Moan, Beer, Herron, Westrup, Morgan, McPartlan, D.Brown, Kelly (C), Joice, J.Brown, Ejupi
Subs: Watson (69’), McCatty (85’), Ede (85’), Cowling, Borthwick, McInnes, Griffiths
Kitching (C), Reilly, Everett, Waldie, Olding, Filbey, Doran, Sharpe, Blanchard, Hughes, Bailey-Gayle
Subs: Johnson, Gibbons (63’), Arthur (63’), Negri, Dean (75’), Guyatt
The build up to the game proved optimistic with fans spotting local hero Emily Scarr in the local Greggs prior to the game, the sun was shining and the stadium cafe was doing a roaring trade of coffees and cans of pop. Fans muttered cautiously hopeful statements about the line-up.
The opening 10 minutes vindicated the positive vibes with the Lasses able to ping passes across the pitch against an initially compact Palace. Probing runs down the wings by Emma Kelly and a well timed cross to a line breaking Ejupi gave rise to collective gasps. The ball was just overhit and gathered by opposition keeper Kitching.
Neve Herron started the game strong in the backline with successful recoveries of the ball from any threat before committing up the centre of the pitch and distributing the ball. This was a dominant theme in the game and she looked the modern incarnation of Franz Beckenbauer consistently defending our box with well timed tackles and dribbles up the spine of the pitch.
It was during these opening phases of play that the Eagles’ number 10, Annabel Blanchard, stood out. Technically strong with good passing play she looked a threat whenever taking the ball into Sunderland’s half.
The match continued in this vein for some time with Megan Beer overlapping Emma Kelly several occasions to launch late crosses into the Palace box. Several opportunities arose but the Lasses could never quite get it past Frances Kitching. Emma Kelly was spending more time attacking enemy space than Luke Skywalker in an X-wing.
The 37th minute proved fruitful with Sunderland’s Jessica Brown making a forward run down the left wing, picking up a pass from a through ball and dribbling into the box. A strong shot forced a deflected save from Kitching before Liz Ejupi swooped into the Eagles’ nest and sent the ball flying into the back of the net. Sunderland were 1-0 up and looked to fully deserve it.
Crystal Palace were quick to respond with an immediate counter after play restarted with 6 players in the box but unable to convert. This foreshadowed the equaliser in the 42nd minute.
After a quick ball recovery in midfield, Palace sent a perfect pass through the centre of the pitch to a fast running Blanchard at the top of the box. A clinically precise shot later and the ball nestled into the bottom left corner with Claudia Moan unable to save. Credit to the opposition, it was an excellent goal.
The second half started with both sides having shown a strong first 45 minutes, but Sunderland had looked the better overall making full use of Palace’s wings as an express route to cross into the box.
By the 70th minute it was starting to feel edgy. Sunderland’s chances in front of goal were drying up and they had not taken advantage of earlier opportunities. Palace meanwhile had grown into the game.
By the 78th minute the most notable thing to occur that half was a group of Sunderland Ultras trying to suggest Crystal Palace would not be welcome in the North East and should return to London. This might have been intimidating to travelling away fans had any of singing Sunderland fans been old enough to order a beer.
Shortly after this show of force, Crystal Palace scored the winner. A corner kick to the Eagles was professionally converted at the back post by Lizzie Waldie. Sunderland 1-2 Crystal Palace.
Although a couple of attacking threats looked positive, Sunderland couldn’t quite get back into the game, but this was not for lack of effort by Herron, Ejupi or Kelly. All three of whom stood out at this fixture for smart passing, dribbling through opposition and plenty of shots on goal.
The match ended with Palace taking home the points but had the Lasses converted any other of the numerous opportunities in front of goal the game may well have ended in our favour.
Sunderland 1 - 2 Crystal Palace
Sunderland v Bristol City Women
16th April - 12:30 KO