Sunderland Ladies were made to rue their missed chances as Doncaster Rovers Belles edged a closely fought encounter to progress in the Continental Tyres Cup.
The Lady Black Cats begun the match brightly but squandered a host of opportunities as Belles Leandra Little headed the hosts in front after 22 minutes.
Keira Ramshaw then converted a second half corner to get Sunderland level before Lauren Cresswell’s strike saw Belles snatch victory in the closing stages.
Having lost four consecutive matches in the league – albeit to the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal – the Continental Tyres Cup came as a welcome break for Sunderland and gave them the perfect chance to gather some momentum to take back into the league.
Ahead of kick-off, Carlton Fairweather shuffled his pack and included Abbey Joice, Lucy Staniforth and Abby Holmes in his starting XI.
With an emphasis to press high, Sunderland raced out the blocks and produced an exhilarating high-octane start which saw Brooke Chaplen and Maddie Hill deployed as the Lady Black Cats’ main source of attack.
With ten minutes on the clock the visitors carved out their first chance of the afternoon as Staniforth caught Little in possession and fed Chaplen, however she was unable to convert the guilt-edge opportunity from inside the area.
Ramshaw then tested the hands of Nicola Hobbs before good work from Holmes down the left hand side saw her find Chaplen who went close again.
It was a commanding start from the visitors but Rovers punished them in the 22nd minute as Little converted Cresswell’s corner to hand them the lead against the run of play.
But the Lady Black Cats dusted themselves down quickly and showed great character to respond as well as they did and should’ve levelled but Rachel Furness could only find the side netting as she broke through on goal.
Hill and Chaplen continued to cause Rovers’ defence all kinds of problems but Sunderland went in at the break knowing they would need to be more clinical in the second half if they were to have any chance of progressing in the cup.
As the Lady Black Cats returned to the pitch for the second 45, patience was key as they looked to find a route back into the game.
Doncaster began the brighter of the two sides, although neither team really looked like scoring in the early stages of the second half.
In the 62nd minute Sunderland deservedly got themselves level and turned the game on its head when Staniforth’s corner was knocked down by Furness and into the path of Ramshaw who fired home from close range.
With the game tied, the Lasses continued to search for a second but just as they looked to turn it up a notch in the closing stages, Doncaster struck a decisive winner to seal their place in the next round of the Continental Cup.
Jess Sigsworth managed to get in behind Dan Brown and pick out Cresswell, who well placed at the back post to head beyond a helpless Olsen.
Sunderland continued to battle on defiantly in an attempt to force the game to extra-time, but the Belles held out to secure a slender victory.
Sunderland Ladies starting XI: Olsen, Holmes, Sharp, Williams, Brown, Furness, Chaplen, Ramshaw, Staniforth, Hill, Joice (Roche, 64)
Unused subs: Laws, Bannon, McDougall, Mead, Potts