By George Simms
Durham Women FC held on to an early lead to beat London City Lionesses 1-0 in a scrappy, yet evenly matched, affair at Maiden Castle. The Wildcats held on to their two-point lead at the top of the FA Women’s Championship and opened up a five-point gap between themselves and the third-placed Lionesses.
After a bright start for Durham, midfielder Dee Bradley rose highest from a Beth Hepple corner just four minutes into the game to give the Wildcats the lead. This was Bradley’s second goal from a corner in as many games and would prove to be the highlight of a fragmented back-and-forth battle.
Shortly after the goal, a collision between Becky Salicki and Amy Rodgers saw the Durham defender replaced by Kathryn Hill, in what was the first of many robust challenges throughout the afternoon. London City built into the game throughout the first half, forcing some quality saves from Durham keeper Megan Borthwick.
Wingers Karin Muya and Brooke Nunn were a nuisance throughout, with Muya producing two teasing low crosses into the penalty area in the first half, only to be mishit by Nunn and striker Riana Jarrett in space. Despite these misses, Nunn and Jarrett had the Lionesses’ best chances in the first 45 minutes. Nunn’s dipping strike from distance, which was acrobatically tipped over by Borthwick, was perhaps their best chance of the game.
The first half ended with controversy, as Bridget Galloway was hacked down when through on goal by Lionesses’ captain Harley Bennett. Despite being the last player, Bennett only received a yellow card, and the subsequent edge-of-the-box free-kick was blasted into the wall by Beth Hepple.
The second half saw a formation change for Durham in an attempt to combat their lack of goalscoring opportunities. Ellie Christon was subbed off for winger Emily Roberts and the Wildcats went from their traditional five-at-the-back to the four-woman defence which they had utilised for most of the Conti Cup draw with Manchester United.
This formation switch meant that the two sides were almost too perfectly matched. Both direct, pressing sides bursting with quality across the pitch, the game fell into a continuous cycle after half-time. One team regained possession and played a direct pass to their forwards, which was then claimed by the opposing defence, who then fired the ball up to their forwards, and so on.
The relentless end-to-end play always hinted at an impending moment of brilliance, or defensive mistake, that never quite came. London City perhaps had the best chance of the second half from a corner, with Bennett sending a bullet header wide on 73 minutes.
This was an impressive defensive performance from a Durham side who have now kept five consecutive clean sheets in the league. As always, Megan Borthwick was impressive between the sticks, with captain Sarah Wilson and Abby Holmes in particular putting in impressive performances across the back.
A set-piece was a fitting decider between these two sides, and for most of the match looked the only way that either side was going to equalise or extend their lead. As defender Abby Holmes told Palatinate after the game, “It wasn’t our best performance, but we got the goal early on and defended fairly well. We weren’t the best going forward, but we were solid at the back, and we got three points in the end.”
Durham now travel to injury-stricken Manchester City on Thursday for the second game of their Conti Cup campaign, before visiting Crystal Palace in their next Championship game next Sunday.
Discussing the trip to Women’s Super League side City, Holmes said, “You’ve got to fear nobody, it’s just another 90-minute game. It’ll be a good spectacle for the club and let’s hope we can get a result like we did against Manchester United. We’re the underdogs and there’s no pressure on us whatsoever, we can go and hopefully play our game. You never know.”
The Wildcats’ next home game sees second-placed Liverpool visit Maiden Castle on November 14th. Tickets are currently available at https://durhamwfc.co.uk/.
Durham XI: Borthwick, Briggs, Lambert, Wilson, Robson, Hepple, Galloway (Brown 74), Salicki (Hill 10), Bradley, Christon (Roberts 46), Holmes
London City XI: Yanez, Girasoli, Rodgers (Rossiter 60), Jarrett (Agg 60), Napier, Rouse, Bennett, Muya, Primus, Thompson, Nunn (Fleming 82)
Image: Durham Women’s Football Club