By Liz Owen
Villa Ladies fell to a painful 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland Ladies - and boss Ron Mellor must be at a loss as to how his side didn't find the back of the net.
Mellor named an unchanged side as Villa looked to build on last week's draw at Watford Ladies, but a Bethany Mead double and a late Abbey Joice effort sealed all three points for Sunderland.
Although Villa have only taken one point from three games, the girls have improved steadily in each performance and their attacking display certainly warranted more.
Mead's first came in unfortunate circumstances for Villa as she took advantage of a slight back-four mix-up to send the ball past Caitlin Leach from a few yards out after nine minutes.
And the England international notched a brace just five minutes before half-time as she wriggled in between Villa's centre-halves to fight and scrap for the right to turn home Victoria Greenwell's left-sided cross.
Sunderland's third was even crueller - they capitalised on a loose ball as Villa pushed forward and Joice fired home from the edge of the area after 88 minutes.
The Black Cats had enjoyed some early pressure but, apart from their small periods of possession, Villa were firmly in charge, particularly after the interval.
A first-half Greenwell cross, this time from a corner, was almost capitalised on by Rachel Furness, but the midfielder fouled Leach as she attempted to find the net.
Both Mead and Keira Ramshaw stroked the post with narrow efforts for Sunderland but they were the visitors' best early chances as Villa continued their attacking guile from last week.
And out of all of their opportunities up front, two in particular stood out for the hosts.
While only one goal down, Carly Davies came agonisingly close after 26 minutes following good work from the superb Beth Merrick down the left.
The striker ran on to Merrick's cross and, as Rachel Laws rushed off her line to challenge her, chipped a lobbed shot over the oncoming 'keeper.
It was brilliantly crafted but unfortunately too high to find the net as it just evaded the crossbar.
Later on, Villa somehow came even closer to scoring - a goal which could potentially have inspired a late, late fightback.
Substitute Olivia Fergusson, who was introduced in place of Davies after 72 minutes, forced a last-gasp clearance from Greenwell 10 minutes from the end, leaving a few fans wondering whether the ball could actually have crossed the line.
The striker was tackled as she pulled the trigger but a slight deflection sent the ball trickling towards the empty net.
Fortunately for the visitors, left-back Greenwell scrambled it clear just as it touched the white line - much to the disbelief of the surrounding claret and blue shirts.
Davies and Alicia Robinson linked up well throughout as Villa enjoyed a good deal of possession with which to attack.
One of their moves set up Sherry McCue in the 36th minute to make a cross from the right, but the midfielder was unlucky to see her efforts fall out of play.
Earlier, Robinson had sent a precise header into Davies' path, but the assistant referee raised her flag for offside.
Jade Richards and Dani Petrovic were quick to put in a block or two in defence and also had a good chance each at the other end of the field.
Just two minutes before the interval, Richards charged down the pitch to unleash a long-range strike, and in the second half nearly finished off a move she had created herself after almost turning in Chloe Jones' cross.
Meanwhile, Petrovic came close with a diving header from another pinpoint ball in from Jones.
Sunderland were restricted to a lone Mead effort as the first half came to a close and the Villa Ladies really upped the tempo after the interval.
Leach denied Mead after a well-taken Joice throughball after 51 minutes but, from then on, Villa dominated proceedings.
Davies and Robinson forced a double-block from Sunderland's defence following a Jones corner, while Gemma Wilson was quick to get rid of a threatening Lauren Walker cross with Davies breathing down her neck.
Sarah Mayling was introduced for Merrick on the hour mark, while Sunderland replaced Rebekah Bass with Emma Kelly three minutes later.
And the latter stages of the second half saw Villa attack after Villa attack.
The girls were on fire and showed fantastic resolve in trying to find that elusive goal.
Laws found herself under constant pressure, particularly from chances by Moran, Fergusson and Mayling as Villa crosses flew into the area and shots were fired wide, before Sunderland had the final say through Joice.
Ultimately, some valiant defending and the clinical Mead claimed the points for Sunderland, but the scoreline doesn't tell the full story and Villa can certainly be optimistic heading into next week's Continental Cup double.
VILLA LADIES: Leach, Cusack, Petrovic (c), Richards, Walker, Merrick (Mayling, 60), McCue, Robinson, Jones, Moran, Davies (Fergusson, 72). Subs not used: Vaughan.
SUNDERLAND LADIES: Laws, Greenwell, Bannon, Wilson, Ramshaw (c), McDougall, Mead, Bass (Kelly, 63), Beer, Furness, Joice. Subs not used: Holmes, McHugh, Potts.