Doncaster Belles 0 Sunderland 2: Black Cats claim Continental Cup scalp

Gordon Staniforth. Picture: Kevin Neagle
Gordon Staniforth. Picture: Kevin Neagle

A five-game winning run came to an end for Gordon Staniforth’s side as Sunderland stunned the hosts with a first half brace.

Sunderland looked strong from the off, applying early pressure in the Continental Cup encounter, as the Belles responded through clever link-up play between Lauren Cresswell and Sue Smith down the left.

And with their first attack of the game, the visitors struck the opening blow as a fast and fluid move saw the impressive Beth Mead pounce to rifle an effort from range into the top corner for a fifth minute lead.

The Belles were on the ropes as their fellow FAWSL2 opponents powered forward well, seeing a far-post header go inches wide before a couple of telling corners gave the hosts something to think about.

Beth England had a glorious chance to level just before the 15th minute mark but sent her volley wide of the target from a Cresswell cross.

Jess Sigsworth later found a yard of space down the left before being hacked down by a clumsy Stephanie Bannon challenge on the edge of the area, however, England sent the resulting free-kick harmlessly wide.

And just as Doncaster were beginning to build momentum, the Black Cats pounced for their second as Rachel Furness expertly directed a header past Hobbs to stun the hosts in the 23rd minute.

Rhiannon Roberts tried to respond but glanced a header wide as Millie Bright’s effort suffered the same fate after Mead had powered a shot over the bar for Sunderland.

England and Kelly McDougall then spurned chances to finish off an entertaining first half at the Keepmoat Stadium.

In search of an early second half comeback, the Belles attacked with purpose, however, Sigsworth’s drilled effort was saved and Smith’s lobbed follow-up tipped onto the bar by Rachael Laws.

Smith was later guilty of taking too many touches whilst through on goal, allowing Sunderland to get back in numbers before Laws pushed the midfielder’s curling effort wide in the 58th minute.

Reanne Thomas attempted to find Smith in the area following good play from Ashleigh Mills and Sigsworth in the build-up but to no avail as Bright saw a drive over the frame in the 65th minute.

As time ticked on, Thomas was again involved in a Belles chance as Bright and Sigsworth combined, however, the former Notts Forest midfielder guided her header over.

Mead found herself inches away from slotting in Sunderland’s third but was stopped in her tracks through Leandra Little and Lyndsey Cunningham as the visitors continued to look strong on the counter.

A header from Smith went wide before substitute Hope Knight had a header crash off the bar and her follow-up saved in the 83rd minute with Belles in the ascendancy.

However, the home side failed to make their chances count as Smith saw another effort held before Sunderland took the three points back to the North East.

Belles: Hobbs, Cunningham, Little, Sigsworth, Lipka, Smith, Bright, England, Thomas, Roberts, Cresswell. Subs: Chadwick, Williams, Mills, E.Johnson, Knight.

Sunderland: Laws, Holmes, Greenwell, Bannon, Wilson, McDougall, Furness, Joice, Ramshaw, Mead, Kelly. Subs: Alderson, Beer, Bass, Potts, Dodds.