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Sunderland 3 (Mead 37,89, Joice 42) Aston Villa 1 (Petrovic 29)
Beth Mead was the hero as Sunderland AFC Ladies came from behind to run out comfortable winners against an in-form Aston Villa side at the Hetton Centre.
The striker fired two goals on just her second game back from the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, while Abbey Joice - returning from four months out with an ankle injury - was also on target in the win. The result keeps the Lady Black Cats clear at the top of the FA WSL 2 table with just seven games remaining.
Against the run of play it was the visitors who made the breakthrough just before the half hour mark, Abby Holmes brought down Emma Follis on the right hand touchline before Villa's dangerous free kick into the mix was headed on by Jade Richards before Dani Petrovic directed the ball into the bottom corner from four yards.
Sunderland waited just eight minutes to reply, Mead collected the ball on the wide on the right before powering past the Villa defence to put herself one-on-one with Caitlin Leach. The keeper did well to parry the first effort but was powerless to stop the striker following up and blasting high into the unguarded net from close range.
Just three minutes later the hosts almost went in front. Vicki Greenwell's corner was met by the leap of Rachel Furness, the Northern Ireland international clattering the crossbar with a powerful header.
There wasn't long to wait as the partnership of Mead and Joice, so fruitful at the start of the season, was rekindled. Mead did superbly to flick on a high ball into the path of Joice who sprang beyond the defence and placed a delicate finish under Leach.
The visitors nearly pulled it back on the stroke of half time as Follis was sent through one-on-one with Rachael Laws, the keeper spreading herself to block the powerful low shot with her legs.
The second half was a tense affair as the defenders of both sides came out on top with Steph Bannon and Hayley Sharp, alongside Villa's Richards, the outstanding performers. It took until the final fifteen minutes for the first chance of note; Furness picked out Keira Ramshaw at the far post but the forward couldn't get the ball out of her feet as Leach made an outstanding block from six yards out.
Laws would again save Sunderland as with just five minutes remaining Follis was found by a long ball over the top, the forward then denied by the Sunderland keeper who came out quickly to gather at her feet.
The Sunderland goalkeeper continued to make an impact on proceedings up until the final minute as she gathered a dangerous cross, Laws was able to release Rebekah Bass quickly down the wing. In a stunning counter attack, the winger ran the length of the pitch before find Mead's feet inside the area. She made no mistake, skipping past Richards and burying the ball in the bottom corner to seal the victory and keep her side at the top of the table.
Sunderland: Rachael Laws, Abby Holmes (sub Megan Beer 45mins), Vicki Greenwell, Steph Bannon, Hayley Sharp, Rachel Furness, Keira Ramshaw (sub Sophie Williams 82mins), Kelly McDougall, Beth Mead, Abbey Joice, Rebekah Bass. Subs not used: Helen Alderson, Gemma Wilson, Elizabeth McCubbin.
Aston Villa: Caitlin Leach, Hayley Crackle (sub Carly Davies 82mins), Chloe Jones, Sherry McCue, Dani Petrovic, Jade Richards, Emma Follis, Elisha N'Dow, Katie Wilkinson, Sarah Mayling (sub Lauren Walker 64mins), Alicia Robinson. Subs: Laura Cooper, Maisie Baker, Olivia Fergusson, Chloe Harper.
(Report by www.fawsl.com)
Photos by Susan Gutteridge:
(top) Beth Mead scores the equalising goal for Sunderland
(bottom) Abbey Joice celebrates after putting her side ahead
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