John Salomon believes Watford Ladies' potential is "very exciting" after his side again underlined their progress by earning a second 2-2 draw this season against Sunderland.
The Hornets went into yesterday’s game as the only team to have taken a point off the champions in this campaign and the draw at the Hetton Centre extended their unbeaten run to eight matches in all competitions.
After a run of three straight defeats at Sunderland in recent seasons, the visitors went away pleased with another excellent draw against last season’s double winners.
Manager John Salomon said afterwards: “The discipline and determination we displayed in today's performance was second to none. We knew Sunderland would come at us, but if we kept our shape and were positive when we had possession, that we could take something from the game.
“I'm delighted with the way the staff and players took to this weekend. On and off the pitch, everything was positive and the preparation was superb.
“We are learning and developing with everything we do and the potential this club has is very exciting.”
There were just two changes from the side that beat Tottenham in the League Cup last week, with Jo Wilson and Fliss Gibbons returning to the side.
The first half-an-hour was goalless and despite Sunderland enjoying more of the possession, the visitors’ disciplined shape were making them difficult to break down and it restricted the home side’s chances to a minimum. In fact, it was Watford who perhaps had the better of the opening chances.
A defence-splitting pass from Sarah Wiltshire found Kate Natkiel on the right flank and her cross picked out Josie Green, who was arriving at pace at the far post but her first-time volley was marginally wide.
A few minutes later Wiltshire picked up a pass from Natkiel in the area and she managed to clip in a cross to the far post that saw a deflection loop it up higher but Green’s header was straight at keeper Rachel Laws, who gratefully clutched the ball.
Watford were restricting their opponents to long-range efforts that weren’t testing skipper Lauren Davey and after a Sunderland foray into the opposition half broke down, it was the Golden Girls’ surge forward that finally saw the deadlock broken. Wiltshire was the provider again as she burst past the home side’s defence on the right hand side of the penalty area and put in a firm, low cross across the six-yard box and Wilson was able to time her run to get in front of her marker and poke home.
Between the goal and half-time, the Wearsiders enjoy their best spell of the opening period, as they started to threaten slightly more from wide areas and after going close once, they equalised shortly before the break. A cross from the right-hand side from Abby Holmes found Beth Mead in the area and her spectacular volley flew into the corner of the net.
The second half started with Sunderland trying to exert more pressure on the Hornets. But it was to be a similar tale as the visitors’ resolute stance held firm and they took the lead once again. Wilson read a poor back pass to Laws and managed to get there just ahead of the keeper, poking the ball past her and running on to tap into an empty net.
Cally Rowell and Paige Logie both came on to try and add some further steel to the team in place of Ellie Butterwick and Green.
It looked as though it may be a famous Watford victory when Davey produced an outstanding save, tipping Rachel Furness’ long-range drive onto the crossbar and then getting down low to her left to parry Mead’s snap shot in the area.
The Golden Girls may even have found themselves further in front when Wilson found herself one-on-one with the keeper after a long ball forward from Emma Beckett but this time Laws stood up well and blocked the effort.
But Sunderland’s persistence paid off as they managed to find an equaliser again. A fortuitous flick from Kelly McDougall found Mead, who composed herself to place the ball in the bottom far corner for her second of the game.
Both teams searched for a winner in the final moments, as Natalie Gutteridge put a diving header wide of Davey’s goal and late substitute Katie Knell almost found herself clean through on goal after a two-on-one situation saw Natkiel feed her the ball but she was denied by the offside flag.
Watford Ladies: Davey; Mays, Hector, Horwood, Butterwick (Rowell); Beckett, Gibbons; Natkiel, Wiltshire, Green (Logie); Wilson (Knell).