It was the hosts who started the game off well, as in the opening minutes of the match they looked to get in behind the Sunderland defence through getting forward down the left hand wing.
The Blues were heading into this game full of confidence after their first win of the season last weekend and certainly illustrated that with some wonderful passing play. The opponents forced Sunderland goalkeeper Claudia Moan into a brilliant save, diving low to her right and doing well to keep hold of it as it looked to bobble out of her hands.
Despite Birmingham looking to get forward, Sunderland bided their time and looked for weaknesses to exploit, catching them out on several occasions on the counter.
However, it was in the 18th minute when Sunderland’s quick transition and press paid dividends. Jessica Brown received the back out on the right wing and looked to curl a cross into the box, but her initial attempt was blocked and the right back was fortunate to have the ball return back for another attempt. This time a better option became apparent with Liz Ejupi dropping out of the box to make herself a viable choice for Brown. Brown passed to Ejupi, who expertly predicted her run and passed the ball straight back to her behind the defensive line for the defender to run onto. Brown made no mistake with this attempted cross and struck the ball towards the near post for Mary McAteer to score on the volley. Her second goal in two consecutive games.
Some clips from today. Starting off with Mary McAteer’s goal— Charlotte Patterson (@kirbyhazard) October 8, 2023
Video credit: FA Player pic.twitter.com/ZIzZYdULRE
From then on Sunderland’s confidence was soaring, as they looked to add to their goal tally. Birmingham were under the cosh as Sunderland saw success down the right hand side through Jess Brown, Mary McAteer and Liz Ejupi’s link up play.
The lasses continued to dominate and were seeing large amounts of possession pay off in the form beautiful passing play and opportunities created.
Ejupi was fouled not long after, in what looked to be a certain penalty. Ejupi was brought down just as she was about strike the ball and despite the player going through the back of her and getting no contact with the ball, the referee waved play on.
The Blues came close to an equaliser when Ellie Mason struck from distance and her shot was deflected off the back of Amy Goddard, changing the trajectory of the ball which fortunately saw it ricochet off the crossbar and out. Allowing all of us to let out a collective sigh of relief.
Claudia Moan once again continued her fine form after she pulled off another brilliant save, this time denying Birmingham City the equaliser from the freekick when she rose high to tip it over the crossbar.
For the final 5-10 minutes before half time, the game slowed slightly. Sunderland seemed comfortable to see the 1-0 lead out until half time. However Birmingham were the ones pressuring the side, with Ellie Mason being the opponents focal point and the most likely to cause us bother.
McAteer went down injured just before half time and received treatment for a few minutes due a head injury which took some sting out of the game. Thankfully the young starlet was well enough to continue and got straight back into the fray.
The Blues had another chance to get an equaliser just before halftime from yet another freekick; but for the third time in the game, they struck the crossbar.
Thankfully for Sunderland players and fans, the half time whistle blew just moments after.
City made two subs at half-time. Bringing off Martha Harris for Ireland international Jamie Finn and taking Lucy Quinn off for Katie Dungate. The change was an understandable one, given that Birmingham had struggled to contain Sunderland’s press and tenacity towards the end of the second half.
Ejupi had the opportunity to make it 2-0 straight from kick off, after the ball was intercepted in the middle of the pitch by Louise Griffiths and they played Ejupi in to be one on one with the keeper. However, much to everyone's dismay her shot beat the keeper and the post too.
That was the last real clear opportunity for Sunderland for some time as it was Birmingham who showed more fire and grit to try and salvage something from this game. Their substitutions paying off in the centre of the park.
Claudia Moan was again called to action and she didn’t disappoint, as she dived acrobatically to her left to stop a wicked shot from outside the box.
Sensing that the tide had changed, the Blues made further changes in the squad. Bringing both Charlie Devlin and Libby Smith off for Jade Pennock and Ivana Fuso respectively. Which raised a few eyebrows around the stadium and even the commentator, as Devlin and Smith were having a good game and contribute greatly to their attack.
Unlike in the first half, Sunderland were not seeing much joy down the right wing. In fact, they were quite wasteful in possession and giving away cheap passes, which invited unnecessary pressure on the side.
Thankfully for the lasses, summer signing Amy Goddard was playing exceptionally to pocket some of the Blues forward, particularly in aerial duels, ensuring any danger was dealt with.
For some time, it felt like it was Birmingham in terms of possession and attacking opportunities, however Ejupi broke down on the right hand side and played a brilliant ball into the centre for Katie Kitching to fire goalward. However, the ball unfortunately gets caught up just behind her and her shot is tame enough for Lucy Thomas to deal with comfortably.
The game was entering into it’s final 15 minutes and Sunderland made their first chances for the afternoon, bringing off Jenna Dear for Mollie Rouse to make her league debut, whereas Mary McAteer made way for Katy Watson. Birmingham also made another change, bringing Jade Moore on for Remi Allen at the 74th minute.
At this point, it appeared that Sunderland were happy to try and come away from St Andrews with a 1-0 win, however City were not content with that plan and continued to press and pressure Sunderland's into errors.
It was evident at times that the lasses unfortunately just lost that little bit of composure they usually have at the back and rather than try to keep the ball, they just wanted to get rid of the danger immediately. This ultimately just led to recycling of the ball back to the opponents for them once again come at the team.
The relentless attacking from Birmingham in final quarter eventually paid dividends for the Blues. Despite Rouse getting a great a block in to intercept the initial attempted pass, the ball kindly fell back to City and they were able to get in behind on the left wing. The ball was taken to the by-line and was cut back perfectly for Harrison-Murray to fire home for the Blues in the 78th minute
For the final 10 minutes, it looked like Birmingham were the most likely out of the two sides to get the winning goal, as they pushed Sunderland back and did not allow them breathing room to play their passing game.
Jade Pennock could’ve made it 2-1 to Birmingham within the last five minutes, but her shot from just outside the box was struck directly towards Moan, who comfortably dealt with it. Sunderland need to evaluate on just how easy it was for Birmingham to cut through them.
Mel Reay and her coaching staff made their final change of the match, bringing Ejupi off for Emily Scarr in the final minutes.
It is noticeable that in the last few games, Sunderland have looked slightly lethargic towards the end of games. Whether that is because we’re attacking right from the off at the first whistle or more an issue around concentration and fitness, it is hard to ascertain.
Regardless, despite being under the cosh for large parts of the second half. Sunderland fought heroically and stoically at the back to keep the game at one’s a piece. With Brianna Westrup, Amy Goddard and Claudia Moan standing out as the key players keeping their side in it.
Still, it a creditable point to take away from St Andrews and despite their slow start to the season, Birmingham are very commendable side and one which looks likely to try and replicate their second place finish last year. The Sunderland of old may well have struggled to contain their press and may well have seen the tide shift completely in the hosts getting a winner at the end.
However, this is a new a Sunderland and one which is still unbeaten in six games and still sit in second place after match week. The confidence, skill, attacking prowess and belief is certainly there. I have no doubt that Mel and the coaching staff will be working hard to iron out any discrepancies over the next few days, before Sunderland are once again in action. This time away to Sheffield United on Wednesday night in the Conti Cup.
Ha way the lasses!