By Abi Curran
Durham lost 3-0 to an experienced Manchester City side who bagged two late goals to seal the win. The Academy Stadium hosted a youthful visiting Durham squad where talent for the future shone against national and Olympic stars.
For a native Mancunian like myself, making the trip over to my beloved blue half of Manchester and not supporting the sky-blue-clad team was definitely a different experience. However, once you have fallen for Durham Women as a club, it is near impossible to not root for the Wildcats.
It was a brisk evening in North West, the Manchester City faithful were out claiming territory at the media stand with various City Women flags. Hot pies were in demand and scarves were a staple in the Academy Stadium which was framed by Diwali fireworks and its parent Etihad Stadium.
The Wildcats are currently holding their own in the Championship sitting top of the table. Over in the Continental Tyres Cup, with one eye on upcoming fixtures in the league, Durham had the opportunity to give less experienced players a chance to develop their game.
Durham fielded a side with youngsters Lily Crosthwaite, Grace Ayre, and Hannah Greenwood all making starting appearances. Georgia Nicholson would come on from the bench and under the lights they delivered, not looking out place in the much-changed eleven.
Durham’s defence remained stubborn for much of the first half, providing Manchester City with a sense of frustration.
The deadlock was broken upon the sixteenth minute with a moment of quality from Fillipa Angeldahl. Durham were dragged into an offensive position which created space for a formidable counterattack and for the number 12 to beautifully strike the ball into the bottom right corner of the net.
There were also glimpses of potential and clever play from Durham. Runs from Lily Crosthwaite in behind tested the City backline in the first half with the young forward gracefully dribbling through swarms of sky blue shirts in dangerous areas.
Despite these moments, Durham failed to test Karima Benameur Taieb, City’s third-choice goalkeeper. Though in the other net Megan Borthwick put on a stunning goalkeeping performance denying City multiple times. Alongside an Ellie Christon clearance off the line, this was turning into a gritty defensive performance from the Wildcats.
Into the second half, Durham made changes adding experience and youth to the red shirt Wildcats side. Sarah Robson joined skipper Wilson in central defence which could only be described as a telepathic defensive partnership.
Grace Ayre also joined in on the goal-denying tackles that made City really work for their win.
Playmaker, Beth Hepple was brought on inside the 58th minute to add an injection of attacking vigour but Durham struggled to get out of their own half for much of the second 45. Hepple was left to muck in with tracking back against the relentless City passing.
Another textbook Borthwick diving save led to a training ground corner drill from Manchester City Women. The ball bumbled around the box but fell to Caroline Weir just inside the box who thumped it home to double the lead on her 100th City appearance.
By the 89th minute, Janine Beckie made it three, the final scoreline not quite reflective of the defensive shift put in by the Wildcats.
Speaking to Palatinate after the game, Lee Sanders spoke of the value of giving younger players the experience of playing against a top side like Manchester City, “I think it can’t give them anything but confidence.
“What an unbelievable night that they have had and it gives them that inspiration to say look, this is what I want to do, this is what I really want to concentrate on, this is what I can make a living from.”
Sanders paid particular attention to Grace Ayre’s defensive display at left-back and spoke of his decision to rest players in preparation for their following league game against Crystal Palace.
“When we put out the starting line-up there was a lot of people that probably looked and thought this could be a bit heavy, so fair play to them I thought they have conducted themselves unbelievably well.”
After an unfortunate 3-1 loss on the road against Crystal Palace last Saturday, Durham will continue their quest for promotion in this Sunday’s game against Liverpool. The top two Championship sides will meet at what is expected to be a packed Maiden Castle.
Image: Manchester City FC