Damp squib as Durham Women dissolve against Bristol

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A rainy Maiden Castle seemed an appropriate backdrop for an equally dismal Durham performance this Sunday, as they slumped to a 3-0 defeat to Bristol City.

After success on the road last week, the Wildcats looked to continue that momentum but instead found themselves slipping down to 5th in the table, as they were leapfrogged by their opposition.

It was immediately apparent that the conditions would make for a cagey game. Huddled fans witnessed their teams battle the elements as the wind sent passes, shots, and, on occasion, advertising boards astray.

After a promising start, including a penalty shout from Wildcats’ top scorer Beth Hepple, Durham could barely string three passes together. Just ten minutes in, a ruthless Bristol counterattack saw the ball lobbed over Naoisha McAloon and the Robins began their dominant spell.

Abi Harrison has proved herself a prolific striker and, having already bagged 11 goals this season, her tally has earned her the title of Bristol City’s league record goalscorer.

For the subsequent half an hour, the calls from the Durham bench were to find more space as the game became fragmented, a distant cry from the fluent, attacking style of play fans are used to enjoying.

The Wildcats owed much to their defence as Sarah Wilson and Kathryn Hill made some well-read and oftentimes brave challenges to limit the damage as best they could before half time.

Sensing some urgency, Durham had a rare glimpse at goal when Emily Roberts’ deflected shot brushed the far post before heading agonisingly wide. However, to make matters worse for the home side, Harrison met Ella Powell’s cross with a sublime volley just before halftime to earn herself a brace and put Bristol 2-0 up.

A distant cry from the fluent, attacking style of play fans are used to enjoying

As the curtain came up on the second half, Durham looked to have a point to prove. Where they had been disjointed and uncreative, they now stormed into the attacking half with intent and early on Becky Salicki narrowly headed wide.

At moments it seemed the ball simply refused to cross the line and, following yet another goalmouth scramble, Rio Hardy converted from close range in the 82nd minute before it was chalked off for a foul on the keeper.

The exasperated sigh released from the home fans summed up the afternoon — it all seemed too little too late for the Wildcats and, given all their chances, they felt rightfully aggrieved to not get a goal back.

Despite the scoreline, the home fans were animated in their efforts to urge their team on. In part, their clamour was directed at some of the refereeing decisions — notably at some seemingly blatant fouls on Lauren Briggs, who made her 75th appearance for the Wildcats on Sunday.

Calls for an offside in the dying minutes of the game fell on deaf ears when Aggie Beever-Jones steered the ball beyond the oncoming McAloon and into her open net to seal the three points for the Robins.

“In the first half we got bullied a little bit”

Speaking after the match, Durham captain Sarah Wilson commented, “Yeah it is very frustrating, it wasn’t really an us performance. We started well and the first ten minutes were good but we kind of let our heads go down when we conceded.

“We showed a little bit more fight but again we have got to do that from the very beginning otherwise when you play against teams like this — with so much quality in the side — you are always going to struggle against that. In the second half we got better at that but in the first half we got bullied a little bit so we have got to make sure we come out fighting.”

On the manner in which the goals were conceded, the skipper reflected, “I think the second goal to be fair, the ball that was whipped in was unstoppable. I would like to see it again. It’s just frustrating, the third one was bouncing awkwardly and it was dictated by the wind. It’s not really us so that was just frustrating.”

After a disappointing result, Wilson emphasised the reality of playing in a team in transition, “We have had some tough things off the pitch and we are just kind of putting this year down as a learning curve.

“Promotion is 100% the aim, we have obviously made it really tough for ourselves this year so far but we still have to keep believing, and if it’s not going to be this year then we’re going to push on and it’s going to be next year.”

Wilson and her team will now look forward to Sunday 27th February when the Wildcats will face Super League side Birmingham City in the FA Cup fifth round. “It’s going to be a tough game but it’s going to be class for the fans. It’s good for us to test ourselves against WSL opposition.” Tickets for the cup clash are on sale now at https://durhamwfc.co.uk.

Durham XI: McAloon, Hill, Briggs (Brown 90), Lambert, Wilson, Hepple, Hardy, Salicki, Bradley (Galloway 88), Roberts (Ejupi 75), Holmes

Bristol City XI: Bentley, Powell, Aspin, Murray, Layzell, Palmer, C.Bull, Johnson (Cataldo 80), Davies, Morgan (Beever-Jones 70), Harrison

Image: Durham Women FC

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