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Watford 1 Sunderland 1
Watford and Sunderland shared the points in an intense encounter at Northwood where the home team battled for an hour with ten players after the dismissal of keeper Lauren Davey for bringing down Sophie Williams.
Substitute Chloe Crook could not stop Kelly McDougall's penalty but went on to have a fine senior debut supported by outstanding defending from her back four.
Sunderland had the majority of possession throughout and created many chances, particularly in the
first half hour, but could not find a finish. Watford created the first clear opening when a clever touch by Paige Logie released Georgia Kearney-Perry whose shot was saved by a diving Helen Alderson.
Sunderland then took over with Keira Ramshaw having a effort cleared off the line, Steph Bannon placing a header inches wide and Demi Stokes rounding the keeper and having her cross cleared.
It was totally against the run of play when Sarah Wiltshire latched on to a mishit back pass and shot past the advancing Alderson on sixteen minutes to give Watford the lead. Undeterred, the Black Cats continued to pour forward, forcing Watford into a defensive reshuffle to try to stem the tide. Jordan Nobbs had a clear header from a left wing cross but could only find Davey's hands, then Sophie Williams drove impressively through the middle, but was foiled by Davey.
A lovely cushioned header from Natalie Gutteridge sent Williams clear again on goal and the Sunderland striker was upended as she went past Davey. Penalty and red card from referee Ernie Moore, Kelly McDougall slotting the kick past substitute keeper Crook on 32 minutes.
Given Sunderland's dominance and Watford's outfield handicap, with Cally Rowell being the unfortunate player sacrificed for Crook, the northern side must have been confident of scoring more but Watford survived to half time, not without a few scares.
The pattern continued after the break, but Watford dug in and defended very well , restricting Sunderland to long range efforts . Cori Daniels and Charlie Nicholson blocked the centre while Kearney-Perry, moved from attack to left back, was excellent and the rest of the team worked extremely hard against the fine passing and movement of the Sunderland team.
Ironically, Watford twice went very close to regaining the lead, once when Wiltshire dribbled past three defenders before shooting just wide and then with a header against the underside of the bar from a corner, leading to a scramble on the goalline on 70 minutes.
Nobbs, Williams, Stokes and McDougall all had shots from distance which went just wide or over as Sunderland pressed. Crook showed excellent handling but when a Williams shot was too hot to hold, she dived back to scoop the ball away from the line on 72 minutes to keep her team level.
Both teams showed their quality in an enjoyable contest. Sunderland passed well, attacked all through and will surely start to take the many chances they create. Watford showed great heart and team spirit to defy the numerical disadvantage and get a point from the game and go close to all three.
Watford: Lauren Davey, Charlie Nicholson, Connie Short, Holly Miles, Georgie Adams, Cori Daniels, Sarah Wiltshire, Cally Rowell, Georgia Kearney-Perry, Charlotte Young, Paige Logie. Subs: Chloe Crook, Kate Owen, Jadine Madden, Vicky Wootten Megan Wynne.
Sunderland: Helen Alderson, Abby Holmes, Gemma Wilson, Steph Bannon, Vicky Greenwell, Kelly McDougall, Demi Stokes, Natalie Gutteridge, Sophie Williams, Jordan Nobbs, Kiera Ramshaw. Subs: Rachael Laws, Nicola Devine, Jordan Atkinson, Hannah Chisholm, Becky Salicki.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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