When you think of pivotal, season-defining fixtures you might think of ‘Crystanbul’, or Chelsea versus Spurs in the infamous ‘Battle of the Bridge’.
Durham’s game against Leicester this weekend belongs in such company, as this Valentine’s Day there will be no love lost between these two promotion rivals in a game that will go a long way to deciding who will top the pile at the end of the season.
Here are five reasons why you should tune into the stream on Sunday afternoon.
Top of the table clash
Despite pre-season predictions often favouring the likes of Liverpool and Sheffield United, the Women’s Championship has become a two-horse race in a thrilling bid to secure the sole promotion spot to the Women’s Super League.
The pair are out on their own at the top, with four points and a game or two in hand separating them from third-placed Sheffield United. Leicester have the comfort of a game in hand over their hosts and boast a superior goal difference, meaning for Durham this game is unequivocally a must-win.
In this season’s reverse fixture, the Wildcats were narrowly denied an impressive away victory thanks to Lachante Paul’s last-minute equaliser. It could prove to be a pivotal goal in the title race, with Leicester holding a significant goal-difference advantage over Durham as well as a three-point cushion. Durham will be seeking to avenge the 2-2 result
The talismanic number seven has been on fire this season, netting eleven goals from midfield and keeping the Wildcats ticking. Hepple’s ability was recognised this week when she deservedly won the North East Football Writers’ Player of the Year award and is likely to be a contender for the Championship’s best player too. Diminutive, tricky, a wand of a right boot, Hepple will certainly be one to watch on Sunday as she is so often at the heart of everything Durham do going forward.
Remarkably, we at Palatinate Sport haven’t yet had to report on a league game where Durham have lost. Lee Sanders’ side remain unbeaten after 14 games in the Women’s Championship, which is a record that they will want to preserve. Maiden Castle, their new home, has become something of a fortress this season, with just one goal conceded in seven league games. If they avoid defeat on Sunday, there is every chance of completing an historic invincible season, though they will naturally want to take all three points to try to avoid a tragic outcome whereby they finish unbeaten but miss out on promotion.
A point to prove.
After being denied the opportunity to challenge Aston Villa for promotion to the WSL last season due to Covid-19, Durham have been on a mission. There is a steely, never say die quality that has carried these perennial underdogs to new heights this campaign, which is what makes them so attractive. As full-back Ellie Christon said when speaking to Palatinate: “People don’t really know who we are. The teams that have gone up have been big badges with lots of money. But that makes it more desirable to get there. To prove people wrong.”
Helping you through lockdown blues
Unlike the location of Leicester’s ground, Quorn, this should be a meaty affair. The fixture should showcase the best football that the Women’s Championship has to offer, with two sides in imperious form.
Unnervingly, the Foxes have won nine of their last ten league outings, with Natasha Flint scoring for fun – eight in her last six appearances to be exact – though outfoxing this Durham side will be a true test of her and Leicester’s mettle. Expect a tense game full of drama as the best defence in the league facing up against the best attack. Something has to give down at Maiden Castle on Sunday.
Free live streaming of the game can be found on Durham Women’s Facebook page. Broadcasting will begin at 11:50am, ahead of a 12:00pm kick off.
Image: George Ledger / Durham Women FC