Sunderland tightened their grip on top spot in the FA Women’s National League with a win at Stoke City.
It would take until deep in the second half for the breakthrough to come, but two world clash strikes from young defender Neve Herron in the 74th and 92nd minutes saw Sunderland take win number seven.
Manager Melanie Reay made two changes from the side that ran out 6-1 winners at Sheffield a fortnight ago, Herron and Katie Barker were replaced by Grace McCatty and Jessica Brown.
Sunderland made a bright start at Clayton Wood, with Keira Ramshaw and Maria Farrugia each testing Charlotte Clarke early in the first half.
Clarke kept the scored level brilliantly, turning a powerful, moving effort by Black Cats’ captain Keira Ramshaw away at full stretch at the halfway mark of the first period.
A golden opportunity arose four minutes from the break. Charlotte Potts’ excellent cross-field pass set Brown away down the right. The winger presented Farrugia with a chance that looked harder to miss, but the Malta international fired wide.
Sunderland once again started strongly, dominating second-half possession, but couldn’t make use of the ball. Potts, Gibson and Mollie Lambert all made important defensive stops though, as Stoke wouldn’t lie down.
It would take something special to break the deadlock, and Herron’s first goal for the club certainly was. Only five minutes after leaving the bench the 16-year-old defender curled a glorious effort into the top corner from 30 yeards out after cutting in off the left.
After clearing a Stoke attack in the 86th minute, Sunderland had a great opportunity to finish it. Ramshaw saw her shot blocked onto the bar before Abi Cottam headed the rebound back off the bar. The second rebound fell to Bridget Galloway, but she found the post and Stoke stayed alive.
But Herron put the game beyond doubt in the second minute of stoppage time. Her second was even better, as she unleashed an absolute rocket from even further out than the first, finding that top corner once again.
SAFC: Moan, Griffiths, McCatty, Potts, Mullen (Herron 67′), Lambert, Gibson, Farrugia (Cottam 67′), Brown, Ramshaw, Galloway