Leicester City got a stranglehold on the top spot of the FA Women’s Championship yesterday after centre back Sam Tierney scored her first and second goals of the league campaign to beat Durham at Maiden Castle. Go back to the turn of the year and D2B did a piece on Jonathan Morgan’s side who began 2021 on top of the pile. In that article we eagerly anticipated what was to be the Foxes Valentine’s Day clash at second-place Durham; then it got ‘weathered’ off. The teams finally squared up yesterday. The Wildcats came into the match still unbeaten. Well, not anymore. Here’s how it went down…
Durham 0-2 Leicester City
“It was massive, there’s no two ways about it. We knew that it was going to be a tough game, we knew what Durham were going to bring, it was extremely physical, especially in the first half. Today was a very intense battle. Remi came off after 13 minutes but it didn’t stop us, we still stuck to the game plan, we were phenomenal today and tactically we out-thought them, out-manoeuvred them and deserved the win. I’m hoping we can take that form and that momentum into our remaining games of the season.”Jonathan Morgan, Manager, Leicester City, via lcfc.com
With so much at stake, particularly towards the back-end of the season, top of the table clashes are often pretty cagey affairs – cagey being code for drab, niggly, scrappy. And this game, played with a very strong wind blowing around the players, certainly didn’t ignite until after the interval.
Up to half time defence would win out and chances would come at a premium, with Durham in particular looking to stamp some physical presence on the game to prevent the league leaders from finding their groove.
Sarah Robson had an early sighter for the hosts that Kirstie Levell gathered comfortably. At the other end Sam Tierney headed Hannah Cain’s corner wide of the target.
In the 20th minute Leicester were forced into making a substitution. Experienced former Reading midfielder Remi Allen got irreparably crocked and needed to be subbed off. Top scorer Natasha Flint came off the bench to lead the forward line, shifting Charlie Devlin into a more orthodox midfield role.
An injury to such a key player may have knocked some teams out of rhythm but the Foxes stayed focused and organised, getting an attacking foothold in the game that enabled them to forge the better of the half-chances that came and went.
Cain’s angled drive in the penalty area brought a good save out of Megan Borthwick in the 28th minute.
Then, in an extended period of stoppage time before the break, Ashleigh Plumptre headed Devlin’s free-kick from the right just past the keeper’s right hand post.
Faced with the division’s stingiest back-line, perhaps set-pieces would be Leicester’s way to a breakthrough?
And so it was after Mollie Lambert fouled Devlin on the left wing two minutes into the second period. Devlin got up and clipped a swirling free-kick towards the far post, Durham had two bites at clearing their lines, but Lachante Paul cushioned the ball back into the danger zone from the edge of the area and Tierney thumped a crisp volley through a crowd of players to make it 1-0.
The visitors nearly doubled their lead when Devlin met Flint’s cross from the right with a tidy half volley on 59 minutes only to be denied by Borthwick’s fine reaction stop.
Less than sixty seconds later, though, the Foxes did extend their advantage from another great dead ball delivery, this time out on the right. Devlin was again the provider with Tierney arriving at the back post and powering her header past the keeper.
Wildcats boss Lee Sanders needed to alter the pattern of the match and immediately made some substitutions to inspire some reaction from his players. Durham upped their tempo and started to press higher up the pitch. But Leicester had hit their stride and were now finding early passes through midfield and straight into their forwards.
Shannon O’Brien cut in from the left and hit a low drive that Borthwick saw all the way. Then another set-piece from the right created chaos with the Foxes hitting the post before Robson cleared off the line.
The home side finally got a shot on goal in the 85th minute when Abby Holmes found Beth Hepple on the edge of the Leicester box but Durham’s top markswoman didn’t get enough power on her shot to trouble Levell.
Hepple would draw a better save from the former Everton stopper with two minutes left following Bridget Galloway’s mazy run and cut back. Levell dove low to her right and pushed the ball round the post.
As the match moved into stoppage time the calls of “game management, girls” from the Leicester technical area may have contributed to yellow cards for substitutes Millie Farrow and Paige Bailey-Gayle for time wasting, but by this time Durham’s attacking impetus had already faded.
Flint played Cain in behind the host’s defensive line in the dying moments but the angle was too tight for the former Everton attacker to convert.
“At half-time, it was quite a calm team talk. The girls were calm, we just said that they were coming out to stop us playing, so let’s turn that around a bit and use that momentum against them – that’s exactly what we did. To get the goal so early on [in the second half], it actually buoyed us on and we came out the traps really fast. It sort of settled us a bit, forced them to make a couple of decisions to get on the front foot, which obviously helped us a bit, because the game started to get a bit stretched. We knew our fitness would come through in the end, which it did.”Jonathan Morgan, Manager, Leicester City, via lcfc.com
Since being on the wrong end of a 4-1 thumping at London City Lionesses (1st Nov 2020) Leicester City have won ten games on the bounce, scoring 32 goals and conceding just five. They’re in irresistible form and dug out another big performance here when they really needed it. They have a three point lead, a game in hand and a vastly superior goal difference.
Durham, to their credit, have hung on in there, largely matching the results of their fully professional, Premier-League-backed rivals until this weekend.
But now, with just three league fixtures left, the Wildcats’ title challenge will partly rely on other clubs doing them a favour while they attempt to get maximum points off of Sheffield United, Charlton Athletic and Coventry United.
For Jonathan Morgan’s side, just two more victories will probably be enough to guarantee Super League football at Farley Way next season. They also play Coventry and Charlton in their run-in. The Addicks await them on the final day of the season, in fact, but there’s little doubt that the Foxes will want the FA Women’s Championship wrapped up well before then…
Last year, we charted on the Feedspot Top 40 list of Women’s football blogs. No one was more surprised than us here at D2B Towers; there’s so much other good stuff out there. Anyhoo, check out the link above or our new Links page, there’s a heap of great blogs and websites written by people who really know their stuff and have an infectious passion for the women’s game…