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Millwall Lionesses 2 Sunderland 3
Sunderland clinched the Premier League National Division title with two matches to spare with
a 3-2 victory over Millwall Lionesses at Beckenham.
Two goals in the last fifteen minutes turned around a match which was vital for both teams and allowed the Black Cats to open the champagne to crown a fine campaign, but the result and the manner of the defeat were very cruel for the home team who must win their final game against Reading FC Women and hope for other teams to slip up in order to avoid relegation.
Sunderand started like Champions elect with a quick opening goal when Steph Bannon's free kick released Keira Ramshaw on the right and her cut back was finished powerfully from 10 yards by Natalie Gutteridge. Millwall soon hit back when Shauni Griffiths' fine cross was nodded in by Lindsey Morgan on eight minutes.
Both sides looked dangerous with Sunderland using early forward passes to exploit the pace of their front players and Millwall building through clever interplay in midfield. Lionesses' Megan McKeag denied Demi Stokes with a fine tackle as she was about to shoot and Michelle Beazley twice foiled Sophie Williams by sprintng from her line to save.
At the other end, neat passing between Danielle Puddefoot and Kate Longhurst released Emma Beckett to give Millwall the lead just beyond the half hour. The home side went very close to extending their lead right on half time as Rachael Laws made two good saves from dangerous set pieces.
By contrast the first 25 minues of the second half saw the game settle into a stalemate with little goalmouth action. What followed illustrated the tiny margin between success and failure as Millwall's Longhurst struck a dipping volley from 25 yards against the post and away to safety to keep the lead down to one goal, then a minute later Sunderland's Kelly McDougall hit a similar effort which cannoned off the upright and into the net for a 77th minute equaliser.
Millwall's bad luck was cruelly compounded when a Stokes corner beyond the far post was met by Abby Holmes with a header on 89 minutes to seal the Black Cats' comeback and the league title.
There is no doubt that Sunderland deserve the title for their consistency and ability to battle back in adversity, as illustrated in this match, and to clinch it with two games of a 14-match season to spare is a remarkable performance. However the result on the day was harsh on Millwall and Barnet's win over Leeds United leaves the Lionesses in deep relegation trouble.
Millwall Lionesses: Michelle Beazley, Dionne Lennon, Meghan McKeag, Shelby Hills, Sinead Boyer, Danielle Puddefoot, Emma Beckett, Kate Longhurst, Lindsey Morgan, Shauni Griffiths, Harley Bennett. Subs: Sophie Rackham, Cath Fisher, Ellie Stenning, Kasia Viggor, Debbie Cole.
Sunderland: Rachael Laws, Abby Holmes, Vicki Greenwell, Rachel Furness, Steph Bannon, Sarah McFadden, Keira Ramshaw, Kelly McDougall, Sophie Williams, Natalie Gutteridge, Demi Stokes. Subs: Ellie Christon, Rebecca Saliki, Charlotte Potts, Amy Vaughan, Helen Alderson.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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