wilson who fired home from two yards out.
But it wasn�t long before Sunderland were back on level terms, captain Steph Bannon broke out of defence and put in a brilliant cross to last seasons league top scorer Beth Mead who acrobatically volleyed the home side level from 12 yards out.
Sunderland looked to push on after their goal, with McDougall and Gutteridge having efforts blocked on the edge of the box, however but just before the break the visitors could have regained the lead against the run of play.
Bennett fashioned a chance for Wiltshere, whose hesitancy was costly, as Gemma Wilson dealt the danger as the sides went in level at the break.
Sunderland came out with a purpose and were now camped in the Watford half. Gutteridge created space 18 yards out and her goal bound effort was charged down by Harwood. Furness was next to test Laura Davey in the Watford goal, as another strike from distance was tipped onto the bar by the Watford captain. Minutes later Ramshaw beat two defenders before cutting inside and hitting a low drive which was saved at the near post.
Watford were restricted to the odd counter attack and it was from one of these attacks on the 60th minute that they took the lead with their first chance of the second half. Jo Wilson pressed a back pass and managed to get to the ball before the Sunderland keeper and she had the composure to round Laws, and put the visitors 2-1 up.
Instant changes were made by Mick Mulhern, taking off Devine and Wilson, and bringing on Williams and Salicki, as Sunderland began their search for an equaliser.
Beth Mead and Watford�s Emma Beckett clashed midway in the Sunderland half, leading to lengthy treatment for both players, who thankfully both came out unscathed.
Sunderland began to pile on the pressure with 15 minutes to go, as Watford stuck 10 men behind the ball, and defended resiliently.
Ramshaw, Mead, Furness and Gutteridge had several attempts between them but they came to no avail as Sunderland were frustrated by the Watford back line.
The pressure though finally paid dividends as a great cross from Bannon was touched on by McDougal, to Beth Mead who calmly slotted the ball home from close range.
The Hetton Centre crowd went wild and Sunderland straight on the kick off felt like they could win the game.
Furness once again fired inches wide from distance, as her effort swerved just past the post, with Davey beaten.
Sunderland really upped the tempo and peppered the Watford goal in search of a winning goal. McDougall had a free kick which just cleared the Watford bar and Ramshaw headed over twice from Williams crosses.
In the dying embers of the game, the Lady Black cats had a chance to win the game, as in added on time, a teasing ball from Kiera Ramshaw was headed agonisingly wide by a diving Natalie Gutteridge.
Sunderland will feel they deserved all three points, however they keep their unbeaten record intact and stay on top of the league, having been undefeated in the league for almost 14 months.
Sunderland: Laws, Holmes, Bannon, Wilson (Salicki) Greenwell, Ramshaw, Furness, McDougal, Devine (Williams) Gutteridge, Mead
Subs not Used: Chidester, Christon, Sutcliffe
Boss Mick Mulhern spoke candidly after the game.... �I'm disappointed to drop 2 points. We were dominant throughout and created several very good chances but they wouldn't go in today. We pushed hard for a winner but we ran out of time. That can happen but there were lots of positives and I can't fault my players attitude and endeavour�.
Report - Dominic Hewitson