AFTER three league defeats on the spin, Liverpool Ladies returned to winning ways in style with a comprehensive win at Sunderland Ladies.
The Reds had put three past reigning champions Chelsea in their last outing, yet had conceded six. And there were several changes to that side, Satara Murray making her return from injury on the right side of a back four of Gemma Bonner, Sophie Ingle and Alex Greenwood with Siobhan Chamberlain in goal.
Ahead of them Laura Coombs returned to the started 11 alongside Kate Longhurst, with Rosie White in the middle. Emma Lundh made her first start since the previous Sunderland tie three weeks earlier to join Tash Harding and Caroline Weir in attack.
This is a Sunderland side not to be underestimated, a fact underlined when they came back from 2-0 down to take a share of the points in Widnes last month.
As was the case in that game, the Black Cats created the first clear-cut chance of the game as Keira Ramshaw burst into the Liverpool box, only to see her drive pushed around the post by Chamberlain. From the corner Murray, then Ingle got the ball away, kickstarting a move that led to the opening goal.
The Reds attacked in numbers, quick out their own half with White charging down the middle and unleashing a strike from the edge of the box that flashed across the face of goal and into the back of the net after crashing off the far post.
Good defending followed from Liverpool to keep the Black Cats from netting an equaliser. Murray was particularly strong, shielding the ball into the path of Bonner for the skipper to clear and then holding off Stephanie Roche with ease to turn and carry the ball out of defence.
Brooke Chaplen had scored a double in the 2-2 draw, yet she was kept at bay here — closed down by Bonner and Ingle in the box to send a shot wide of the post.
Ex-Liverpool midfielder Lucy Staniforth was also twice denied by Chamberlain from set pieces, the number one punching the first wide before impressively stopping a deceptive effort from Staniforth in stoppage time — the ball having swerved in low towards the near post.
Before that second effort however Liverpool had managed to wriggle themselves out of trouble and create chances of their own, Longhurst turning well on the halfway line to set Lundh down the right but her cross was met by another ex-Red in goalkeeper Rachael Laws.
Down the other wing Harding was wreaking havoc, and the Welsh winger cut in along the byline and was brought down in the box by Sunderland captain Steph Bannon.
Greenwood stepped up to take the spot kick, firing the ball past Laws despite the keeper diving the right way to double the Liverpool lead shortly before half-time.
Into added time at the end of the half the aforementioned Staniforth free kick troubled the Reds, Chamberlain’s save resulting in a corner which was cleared off the line by Greenwood; the left-back scoring then preventing a goal.
A muted opening to the second half followed, the Reds perhaps wary of their hosts and the comeback still fresh in the memory.
In the opening exchanges it was again Sunderland who threatened, Murray rising above everyone to head away a header and Chamberlain sharp to get down and block the rebound.
Chamberlain also denied Staniforth once more; a dipping effort struck finely but tipped over the crossbar.
The Reds grew in confidence as the half drew on, Coombs impressive with her box-to-box performance, nipping at the heels of the Sunderland players and at one point winning the ball 30 yards from goal with a sliding interception, getting back to her feet to shoot just wide.
Harding and Lundh on each wing were also working tirelessly, the two switching play and holding the ball up well.
On the left, Harding and Greenwood linked well, the connection growing stronger over the course of the game with Greenwood overlapping a number of times on a couple of exciting moves forward.
Harding was Liverpool’s primary threat on the night and while countering from a Sunderland corner down the right wing, hit a cross that swung fiercely into the area with Weir arriving at the back post, giving Bannon no choice but to attempt to clear only to see the ball fly past her own keeper.
Liverpool were 3-0 up, arguably at the point it looked more likely to be Sunderland getting a goal back.
Reds manager Scott Rogers made a trio of changes during the second half as Katie Zelem, Shanice Van De Sanden and Ashley Hodson came on for White, Weir and Murray.
A smart move as Van De Sanden immediately got amongst the defence and was unlucky not to convert a chance created by Lundh, the Swede working her way into the box from wide and playing a low ball to Van De Sanden who was quickly closed down.
There was time for one more goal, Van De Sanden teeing up fellow substitute Zelem who scored her fourth goal in three games.
Liverpool Ladies: Chamberlain, Murray (Hodson), Bonner ©, Ingle, Greenwood, Longhurst, Coombs, White (Zelem), Lundh, Weir (Van De Sanden), Harding.
Player of the Match: Natasha Harding.