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Manchester City 2 (Houghton 74, Duggan 78) Sunderland 0
Manchester City leapt to the top of Group Two in the Continental Cup with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Sunderland.
Second half strikes from Steph Houghton and Toni Duggan proved enough for the Blues' third successive triumph in the competition, as Nick Cushing's side dominated from start to finish to take their points total to nine.
In the knowledge a win could send the Blues through to the semi finals if other results favoured them, the home side started brightly and sought to put the visitors under pressure straight from the kick off.
A vast improvement from last week's trip to Solihull was immediately noticeable, as the hosts looked comfortable on the ball, moving it quickly and efficiently, creating several chances inside the opening five minutes.
Jill Scott instigated the Blues' first effort of the afternoon inside two minutes but blazed over the bar, before trying her luck with a header which proved too weak to trouble Rachael Laws.
Danielle Young then spurned a good chance, firing straight at the Black Cats' shot stopper after cutting in well and Krystle Johnston saw a volley comfortably saved before the home side struck the bar twice in quick succession thanks to the fingertips of the Sunderland goalkeeper.
Houghton first saw a free kick tipped onto the woodwork before Johnston's shot suffered the same fate moments later. In fine form, Laws proved to be a thorn in City's side all afternoon, seemingly preventing everyone in a Blue shirt from breaking the deadlock as Emma Lipman, Natasha Flint, Betsy Hassett and Isobel Christiansen tried their luck but struggled to either thwart the goalkeeper or hit the target.
Sunderland's best effort of the first half came from Rachel Furness but her shot failed to trouble Karen Bardsley.
In what proved to be the last action of the half, Young also headed an effort wide and both sides went in level at the break, with City once again left to rue missed chances.
The start of the second period proved to be a much more even contest. A change of formation led to a couple of half chances for the visitors, as Kelly McDougall and Furness both shot wide before the Blues regained their foothold in the game.
Christiansen found Laws unbeatable once again and Houghton curled over. Then on 74 minutes, City's pressure was finally rewarded.
When Scott was upended on the edge of the area and a free kick was awarded, Houghton stepped up once again to take responsibility. This time, the skipper opted to drill the ball low and hard, placing the ball perfectly into the bottom corner to open the scoring against her former club.
With the deadlock broken, City were inspired and within four minutes, had doubled their lead. Scott was involved once again, delivering a dangerous cross to substitute Toni Duggan. Despite entering the fray just ten minutes earlier, the striker reacted well to capitalise on a loose ball, smashing it into the back of the net before wheeling away to celebrate her sixth goal of the season with a jubilant cartwheel.
From then on, the Blues were in complete control and were content to play keep-ball to see the game out. On another day, the scoreline might have been a little more flattering but City will undoubtedly be delighted with the result and their performance, which was arguably their best of the season so far.
Cushing's side now just need a win from their final cup game against Durham Women next Sunday to clinch a spot in the semi finals.
Manchester City: Karen Bardsley, Abbie McManus, Emma Lipman, Betsy Hassett, Kathleen Radtke, Steph Houghton, Krystle Johnston, Jill Scott, Natasha Flint, Danielle Young (sub Toni Duggan 69mins), Issy Christiansen.
Sunderland: Rachael Laws, Abby Holmes, Victoria Greenwell, Rachel Furness (sub Lauren Briggs 80mins), Steph Bannon, Hayley Sharp, Keira Ramshaw, Kelly McDougall, Beth Mead, Emma Kelly (sub Sophie Williams 45mins), Rebekah Bass.
(Report by www.fawsl.com)
Photos by Susan Gutteridge:
(top) Sophie Williams sends in a cross past Emma Lipman
(middle) Keira Ramshaw takes on Betsy Hassett
(bottom) Rachel Furness gets in a shot for Sunderland
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