Corner, corner… corner
As was to be expected Durham started brightly, winning a succession of corners in the opening exchanges. Always first to the all at set-pieces, the Wildcats looked well up for the game, winning the first ball but unable to steer their shots on target, leaving Sarah Quantrill relatively untroubled.
With ten minutes played the visitors should have been up, after Jordan Atkinson beat Jordan Butler to the punch, the bounce of the ball favouring the attacker, through on goal. With Quantrill committing early, the striker was left frustrated after dragging her shot narrowly wide with half of the goal at her mercy.
Millwall struggled to get forward, the midfield swarmed with blue shirts, numbers covering those breaking in stripes, infrequent attacks were rushed and juddery. A bad first touch or a lack of clear purpose or drive hindered the low-ranked team. The best chance came by way of a Leighanne Robe header in the aftermath of an Ashlee Hincks free kick, swung in with just enough to leave the visitors scrambling.
Aside from seeing her attacking header glance wide, Robe was bossing it at the back for the Lionesses, the back-line fared better than the midfield. Just about enough, just about enough in defence to keep the Wildcats out; last ditch tackles and blocks and balls cleared long for the hopeful attackers to chase.
Holding her line well, Hinks wriggled free of Ellie Christon, the defender left on the pitch, Hincks brought the ball around her before curling one just over the bar. Signs of life from the hosts. Solo work from Millwall the polar opposite of the composed link-up play from Durham. Blue shirts pining the ball around.
Wall, what wall?
With Beth Hepple brought down just inside of the box the visitors could have been left feeling hard done by as the referee awarded a free kick when the challenge appeared to take case entirely in the box. 12 yards one-on-one or 18 yards behind a wall, Hepple wasn’t fussed as she delivered the ball into the top corner well out of Quantrill’s reach.
If Millwall had been growing into the game they immediately shrunk back into themselves, Durham with their tails up smelling blood. Nat Gutteridge’s fine volley skimmed the bar as it went over at a corner before Sarah McFadden once more headed wide at the next set piece.
The Durham threat was persistent, a wall of blue always closing in on Quantrill and her goal, Gutteridge once again almost getting her name onto the scoresheet as the keeper was forced to make a hanging save.
Hard work from Megan Wynne against Chloe Macek and Becky Salicki saw another half-chance for the hosts as the ball worked across the box for Hincks and Lucy Looms. With blue shirts guarding their box the chance fell to Amber Gaylor, her sliced shot comfortably wide of the near upright.
Life left in the Lionesses
Despite on the back foot right from the restart Millwall were still giving the Wildcats plenty to think about, their infrequent trips up the pitch so close to bearing fruit. With Loomes clean through and Megan Borthwick going to ground early, the home support were left groaning as Loomes’ shot bobbled wide with defenders scrambling back to cover the goalmouth.
More diligent work from Loomes, saw another half chance go begging. Hincks’ lay-off for Gaylor was sent just high and wide, noise levels at The Den rising. Hincks and Loomes were at the heart of it again as the former nodded into the side-netting from Wynne’s deep cross. Still hunting their equaliser, Loomes ghosted between the centre-backs but panicked one-on-one, her uncertain shot rolled against Bothwick’s feet.
Durham pulled themselves up again, pushing to the front foot, McFadden pounced on a weak back-pass from Wynne before trying her hand from a tight angle. A collective breath held in the Den as the ball curled across the face of goal and just around the outside of the post. The former Black Cat’s next effort on target, but her turn and shoot from outside the box an easy claim for Quantrill.
The clock ticked down and Durham were winning yet even more corners, the Lionesses still struggled to deal. Consistently winning the ball at corners, McFadden was once again agonisingly close as her header cannoned off of the bar and back into the mix. The home defence scrambled, bodies dropping onto the line to block the follow up as the ball was eventually smuggled away.
Rinsola Babajide was fresh off the bench and on the pitch with a point to prove, looking bright and hungry since her introduction, her beat her marker before squirming into the box, her peach of a curler taking the slightest of nicks to deflect a hair wide. The resulting corner as close to an equaliser as the hosts could have had. The inswinging ball catching the underside of the bar, begging to drift over the line before a firm Durham head cleared.
Millwall were frantic, but their spell of meaningful possession went by wasted, the hosts always second best to their opposition.