By James Reid
A late flurry of goals saw Durham overcome a resilient Lewes outfit in the first game since their move to Maiden Castle.
It was looking like a frustrating afternoon for the Wildcats, who had dominated the majority of the play, until Beth Hepple’s 77th minute penalty broke the deadlock.
It was just desserts for Durham’s efforts in the match, with the home side having the majority of possession and nearly all of the chances throughout the 90 minutes.
The opening 10 minutes was a cagey affair with both sides easing their way into things. The away side making their first appearance of the campaign by virtue of the odd number of teams that make up the Women’s Championship.
Durham, on the other hand, were looking to build on last week’s impressive 1-1 draw away at newly relegated Liverpool. Hepple’s 87th minute equaliser secured a valuable point at Prenton Park and it would be the Durham number seven that would again open Durham’s account for the second game in a row.
While Hepple’s goal on Merseyside was a piece of fantastic individual skill, her goal this time was a more conventional penalty.
Abby Holmes caused the Lewes right side problems all afternoon and she finally got her reward after she was adjudged to have been brought down in the box by Sammy Quayle. Hepple stepped up to slot the penalty home via the post.
It was, in truth, Durham’s first clear cut opportunity of the game despite their dominance. The first half saw Durham forwards Molly Sharpe and Emily Roberts limited to a couple of snapshots that were easily saved by Tatiana Saunders in the Lewes goal.
The only other highlight of what was generally a dominant but frustrating half for Durham was Ellie Christon’s long shot that crashed against the crossbar after the wing back found herself in oceans of space down the right.
Space down the wings was a key theme of Durham’s attacking play throughout the first half especially, with Holmes in particular repeatedly threatening from the left.
Lee Sanders set his side up in a three at the back formation, with Holmes and Christon playing as wing backs ahead of the rock-solid defensive trio of Sarah Wilson, Kathryn Hill, and Becky Salicki. The defensive unit limited Lewes to almost no chances, with Megan Borthwick in between the sticks for Durham having to wait until the second half to make her first save.
However, for all of Durham’s dominance, the game remained goalless and Lewes began to grow into the game as the hour mark approached.
Sanders responded with a double substitution and change of formation, reverting to a four at the back with Nicki Gears brought on in place of Ellie Christon on the right, and Sarah Wilson slotting in at right-back.
Bridget Galloway replaced Molly Sharpe, with Emily Roberts going out wide on the left to form a new three-pronged attack.
The change worked as Durham began to reassert their dominance, though again clear-cut chances were few and far between as the Lewes defence remained resolute.
There were times where the Durham forwards were guilty of holding onto the ball for too long despite space often opening up out wide. However, when Durham did move the ball quickly space and chances began to come, and it was no surprise that the opener stemmed from another surging run from Holmes down the left.
From then on, it was a case of seeing the game out for Durham as Lewes began pushing for an equaliser. The East Sussex side quickly abandoned their time-wasting, which had been a source of complaints from Durham since the first half.
However, Durham’s backline never truly looked troubled with Borthwick taking a couple of good catches from corners to relieve any pressure on the Wildcats.
The goal breathed new life into Durham’s forwards too, with Roberts being denied by a smart stop after wriggling through a number of Lewes challenges in the box.
The three points were sealed in stoppage time with two goals in two minutes. The first saw a Hepple corner avoid everyone in the box and snuck into the bottom corner. It had looked like it was to be ruled out for offside after Sarah Wilson had appeared to have poked it in, only for the referee to decide that the ball had already crossed the line.
The icing on the cake was delivered by Roberts with almost the last kick of the game. Cutting in from the left-hand side after a solo run, the forward curled the ball into the top corner for what was by the far the game’s best goal.
It capped a fine performance for Roberts who was returned to the starting line-up this season after missing the entirety of the 2019/20 season with injury.
The two late goals added a bit of gloss to what was until then a hard-fought win against a Lewes side that had defended doggedly throughout. However, the eventual score line certainly reflected the difference between the two sides on the day as Durham ran out comfortable winners in the end.
The result sets Durham up nicely going into the international break with four points from their opening two games. It also sees a first win at the new look Maiden Castle, with advertising hoardings now surrounding what would be known to Durham students as the track crumb. They’ll be back looking to continue their good start in two weeks’ time at home to London City.
Durham: Borthwick, Wilson, Hill, Salicki, Christon (Gears 62), Briggs (Lambert 75), Robson, Holmes, Sharpe (Galloway 62), Roberts
Goals: Hepple (75, 90+3), Roberts (90+4)
POTM: Abby Holmes
Image: George Ledger/Durham Women FC