BLUES Ladies gained a point in their battle for survival in the top flight as they held title-chasing Sunderland to a draw at the Automated Technology Group Stadium on Sunday.
David Parker’s side led 1-0 at the break thanks to Freda Ayisi’s 40th minute strike and, after a strong end to the first half, were hopeful of bagging their second league win of the season.
However, Sunderland pressed strongly in the second period and, after Abbey Joice had levelled in the 53rd minute, the visitors looked the more likely winners until a frantic finale saw chances at both ends.
The point leaves Blues two points above Bristol Academy with three matches remaining and means the fixture between the sides at Bristol on September 5 takes on massive proportions.
Sunderland had the first opening in the tenth minute when Brooke Chaplen burst clear on goal but Aoife Mannion made a superb last-ditch challenge to thwart her.
Seven minutes later Rachel Furness’ 25-yard effort was tipped around the post at full stretch by Becky Spencer and from the resulting corner the stopper did well to deny the same player’s header from Victoria Greenwell’s delivery.
Midway through the first Blues began to get a foothold in the game and Kirsty Linnett set up Jess Carter but she sent her long range effort high and wide.
Skipper Karen Carney then whipped in a dangerous free kick from the left but nobody could get the decisive touch and, as Blues continued to press, Carney sent an exquisite pass cross-field to Mel Lawley but her 20-yard effort was straight at Sunderland keeper Rachel Laws.
The breakthrough came the hosts’ way in the 40th minute when superb work by Carney saw her leave Abby Holmes for dead before crossing to the near post where Ayisi netted her first league goal for the club.
However, Blues made a sloppy start to the second half and were punished in the 53rd minute when they wastefully gave away possession and Chaplen crossed from the right to the far post where Abbey Joice was able to convert with ease.
The hosts were rocked by the goal and the prolific Beth Mead almost got in on goal, but Kerys Harrop made a timely headed intervention.
In the 67th minute Blues almost regained the lead against the run of play when Ayisi centred from the left and Laws, under pressure from Lawley, almost fumbled the ball for what would have been a certain goal for the forward.
Ayisi was then withdrawn as young forward Charlie Wellings came on but it was Sunderland who continued to dominate.
Mead spurned a glorious chance to put her side ahead in the 70th minute when she fired wide with only Spencer to beat and Holmes then forced Spencer into a full stretch save.
Blues then introduced England midfielder Jo Potter from the bench as she replaced Linnett and Emily Westwood was pushed up front and the changes gave Blues a new lease of life.
The closing stages were dramatic as Lawley spurned a fine chance in the area after a superb one-two with Wellings and Carney then forced Laws to save well from her long range strike as the match entered stoppage time.
Sunderland still looked menacing but the final attack on goal came from the hosts as Wellings crossed invitingly from the right, only for Holmes to make a brilliant lunging challenge to deny Westwood a winner deep into stoppage time.