Sunderland spoil Clarke’s swansong


A free-kick from Sunderland’s Katie Kitching in the dying moments of the first half saw Durham Women slip to a 1-0 defeat during Sunday’s derby at Maiden Castle.

After an evenly-matched firsthalf which saw neither side able to take control of the game, Kitching whipped her free-kick from the left edge of the box to the near top corner. Durham goalkeeper Tatiana Saunders was able to get a hand to it but couldn’t stop the ball crashing into the net.

Durham fought hard in the second half to draw level, and their best effort on goal came from Jess Clarke, in her last game, who saw her driven shot from the edge of the box saved in the 94th minute.

The loss meant that Clarke couldn’t get the dream send-off from Durham Women. The club announced last week that the former England international will be stepping back from professional football after the game, having been offered “an exciting opportunity outside of football”, though she will remain involved with the club. The right winger made 52 appearances for England between 2009 and 2015, scoring 11 goals. She was honoured in a presentation following full-time.

The game promised to serve up a major advert for the continued rise in popularity of women’s football, with no tickets available for sale on the day of the game. Captain Sarah Wilson said during the week, “I think it’s just massive because the Northeast is just a hotbed of talent for women’s football. It’s huge, and I think we can go out there and just how how good it is.”

The visitors started the derby brightly, with Brianna Westrup attacking down the right and almost finding the head of Kitching with a cross. From then on, the game settled down in the middle third. Sunderland managed to get a stronger hold of possession though, controlling the midfield by latching onto the second ball.

The visitors again came close after fifteen minutes, when Natasha Fenton met Kitching’s out-swinging corner with a header, only being denied by Eleanor Ryan-Doyle on the line. Durham were also denied a headed goal, with Poppy Pritchard sending her header from close range straight at Claudia Moan, who was forced to parry the ball clear.

Sunderland continued to press down the right, and almost doubled their lead via an Elizabeta Ejupi shot from the right side of the box which flashed past the post. Molly Lambert looked to be in behind for Durham down the left as the half edged to a close, but her chipped effort fell into the arms of Moan.

The game’s defining moment came in stoppage time of the first-half. An attack down the left saw Kitching fouled just outside the area down the left side of the pitch. The midfielder’s curled effort towards the top left corner managed to beat the Durham wall for height before whipping into the top left corner seconds before the referee blew for half-time.

Durham’s attempts to get an equaliser early in the second half were hampered by a series of free-kicks given away in the final third, which allowed Sunderland to deny them a chance to grab a quick equaliser. Instead, their best contributions were coming at the other end where Saunders made an excellent stop to stop Jenna Dear’sedge of the box shot from flying into the top right corner. Saunders followed this up by getting her whole body behind a powerful Kitching strike.

Durham looked to change things in attack with the arrivals of Lily Crosthwaite, Amy Andrews, and Jess Clarke. Of the three Crosthwait made the biggest impact, forcing Moan to make the save after a mazy run down the right side of the box.

Clarke represented England 52 times, scoring 11 goals.

With ten minutes to go Durham were boosted by the return of record appearance holder Beth Hepple. Hepple had been yet to play this season having been sidelined since the summer with an injury, and her addition came as Durham began to control the game for the first time.

Despite the pressure, Durham were unable to create much in the way of clear-cut chances. Sarah Wilson managed to get a shot away on the half volley off of a headed corner clearance which went wide, while Amy Andrews looked to bein behind down the left before Westrup snatched the ball away with a last-ditch tackle.

It was in the 94th minute where every Durham supporter thought they would see the fairy-tale ending. Clarke received the ball on the edge of the box after a loose clearance and drove a right-footed shot towards goal. Moan launched herself across goal though and managed to push the ball round the post for a corner, in what proved to be the moment that earned her side all three points.

The defeat leaves Durham sitting in eight in the Women’s Championship on eleven points after nine games. Sunderland meanwhile continued their unbeaten start to the season and sit top of the table, three points clear of second place Southampton.

After full-time, there was a presentation for Jess Clarke to celebrate her efforts for the club and over her wider career. The right winger began her career at Leeds Carneige Ladies before moving to Notts County for seven year. In this time she represented England 52 times, scoring 11 goals.

From 2017-2021 she played for Liverpool, appearing 49 times. She played one season with Sheffield United before joining Durham Women in the summer of 2022.

During her 16 months with the club,she featured 37 times and scored five goals. Notable amongst these was an equaliser in last season’s clash with Manchester United at Maiden Castle, which Durham eventually won 3-1 on penalties,and a sensational strike against Crystal Palace which helped secure a 3-0 victory in the FA Women’s Cup fourth round.

Image: DWFC

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