SAINTS FC Women suffered a blow to their Championship promotion hopes as they were beaten 1-0 at Sunderland.

Mary McAteer scored the decisive goal early in the second half when she struck brilliantly past Kayla Rendell.

The visitors did have chances in the first half at the Eppleton Colliery Football Ground but did not do enough to find the net.

The result leaves Marieanne Spacey-Cale's side third in the division but Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, and Birmingham City all have games in hand on the south coast side.

Ella Morris returned to the Saints side that beat Birmingham 2-1 before the international break - in the sole change to Spacey-Cale's line-up.

Megan Wynne was the player who made way for the returning Morris with the Saints boss sticking with a settled team.

The visitors had the first big chance of the game when Katie Wilkinson released Molly Pike through on goal but her right-footed shot trickled wide.

There looked to be a bit of concern when Wilkinson went down after 18 minutes - with the medical staff treating her - but after the brief stoppage, she was back on her feet.

Morris, who featured for England under-23's during the international period, went close to giving Saints the lead midway through the first half with her effort being deflected wide.

Sunderland threatened just before the break but Jemma Purfield's excellent challenge denied Molly Rouse when she looked to have a clear shot at goal.

The home side took the lead at the start of the second half when McAteer was found on the edge of the box by Katie Kitching before she fired an effort into the top corner.

Kayla Rendell prevented Sunderland from taking a two-goal lead when she made a sharp reaction stop to deny Amy Goddard from a corner.

With 20 minutes remaining, Spacey-Cale turned to her substitutes bench as Lexi Lloyd-Smith and Isabel Milne replaced Morris and Megan Collett.

Despite a succession of corners and crosses into the box for Saints, they were unable to break Sunderland down who held firm in the closing stages.

Saints FC Women are next in action when they host Reading at St Mary's on Sunday, March 17.