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Barnet 0 Sunderland 1
Sunderland extended their lead at the top of the National Division to five points with a single goal away win at bottom club Barnet.
They were made to work hard for their victory, achieved through an 80th minute Steph Bannon strike, by a resolute performance from the Bees. who have yet to record a League win this season.
Barnet, playing down the Underhill slope, forced the first corner in the opening minute and Gemma Rudman got in a header from a Danielle Murphy free kick on five minutes but their attacking threat was fairly limited during the first half. However their highly experienced back four, well backed up by a hard working defensive midfield unit, were able to cope well with the Sunderland attack. One exception was when Beth Mead took advantage of a defensive slip but she shot straight at Cherie Rowlands from ten yards.
A clever run by Mead was halted by a Jess Trimnell foul and Bannon curled in a free kick which hit the underside of the bar on 29 minutes. A Sophie Williams run and cross was met by Ruth Sutcliffe whose header was wide, then Williams fired a Mead cut back across goal as Sunderland started to exert more pressure. Chontelle Lawrence had Barnet's first effort on target, a looping shot held by Helen Alderson, but the visitors were very close to an opener on 40 minutes. A loose clearance freed Jordan Atkinson who crossed for Abbey Joice to shoot over from 15 yards.
Barnet nearly took a early lead on 47 minutes as Stacey Sowden broke on the right and her cross bounced off the bar but soon Sunderland were back on the front foot. Williams was sent clear by Sutcliffe and her cross was sliced wide by Mead from close range. Rachel Furness tried her luck from distance but Rowlands handled safely. On the hour Sunderland had a penalty claim denied when Mead was challenged by Rudman after a perfect Bannon through ball.
Mead was withdrawn as Sunderland reshuffled to seek the breakthrough with Williams moving up front and Ellie Christon taking a more advanced role but Barnet were resolute at the back and actually found more attacking intent as they sensed a shock victory. Brooke Nunn and Laura Miller put up a good show in the Barnet midfield along with Murphy but the telling pass for Sowden and Holly Sandow did not quite come off.
Finally Sunderland found the crucial breakthrough. Joice latched on to a clearance and her low pass found Bannon in space centrally ten yards from goal. The central defender took a touch before lashing the ball high into the net on 80 minutes.
Sunderland saw out time comfortably and Atkinson went close to adding a second from the left wing but Barnet had made them fight all the way through a disciplined defensive showing which protected Rowlands very well and some wayward finishing from the Wearsiders.
Sunderland showed the depth of their pool of talent with all the young players stepping up well to cover injury and absence on international duty. Barnet may have had a miserable League season but they are still in Premier League Cup contention with a quarter final away at Portsmouth in two weeks time. The spirit and good organisation they showed against the leaders and League Cup semi finalists must give them hope.
Barnet: Cherie Rowlands, Jess Trimnell, Charlotte Herson, Gemma Rudman, Leanne Reidy, Danielle Murphy, Brooke Nunn, Laura Miller, Holly Sandow, Stacey Sowden, Chontelle Lawrence. Subs: Sally Wade, Lydia Bedford.
Sunderland: Helen Alderson, Ellie Christon, Steph Bannon, Gemma Wilson, Vicky Greenwell, Rachel Furness, Abbey Joice, Ruth Sutcliffe, Jordan Atkinson, Beth Mead, Sophie Williams. Subs: Rachael Laws, Becky Salicki, Sarah Unwin, Megan Beer.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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