Cheadle Town FC, 3rd April, 2pm ko
Vital games, such as cup finals and title clinching matches, often lack the quality of performance produced in the run that takes a team to the brink of success. In typical fashion then, at the dowdy surroundings of Cheadle Town, Sunderland AFC Women’s showing was short on class and composure but high on drama.
Despite dominating the first period in terms of pressure, the new look line up (forced by injuries) wasted several set-piece opportunities and a host of half-chances. Punishment for such profligacy came when they were caught out by a long throw that speedy lone striker Katie Brusell got to before keeper Carly Telford to put County 1-0 up on 35 minutes.
The calm words and renewed collective conviction discussed in the Black Cats’ dressing room during the half time break were almost rendered futile on 59 minutes when another long throw was not cleared and Suzanne Hunt’s shot from inside the box found the back of the net.
Although rocked by the scoreline, Sunderland were rewarded for keeping their shape and belief as Donna Lanaghan managed to turn in Melanie Reay’s cross across the face of the goal on 74 minutes. There was still work to be done.
Then, when England U19 striker Stephanie Houghton turned her defender and raced through the Stockport back line and slotted the ball passed their on-rushing keeper eight minutes from full-time the celebrations could begin. A 2-2 draw was enough to win the title and hence promotion back to the National Division – the top flight of women’s football.
News soon filtered through that Sunderland’s nearest rivals Wolves had lost 2-0 and so Sunderland would have been champions anyway but to win it outright was what the Mackem camp had wanted all along.
Sunderland boss Mick Mulhern was delighted with the strength of character that his young side had shown, when they may have been tempted to throw in the towel. “I’m absolutely delighted,” Mulhern said. “Everyone at the club has worked really hard this season and the promotion is fully deserved.
“After being 2-0 down we showed the sort of character that true champions show to fight our way back into the game. We’ve been a bit jittery in the last couple of games, but that’s to be expected from a young side, but we’ve got what we deserved now.”
Mulhern is optimistic that with the right additions to the squad, his team can make a success of next season in the Premiership. “We know that there is a big void between this league and the Premiership,” Mulhern said. “We have a very, very young team, and I’ll have to look at who to bring in. Whoever I do decide upon will have to be able to fit into our system because I’m not prepared to upset the apple cart.”