Thursday night’s Continental Tyres Cup clash provided plenty of late drama, as Sheffield FC Ladies held WSL1 side Sunderland to a draw at The Home of Football before a penalty shoot-out defeat dumped Zoe Johnson’s side out of the competition.
Lucy Staniforth earned Sunderland the lead just after the half-hour mark, before Rhema Lord-Mears’s superb solo goal brought the hosts level just 10 minutes later.
Though the final stages of the second half provided more than a handful of golden chances for both sides, neither could find a winner and the visitors took three points from a 4-2 penalty shoot-out victory.
With Sheffield sitting in third place in the Group 1 North on four points, a point behind their visitors, nothing less than a win would give them a chance of progressing to the quarter-finals. They entered this midweek fixture on the back of a 1-0 defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday in the WSL2.
Visitors Sunderland arrived at The Home of Football as clear favourites ahead of the tie, with the Black Cats sitting in mid-table in the WSL1 after five games played, but they were far from dominant in what was an extremely close-run affair.
In the opening minutes, however, it was Sunderland who created more chances. Forward Lucy Staniforth came close to taking the lead on 11 minutes when Sheffield ‘keeper Danielle Gibbons was forced to parry her curling effort from inside the penalty area.
Sheffield eventually grew into the game, and perhaps could have taken the lead when Mel Johnson’s precise cross from the right almost found the head of Sophie Jones before Sunderland countered.
The visitors then punished Sheffield’s lack of ruthlessness, with the counter-attack allowing Staniforth to charge through the Sheffield defence before slotting past Gibbons on 32 minutes.
Sunderland were denied a second almost immediately after, with Sarah Jackson providing a goal-line clearance to block a Sunderland effort just a minute after the opener.
With only two minutes before half-time, a dazzling run from forward Rhea Lord-Mears dragged Sheffield back into the game, bursting into space down the right-hand side before cutting in and bending a superb effort into the top corner with the outside of her left boot.
The hosts started brightly after the break, with Sophie Jones slicing wide their first effort of the second half before Mel Johnson’s curled attempt was caught by Rachael Laws.
Down the other end, Danielle Gibbons did brilliantly to tip a header round the post and keep her side in the game on 58 minutes.
With 15 minutes to go, Sheffield were gifted with the best opportunity to win the game, as Sophie Jones fed Mel Johnson through before she was brought down by Laws, forcing the referee to award a penalty.
But Johnson’s penalty-kick was too weak and was easily turned around the post by Laws, much to the frustration of the home supporters.
Just several minutes later, the game could and probably should have turned in Sunderland’s favour, but somehow Zaneta Wyne blasted the ball over the crossbar from close range; a huge let-off for the Sheffield defence.
The final ten minutes of the game were by far the most hectic, with Sarah Jackson once again providing a goal-line clearance, this time in the way of Staniforth’s effort with Gibbons on the ground.
Into added time, Mel Johnson was left frustrated for a second occasion as she couldn’t finish off a one-on-one opportunity against Rachael Laws, who denied her in the same position just after Jenna Dear ensured a third clearance off the Sheffield goal-line from a Sunderland corner.
Somehow, neither side could find a third goal from this wealth of last-minute chances, and consequently the game went to penalties.
Sunderland proved to be the more clinical finishers in the shoot-out, with Hannah Cain missing the target with Sheffield’s first penalty and Rachael Law saving Sarah Jackson’s fourth.
Williams stepped up and tucked away Sunderland’s fourth penalty to grab three points for the visitors and put qualification from the group stage beyond Sheffield’s grasp.
Sheffield next face a trip to Doncaster Rovers Belles in the WSL2 on December 10 as they look to earn their third league win of the season.