SUNDERLAND were handed a tough rematch with last year’s quarter-final conquerors, Liverpool, in this season’s fifth round.
But Monday’s Wembley draw was kinder to Durham, the other North-East side left in the competition, as they face lower-ranked opponents, Portsmouth, at the last 16 stage.
While Sunderland will, at least, have home advantage against Liverpool, on April 13, Durham, however, have a long haul to Hampshire to meet the Premier League Southern Division contenders.
It was all thanks to an amazing second-half turnaround in last Sunday’s fourth round tie at New Ferens Park.
Following a goalless firsthalf, visitors Sheffield FC took what they considered a deserved lead through sharpshooter Jodie Michalska, who finished well from Lynn Goodman’s teasing cross, shortly after the re-start.
Durham hit back almost immediately with a 40-yard free-kick equaliser from Beth Hepple, quickly followed by two further super strikes from distance by Scottish under-19 international Zoe Ness.
Head coach Rob Atkin praised the Wildcats for responding so well after the experienced, self-assured visitors went ahead.
“I was so pleased we kept going from start to finish and didn’t get involved, even when we went a goal down, which I thought was cruel bait at the time.”
His opposite number, Helen Mitchell, did not believe the 3-1 result was a true reflection of play, blaming Sheffield’s profligacy in front of goal for their cup exit.
Sunderland had a smooth passage into the last 16, leading their fourth round tie 4-0 by half-time against Watford, at the former Eppleton CW ground, at Hetton-le-Hole, last Sunday.
Gemma Wilson’s tenthminute headed goal opened the first-half floodgates, with Beth Mead firing two and her England under-19 team-mate Abbey Joice adding her name to the score-sheet before the break.
Kate Natkiel scored what proved the Hornet’s consolation with a deflected shot nine minutes into the secondhalf.
Sunderland were brought down to earth less than 24 hours later, when they were paired with the 2014 WSL champions, in the fifth round draw.
Liverpool were narrow 2-1 winners at the Academy of Light last April, thanks to a decisive, if not controversial goal, by Icelandic international Karin Omarsdottir.
They will return to Wearside, probably Hetton, on April 13, a week before the start of the new WSL1 and 2 seasons.
Durham’s fifth-round tie is likely to be played at either of the non-league grounds of Havant & Waterlooville or Gosport Borough, where Portsmouth women have rotated their home fixtures this season.