Durham welcome table-topping Leicester City on Sunday in what is a season-defining game for both sides.
The Wildcats currently sit level on points with Sunday’s visitors, though Leicester have a game in hand and a far superior goal difference. This means the fixture is a must-win if Durham are to sustain their promotion hopes.
It is all set to be a highly competitive affair at Maiden Castle, with Leicester coming into the game on an nine-game winning streak in the Women’s Championship, last dropping points against London City back in November.
Durham have good form of their own to boast too, however. After 16 games Lee Sanders’ side remain unbeaten in the league, with four wins and a draw since the new year on top of a very impressive 2-0 victory over pre-season title favourites Liverpool just before Christmas.
Much of Durham’s success this season has been down to the team’s imperious defence. Just nine goals have found their way past ‘keeper Megan Borthwick in 16 games, with just one of those coming at Maiden Castle.
Defenders Kathryn Hill, Sarah Wilson, and Ellie Christon have been virtually impenetrable all season, while Becky Salicki and Abby Holmes have both recently returned from injury and slotted into the side seamlessly, retaining Durham’s steel at the back.
It is something Leicester manager Jonathan Morgan is acutely aware of, putting much of it down to Durham’s team spirit. “One of the things Durham has in abundance – and I’m yet to see it in another team to the same level – is their team ethic”
This team ethic is something that anyone who has watched the Wildcats play this will automatically recognise. Much of the squad have been together for a number of years now, no doubt contributing to the real siege mentality that is so often evident.
At the other end, goals have been supplied largely by the inimitable Beth Hepple, who was recently crowned North East Football Writers’ Player of the Year. Hepple has eleven goals in all competition this season, though has not scored in her last seven games in all competitions, something she’ll likely be keen to amend.
Young forward Bridget Galloway has somewhat filled the goalscoring void, her two strikes in January enough to earn a nomination for the Championship’s Player of the Month Award. The former Sunderland striker is pacey, hard-working, and beginning to make a habit of being in the right place at the right time for a poacher’s finish, demonstrated by her opener against Blackburn last weekend.
Durham will have to be at the top of their game, however, if they are to come away with the crucial three points. Leicester are the division’s top scorers with 44, with forward Natasha Flint the key attacking threat for the visitors. Defensively, Leicester have conceded a few more than Durham, something the likes of Galloway and Hepple may look to take advantage of, but just 15 conceded hardly strikes of defensive problems for the table-toppers.
For all the build-up this game will likely be a close affair and is almost impossible to predict. The reverse fixture produced a close-fought 2-2 draw, with Leicester’s Lachante Paul grabbing a late equaliser for Leicester to cancel out Durham goals from Emily Roberts and Beth Hepple.
All of this only makes it an even more tantalising prospect to watch on Sunday. It won’t be one to miss.
The manager: Lee Sanders’ mantra of ‘Work. Football. Don’t Relax!’ has paid dividends over the past few seasons. While not professing to be the best coach, he is an expert in maximising the resources available to him, as he has constructed a fearless team who put in the hard yards for him week in week out. It is a mindset that has transferred to his side too, who are well-known as incredibly hard to beat.
One to watch: Mollie Lambert: the all-action midfielder has come into her own in recent games having slowly broken into the side after arriving from Sunderland in the summer. Durham’s number four can be seen cutting out passing lanes and moving the ball forward to productive effect, as well as often giving the referee an earful too, such is the passion that is evident in her play. The 22-year-old recently netted her first goal for the Wildcats against Crystal Palace in a sign of her growing confidence. Lambert will be in for a tough time of it nullifying Leicester’s onslaughts, though history suggests she’ll rise to the challenge.
Durham Women v. Leicester City Women will be live streamed on the Durham Women Facebook page on Sunday 14th March. Kick Off 12pm. The club are once again raising funds to #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY by encouraging fans to donate the price of a match ticket and can do so here.
Image: George Ledger/ Durham Women Fc