Sunderland 1 vs Lewes 1: A hard-earned point at their sizeable joint

Taking on the unbeaten and (to many) surprise early FA Women’s Championship leaders in their own back yard was a tough ask, yet Lewes may feel aggrieved not to have recorded an historic win at The Stadium of Light.

The Rooks soaked up early pressure before the Queen of the Near Post Knock-In, skipper Rhian Cleverly, smuggled Paula Howells’ in-swinging corner over the line. Your correspondent (laid out on his sofa with a bowl of Japanese Crackers and a never-ending supply of liquorice tea) learned this via twitter as the somewhat creaky FA Player only kicked in once she’d finished celebrating, about three minutes later.

The Black Cats responded with patient build-up, Tatiana Saunders with little to do as the Lewes defence kept the hosts at arm’s length. Kallie Balfour came closest to notching a second in a tight first half. Ini Umotong, looking to shoot on sight, saw a fierce effort blocked. The ball dropped inside the box and Balfour stuck out a leg to lob ‘keeper Moan, only to see the ball nestle on top of the onion bag.

The ref showed good command of her whistle as both sides traded strong challenges in a hard but generally fair contest. Lewes raided on the right, Paula Howells deploying a full bag of tricks to commit the full-back, but, as for Sunderland, the final pass eluded the visitors’ front players and the sides headed for a cuppa with the Rooks a goal to the good.

The second half saw more midfield to-and-fro. Freda Ayisi came close with a neat turn and shot into the side netting. Georgia Timms replaced her soon after and almost wrapped up the win, her instinctive strike palmed away low to her left by the excellent Moan.

On the hour Mel Reay made a triple change, the recently-acquired Durham striker Achterhoff joining Mullen and Scarr in replacing Herron, Beer and Brown. The two sides traded profligate passes, leaving both ‘keepers more or less bystanders. Saunders had to be at full stretch to get a finger on a low cross-goal effort that shaved the outside of her left post.

The moment of the half (for me, at any rate; it cost me a handful of crackers) came when the ever-present Howells, ducking, darting and dropping a shoulder, was denied a throw-in after what seemed an obvious deflection. She went down like Sergeant Elias at the end of Platoon, eventually falling flat out, face down, arms outstretched on what, even on my tiny screen, looked to be a peach of a pitch.

Despite Achterhoff’s impressive work-rate it was fellow home sub Mullen who set up the leveller. Her dangerous ball from the right dropped just inside the D. Lewes’s Northern Ireland international Rebecca McKenna stuck out a leg and stood mortified as the ball looped perfectly over a stranded Saunders and into the top corner for an equaliser.

Contrary to my contention that you can’t switch from out-and-out defence to full-on attack, Lewes stepped up and took the fight to Sunderland. As the game entered added time the Rooks had two chances to win it. First Umotong unleashed a shot from wide on the left. Had she got the contact just right you could see the ball curling into Moan’s top corner. As it happens the result was a throw-in four yards from the corner flag.

Moments later a rather tired body-check gifted Lewes a free-kick 25 yards out, left of the D. A stinging low effort clipped the wall, the ball spinning inside the left upright only for Moan to get down and make the save. FT 1-1.

A point away at the (pre-kick-off) league leaders is not to be sniffed at. Simon will want to see his midfield take better care of the football, no doubt, but many teams will find the Stadium of Light a difficult place to visit.

Lewes: Saunders, Cleverley ©, Hack, O’Rourke, McKenna, Hazard, Dalton, Ayisi, Balfour, Howells, Umotong

Subs: Salgado, Cousins, Logan, Boswell, Timms, Ashworth-Clifford, Miller