For a match that might as well have a soundtrack provided by Sony and Cher, there was a certain Groundhog Day feel to Sunday morning as, for the second time this week, Manchester United took to the pitch against Durham. With a league fixture under the belts as well as a mid-week clash in the league cup, there was little about either team that was a surprise to the other.
Going at a rate of knots in the Championship, a visit from Durham marked the Red Devil’s first dropped points of the campaign and a shock to those who were unfamiliar with the league. Having conceded in the first seconds in Leigh in the midweek, the Wildcats stuck back to their guns, keeping the hosts at bay for the remaining 89 minutes. And finally on home turf, Durham drew blood, putting a rare goal past Siobhan Chamberlain.
It had taken just over 200 minutes of football between the two for Becky Salicki to pounce on an uncleared free kick, the ball knocked beyond Chamberlain’s reach. The lead lasted just 20 minutes before the visitors found an equaliser when Ella Toone picked up a poor defensive header and found the bottom left corner.
With Durham showing more adventure in attack after the break, their efforts earned them a sunbathed corner. With plenty of argy-bargy going on, the crowd were already up in arms by the time the ball was handled by players unknown, the small stadium live with noise as he pointed to the spot before booking the wrong player. Forced to wait before dispatching her penalty, Beth Hepple showed no nerves as she struck the ball into the bottom left corner,
Not entirely end-to-end, the match had a nice rhythm to it before United turned on the afterburners, digging deep to press for as much of the last 15 minutes as possible. With three fresh pairs of attacking legs on the pitch, the onus was with the visitors, the clock desperately running down. A weak free kick the final blow for United as the ball was fast countered by Emily Roberts, the hard working midfielder switching the ball to Zoe Ness who took it all the way before sending it home.
For Durham there was clear gap between those playing well and those failing to perform, in defence, Salicki and Hill did well to deal with the greater threats from their opposition as Roberts continued her good run of form, flourishing up and down the right wing.
For United, it was clear the team wasn’t firing on all cylinders, the players stifled by Durham’s staunch defensive work, Charlie Devlin, Mollie Green and Toone working hard in attack but almost aimlessly, Katie Zelem the most consistent in pink on the pitch.
The performance might not have been what Casey Stoney would have wanted but it’s near-impossible not to see the Red Devils finishing top and going up, those at the top end of the table with them, just not able to go the distance. The match does however highlight that Durham, with their consistent progress over the last few years, are unfairly written off. The team of part-timers having gone blow for blow with the Championship’s only professional team three times and having looked a fair match.
For Durham, the win is a building block, more to spur them on in the new year and push for promotion as they carry the flag for the whole of the North East. For United, there are more lessons that have been learned in 90 minutes at New Ferens Park that for the majority of the first half of the season.