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Sunderland went six points clear at the top of the National Division after a 2-1 victory against Bristol Academy.
The Wearsiders went ahead in the eighth minute when Kelly McDougall found Sarah Danby on the left, where she cut in to fire a shot past Amber Thornell.
Bristol recovered swiftly from the early setback and were quickly back on level terms as Emma Plewa picked up a loose ball and surged down the left to cross for Helen King to score.
Both sides went close before the interval, Jordan Nobbs fired just over and Kelly McDougall headed a Steph Bannon free kick against the post, whilst at the other end King was inches away from an Alex Windell cross and Katie Middleton's free kick forced a good save from Rachael Laws.
Sunderland went back in front within five minutes of the restart, Abby Holmes and Nobbs combined to release Demi Stokes and Sophie Williams found the net from the resulting cross with a stooping header.
Thornell pulled off a good save to prevent Danby from putting Sunderland further ahead, before Academy had a good spell of pressure in search of an equaliser. Shelly Cox was denied by a good stop from Laws and Bristol forced a series of corners but Sunderland held out under the growing pressure.
Stokes saw a shot cleared off the line at the other end as Sunderland finished strongly to claim an important win which could yet see them on top of the table going into the Christmas and New Year break.
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