Goals from Vic Williams, Hayley Sharp and Lucy Staniforth helped Sunderland Ladies to a 3-2 win over Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon.
Williams poked Sunderland into a 14th minute lead only for Natasha Baptiste to level the scoreline four minutes later.
Sharp regained Sunderland’s lead in the 35th minute only for Villa to equalise again through Lucy Shepherd. However, Staniforth’s penalty proved decisive as the hosts progressed to the last eight of the competition.
New head coach Mel Reay named a side which gave debuts to Anke Preuss, Dominique Bruinenberg and Beverly Leon with a recognised back four of Williams, Sharp, Steph Bannon and Abby Holmes assisting the debutant goalkeeper.
Sunderland started brightly and could have taken the lead within the opening three minutes when Roche’s low drive had Chloe Beattie beaten but bounced back off the post.
The Lady Black Cats continued to look the brighter and had a couple of free-kicks before Dan Brown was fouled on the edge of the penalty area. Staniforth took responsibility and drilled a low effort which Beattie couldn’t hold and Williams was quickest to react to prod home.
Now with a lead, Sunderland were looking to double their advantage and came close when Roche found room on the edge of the penalty area but her effort was deflected behind for a corner.
However, Aston Villa pulled level only four minutes after falling behind. Alice Hassall whipped a fine cross into the penalty area to find Baptiste and the former West Bromwich Albion striker headed beyond Preuss to pull the away side level.
Roche was looking to get her campaign off to a promising start and the lively Sunderland forward tried her luck again in the 27th minute but her long-range drive failed to find the target.
Ten minutes of the first half remained when Sharp regained Sunderland’s lead. Leon, who signed from Italian side Valpolicella last season, whipped a pinpoint cross into the penalty area to find Sharp and she headed beyond the goalkeeper to make it advantage Sunderland for a second time.
Sunderland’s lead could have been doubled only two minutes later when Holmes was played in but Beattie saved her effort well and the rebound was saved too.
Staniforth then went close for the hosts but her low drive just darted wide while Bruinenberg’s low effort two minutes later resulted in the same fate.
Sunderland went into the break a goal to the good but Aston Villa came out for the second half fancying their chances.
And the Lions pulled level for a second time only four minutes into the second half. Shepherd did well to find room and a through ball played her in where a fine finish beat Preuss.
With everything now to play for, both sides spurred forward but failed to create any clear cut chances.
The game was 66 minutes old when a handball in the penalty area saw the referee point to the spot in favour of Sunderland.
Staniforth stepped up and the former Liverpool midfielder dispatched well to give Sunderland the lead for a third time.
Despite plenty of hard work, Aston Villa were unable to find a way back into the game but did scare the hosts when Kerri Walsh’s header clipped the crossbar on its way over.
The visitors pushed everyone forward for a couple of last-minute set pieces but there was no breakthrough and Sunderland progressed to the last eight of the competition where they’ll face a trip to Chelsea.
Full-time: Sunderland Ladies 3-2 Aston Villa Ladies
Sunderland Ladies: Preuss, Holmes (Lambert, 78′), Brown, Bannon (c), Sharp, Williams, Staniforth, Hill, Bruinenberg (Watt, 78′), Roche, Leon (Galloway, 56′)
Unused subs: Ramshaw, Donnelly
Aston Villa Ladies: Beattie, Hassall, N’Dow, Richards, George, Moran (c) (Welsh, 85′), Shepherd, Porter, Rouse, Merrick, Baptiste (Hinchcliffe, 64′)
Unused subs: Smith, Potts, Dale