Sunderland Ladies came from behind against Notts County as they earned a point in their penultimate game of the FA Women’s Super League One season at Eppleton CW.
Rachel Williams handed the visitors the lead on 33 minutes but that lasted just six minutes as Emma Kelly executed a fine header to get the Lady Black Cats back on level terms.
Chances came and went for both sides as Jess Clarke was denied by the post while at the other end debutante Bridgett Galloway saw her ambitious lob bounce perilously wide of the wrong side of the post.
With the Lasses' top-flight status ensured for a third consecutive year, Carlton Fairweather shuffled his pack and handed Olivia Watts her first-team debut at right back.
Hilde Gunn Olsen replaced Rachael Laws between the sticks while Abby Holmes, Kelly and Beverly Leon also featured in the starting XI. Development squad players Galloway, Danielle Brown and Erika Warren were named on the bench.
Sunderland raced out the traps in the opening stages, Beth Mead’s pace and movement played havoc with the visitor’s backline as Megan Walsh darted off her line to deny Mead an early goalscoring chance.
But the Lasses were unable to make the most of their fine start and Notts sent a warning sign on 11 minutes as Sunderland failed to clear their lines and Clarke poked the ball wide of Olsen’s post.
From there, the Lady Black Cats responded by creating a flurry of chances; firstly Leon was denied by the feet of Walsh before Mead climbed well but was unable to get her head on a fine cross from the right.
Clarke remained the focal point of Notts’ attack and with 22 minutes on the clock she tested Olsen from range before Williams was also denied by the Norwegian stopper as she got down well to tip the ball round the post.
Kelly McDougall and Holmes produced a number of strong tackles in an attempt to claw the Lasses back into contention, but that seemed to galvanise the hosts as their pressure eventually paid off on 33 minutes - Williams spun on a six pence and her effort nestled in the bottom.
However, the visitors lead lasted just six minutes as Mead and Abbey Joice combined down the left flank and Kelly timed her run to perfection to loop her header over an outstretched Walsh.
A nervy start to the second period from the home side saw Clarke chase down Hayley Sharp’s clearance, but Notts were unable to edge themselves in front as they ballooned two attempts over the bar.
Roared on by a vocal home support, Joice almost turned the game on its head but was denied by the body of Dani Buet who stood firm to deny the winger as she collected the ball in aches of space on the left side.
The game began to open up as both sides sensed they could take all three points, and moments later Clarke got to the ball ahead of Olsen but her effort was denied by the foot off the post.
As the half wore on, the game petered into a lull and while chances became few and far between there was plenty of effort and commitment. Mead picked up a yellow card as she slammed into Walsh who raced off her line before the forward was then adjudged to her fouled Aivi Luik as she went about her industrious business.
Hill then went close as her tenacious efforts in the middle of the park saw her surge forward, unfortunately though the midfielder couldn’t match her fine running with a decent strike.
Bridgett Galloway then came on in replace of Mead for her first-team debut and the lively forward almost made it a night to remember as she tried an audacious lob from 25 yards.
Notts County withheld a late onslaught from the hosts and ensured the points were split.
Sunderland: Olsen, Holmes, Sharp, Bannon, Mead (Galloway, 81), Watt, Joice (Brown, 90), Kelly, McDougall, Hill, Leon
Subs not used: Laws, Warren
Notts County: Walsh, Luik, Buet, Clarke, Williams (Ejupi, 71), Potter, Moore, James, Crichton, Whelan, Bassett
Subs not used: Cushin, Oliver, Hassal