By Luke Power
Durham Women are unable to secure promotion to the Women’s Super League this season as Leicester City clinched the Championship title with a 2-0 victory over London City on Sunday.
This has been Durham’s best season so far and the Wildcats will feel hard done by, having only lost one league game all season – a crucial tie against Leicester City which they lost 2-0 on 14th March.
Durham currently sit 2nd in the league, eight points behind Leicester and four points ahead of Sheffield United and Liverpool with two games to go.
In three of the last six seasons, finishing 2nd was enough to merit a promotion spot, but under this season’s rules, only the champions are going up, meaning Durham won’t be rewarded for their excellent campaign.
Leicester’s promotion is a deserved one. The Foxes have won 12 consecutive games and have won 15 of their 18 league games in total. Next season will be their first in the Women’s Super League.
Despite the disappointment, Durham have a lot of positives to hold onto. To date, they have the best defensive record in the league, a record they also achieved last season, having conceded only 12 goals in 18 matches.
New signings have settled in well. Ali Johnson, who recently joined from Blackburn Rovers, grabbed a goal on her debut in Durham’s last match. Bridget Galloway and Mollie Lambert joined in the summer and have had successful campaigns as first-team regulars. Danielle Brown and Dee Bradley bolstered the ranks in November partway through the season and have made a number of appearances for the Wildcats.
Durham have also blooded several youngsters this season, with winger Lily Crosthwaite standing out as a bright talent for the future, making eight appearances. Defender Grace Ayre and goalkeeper Brooke Mackain also tasted some action and ensure that Durham shows promise for the future in a variety of positions.
And speaking to Palatinate after the Leicester game last month, manager Lee Sanders said that “we’ll probably go full-time ourselves next season regardless of what happens.” Full-time status is often seen as a necessary springboard to mount a serious promotion challenge and should allow Durham to attract a wider array of talent.
It is difficult to predict who will replace Leicester as the Women’s Super League relegation battle is crowded at the moment, with several sides scrapping to keep their heads above the water.
Currently, Aston Villa prop up the table and could make an immediate return to the Championship, but Bristol City, West Ham, and Birmingham City are all embroiled in the struggle, with three points separating the bottom four sides.
Image: jamesboyes via Creative Commons. The photo was taken at a previous Leicester City game.