Sunderland Ladies kicked off their pre-season fixtures with a narrow defeat to SWPL runners-up Celtic at the Academy of Light on Thursday evening.
Mel Reay’s were forced due endure heavy pressure in the second half, with the Hoops making their dominance count through a fortunate goal from Chloe Warrington, writes Chris Fryatt.
Defender Charlotte Potts donned the red and white stripes for the first time since moving from Hibernian, coming in for Neve Herron who joined up with England U19s this week. Maria Farrugia also returned to the starting line-up after missing the second half of last season due to the pandemic.
The visitors enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening stages but Sunderland dug in and grew into the game, Kiera Ramshaw causing problems for the Celtic defence with a dangerous cross. Then, Abbey Joice collected the ball in midfield and drove forward, but her shot was easily saved by Chloe Logan.
At the other end, a long ball into the box was missed by everyone and tipped around the post by Claudia Moan and from the resulting corner, Kathleen McGovern fired over from the edge of the box.
Joice was the Black Cats’ main danger, the midfielder skipping past challenges before playing in Ramshaw whose left-foot effort flashed inches over the bar.
Celtic had the final effort of the first half, a deep cross found Caitlin Hayes unmarked, but she glanced her header wide.
The start of the second period followed that of the first with Celtic having plenty of the ball, Hayes squandering another good opportunity when she headed Atkinson’s freekick over the bar.
Sunderland again found their footing as Holly Manders kept Grace McCatty’s cross alive in the box but Farrugia blasted into the side netting from the pull back. The Black Cats continued to push forward; Ramshaw’s shot collected by substitute goalkeeper Rachel Johnstone before putting together the best move of the game.
Meg Beer played in Emily Hutchinson down the right and her low cross was brilliantly backheeled into Manders’ path by Libby McInnes but the hosts failed to find the target.
Moments later Celtic hit the upright, before Moan saved from Izzy Atkinson and McCatty was called into action with a brave double block to deny Charlie Wellings.
Pinning Sunderland in their own half for long periods, the Champions League hopefuls finally made their pressure count with 13 minutes remaining, as Rachel Donaldson laid the ball back to Warrington and her cross from the left caught Moan flat footed and looped into the far corner.
The home side pushed for an equaliser in the closing stages but could not find a way past Johnstone.
Despite the defeat, there were plenty of positives for Mel Reay and her team as they prepare for their return to the second tier.
Sunderland: Moan, Beer, McCatty, Potts, Mullen, Ramshaw ©, McInnes, Joice, Farrugia, Hutchinson, Blakey.
Subs (rolling): Manders, Scarr.
Celtic: Logan, Bartle, Craig, Teegarden, Toland, Atkinson, Hayes, Olafsdottir Gros, Wellings, Bowie, McGovern.
Subs (rolling): Pollard, Bowie, Johnstone, McAllister, Galabadaarachchi, Donaldson, Warrington.