In an evenly contested game the visitors grabbed the winner in extra time but Sunderland pushed them all the way. In front of a crowd of just under 600 they belied their amateur status against the semi professional might of the Super League giants.
It was a physical start in which both sides showed their early commitment. Ellen White broke down the right to cross for Julie Fleeting to head narrowly wide for the visitors. Then fine play from Rachel Furness on the left resulted in a cross for Natalie Gutteridge to hit a shot on the turn which Emma Byrne got down well to save. Steph Bannon and Gemma Wilson were coping well with the threat of Fleeting and Danielle Carter through the middle and it was Bannon who blocked well as Kim Little broke away on goal. Vicki Greenwell floated in a dangerous free kick which was scrambled clear with Gutteridge and Furness closing in. The Wearsiders got the breakthrough their play deserved as they took the lead in the 21st minute. Demi Stokes took a right wing corner and Furness out jumped the defence to head past Byrne and send the large crowd wild. It was end to end stuff as both sides pushed forward at every opportunity as a Keira Ramshaw cross saw Gutteridges header saved by Byrne. Sunderland were dealt a blow as Wilson had to be replaced through injury but Sarah McFadden slotted seamlessly into central defence. Ramshaw pulled her shot narrowly wide before Rachael Laws collected well from Katie Chapman and on the stroke of half time Stokes went on a mazy run but her effort failed to trouble Byrne.
HT...Sunderland Ladies 1 vs 0 Arsenal Ladies
The Lady Black Cats were caught cold 2 minutes into the second half as Rachel Yankey crossed from the left and Ellen White headed over the despairing Laws and into the top corner. Abby Holmes brought the ball out of defence and switched to McFadden who cleverly beat 2 Arsenal players to bring in Furness but her shot went wide. A Stokes effort was well blocked by Grant before Chapman poked a shot just wide of the Sunderland goal. Then the move of the match saw Kelly McDougall win the ball and bring in Furness down the left to play in Ramshaw who switched it for Stokes to drive in a shot which scraped the bar. Another fine move involving McDougall and Ramshaw resulted in a Sophie Williams effort being saved by Byrne. A slick Arsenal move opened up the home defence and they were grateful to see Littles shot come back off the bar. Moments later the visitors should have taken the lead, following a quick break the ball came over and Fleeting steered her header wide when well placed. Fleeting made amends though as she gave Arsenal the lead in the 78th minute following a right wing cross from White as she stooped to head home from close in. The visitors joy was short lived however as the Wearsiders stormed back to level in the 80th minute. Stokes swung in a corner from the right and Furness headed back across goal for Bannon to volley home.
FT...Sunderland Ladies 2 vs 2 Arsenal Ladies
As extra time began the home side were again caught cold following a quick Arsenal break. The ball was played across the face of goal and as the clearance fell short White pounced to hit a low shot beyond Laws and into the bottom corner. Little played a clever one two with Fleeting to go clear but Bannon somehow got back to make a brilliant tackle and prevent a certain goal.
Ramshaw and McDougall linked well to set Williams free and her cross caused panic in the visiting defence as the ball was scrambled off the line. A McDougall free kick was met by Bannon but her header was saved by Byrne. At the death Bannon delivered a dangerous ball into the box which Byrne could only parry out to Ramshaw who returned it goal ward only for Byrne to recover and hold onto the ball with Williams waiting to pounce.
AET...Sunderland Ladies 2 vs 3 Arsenal Ladies
Sunderland...Laws, Holmes, Bannon, Wilson (McFadden), Greenwell, Ramshaw, Furness (Vaughan), McDougall, Stokes, Williams, Gutteridge(Potts).
Subs (not used)..Salicki, Christon.
Manager Mick Mulhern spoke after the game.. We worked hard in training on how to play offensively and defensively against the threat of Arsenal. We didnt quite manage to beat them but Im proud of them all. We played very well against one of the best teams in Europe and gave them a good run for their money. It was a great game and unfortunately someone had to lose. But if you are going to lose it might as well be against the best team in the country.
The Reserves won 3 - 1 away to Doncaster Rovers Belles, with Sunderland's goals scored by Rebecca Hunt, Hannah Chisholm and Charlotte Proud.