By Luke Power
Durham Women ended the Championship season in style as they defeated Coventry United 7-1, with Beth Hepple and Lily Crosthwaite running riot to seal second place in the league.
It took just three minutes for Durham to claim first blood as Kathryn Hill lost her marker to volley in Beth Hepple’s looping corner.
Durham doubled their lead three minutes later when Lily Crosthwaite burst between two defenders and drilled a low ball across the area for Molly Sharpe to place beyond goalkeeper Sue Wood.
Eight minutes in, Coventry grabbed their only goal of the game, as Destiney Toussaint danced between challenges in the box to squeeze a shot under Megan Borthwick from point-blank range.
Coventry started to feel their way into the game after they scored. After some good play 13 minutes in, Helen Dermody whipped a ball in to Katy Morris, but she turned it wide.
Durham roared into life again on the 30-minute mark. A quick counter-attack saw Lily Crosthwaite slip a pass into the feet of Beth Hepple, who calmly chipped the onrushing goalkeeper to make it 3-1. It was an elegant goal and a weight off the shoulders for Hepple, who hadn’t scored since 13th December.
After 44 minutes, Sarah Robson tried her luck from range, but her ambitious attempt was deflected away from goal.
Hepple bagged her second and Durham’s fourth on the stroke of half-time. Coventry’s attempts to play the ball out were sloppy, and after a deflection, Robson found herself with space on the right edge of the area. She picked out Hepple, who blasted the ball into the top corner from 20 yards out with her left foot.
Coventry’s half-time team talk seemingly failed to address their problem with defending crosses. On 59 minutes, Coventry failed to clear Hepple’s corner, with the ball pinballing around the box. Eventually, it bobbled out of the area, but Bridget Galloway was there to pounce and cracked a volley into the far top corner, leaving everybody in awe.
Coventry’s set piece nightmares resurfaced with 20 minutes to go. After bright spark substitute Ali Johnson was tugged down on the left flank, Hepple curved in yet another dangerous ball. It bounced off the leg of a defender beyond Sue Wood, leaving Galloway to poke home into an empty net.
Abby Holmes notched Durham’s seventh after a remarkable solo run on 84 minutes, driving towards the goal line to slot it past Wood from a tight angle under challenge from two defenders.
This is a gigantic statement from Durham ahead of next season and they produced some mesmerising passages of play in this game. Their passing was quick, their runs were ambitious, and most importantly, they were constantly hungry to score – even to the extent that they were still fouling poor Coventry ‘keeper Sue Wood in the dying moments of the game in a desperate attempt to win the ball.
On her full debut, Lily Crosthwaite was a strong shout for Player of the Match. She dribbled past players time and time again, terrorising the right flank so much that Coventry often doubled up to defend against her. Not that that worked. Crosthwaite provided two assists and kept troubling Coventry until her substitution. She’s not just a talent for the future – she’s a talent for now.
This was a refreshingly positive performance from Durham. Attacks were often kickstarted with a searching through ball by Kathryn Hill, who regularly picked out Molly Sharpe on the left flank. Ellie Christon, Lauren Briggs, and Abby Holmes were dynamic full-backs, fully supporting the attack to pile the pressure on Coventry. Mollie Lambert supplied some crunching tackles as a midfield enforcer, leaving Sarah Robson to carry the ball forward from midfield in a more advanced role than usual. Beth Hepple was back to her creative best, floating between the lines to confuse the Coventry defence and open up gaps for her teammates.
As impressive as Durham were, Coventry were victims of their own disorganisation. It was hard to pinpoint what exactly their formation was, and five or six players appeared to play as a striker on rotation throughout the game. The fact that five of Durham’s seven goals resulted from crosses indicates that Coventry had some marking faults, but we shouldn’t play down Durham’s creativity and movement. They systematically identified and capitalised on Coventry’s weaknesses.
Words from Kathryn Hill
After the game, Palatinate spoke with Kathryn Hill, one of Durham’s standout performers this season. Hill was upbeat about the game and Durham’s chances going forward.
“We were pushing all season for a performance like this,” Hill told Palatinate. “There’s been so much pressure all season but we showed today that we enjoyed ourselves and some of the football we were playing was brilliant.
“It’s disappointing not to finish first in the league but as long as we’re improving each season that’s the main thing. We’ve improved every year since I’ve been here and the club’s going from strength to strength. Finishing second is still a good achievement.
“We are more than capable of being up there [in the Super League]. We showed when we played Everton that we can compete. The title is the aim next season.”
Featured image by George Ledger