Sunderland Ladies got their debut WSL campaign off to a flying start with a comfortable win over local rivals Durham.
The visitors were the better side from the off and didn’t look back once England youth star Abbey Joice made the breakthrough following a flowing move.
Defender Victoria Greenwell added a second goal with a sublime free-kick before Durham halved the deficit after the break.
But a spot-kick from Beth Mead and a late strike from long-serving Gemma Wilson put the result beyond doubt despite a last-gasp reply from the hosts.
The Lady Black Cats have been touted as promotion front-runners this season and they controlled the game for long spells, with Rachel Furness and Kelly McDougall dominating in central midfield.
More than 700 fans turned out at New Ferens Park to witness Durham’s first-ever league game, while Sunderland were making the step up to the WSL having captured the National Premier League title for three straight years.
The away side were on the front foot from the off and took the lead in some style just before the half-hour.
Joice’s quick feet took her into a dangerous position on the edge of the box and she exchanged passes with Mead before slipping the ball through the keeper’s legs.
There was a moment of concern for the Lady Black Cats when keeper Rachael Laws was flattened by a collision late in the first half and was stretchered from the field.
However, the stopper appeared in brighter spirits after the game and joined her team-mates on the sidelines at the full-time whistle, albeit with the aid of crutches.
Helen Alderson replaced Laws as Sunderland responded well to the lengthy stoppage.
Greenwell curled in a second goal in time added on at the end of the first half, dispatching a fine free-kick into the roof of the net from the right-hand edge of the box.
But the hosts halved the deficit early in the second half when Alderson was beaten by an audacious 35-yard lob from Durham’s Zoe Ness.
The substitute got a hand to the shot as it sailed over her head but couldn’t keep it out.
Nonetheless, Sunderland retained their grip on the game and re-established their two-goal lead when Mead – a 30-goal scorer last season – grabbed her first league strike of the campaign from the penalty spot after being impeded into the box.
And Wilson made sure of victory late on, hooking the ball into the net after Durham failed to clear a corner.
Caroline Wilson added a penalty of her own to hand the hosts a last-gasp consolation, but Sunderland had already done enough for victory and duly took maximum points back along the A690.