In a season dominated by the south east it’s easy to overlook all the sterling work that’s been taking place in the north west, specifically at Durham’s New Ferens home.
Having shown steady improvement over the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the Wildcats surpassed all expectations this year to shoot up from seventh to fourth, well in the promotion race until the last few matches. Having only dropped eight points at home all year, the Wildcats have simultaneously made New Ferens Park one of the hardest places to come as well as one of the friendliest, a club that prides itself on making it as accessible for fans as possible.
Doing little business in the winter window, the key for Durham was to build on a squad that was already well in sync with each other, contract extensions signed, Becky Salicki and Sarah McFadden brought in from Sunderland to be joined by Mercy Darkoah, Tyler Dodds and Emily Roberts later in the year. Anna Moorehouse, Caroline Dixon, Julie Nelson and Lauren Jordinson (over the Summer) the only players moving in the other direction. Stability key in the north west.
Consistent in the league
Getting the year off to a storming start in the FA Cup, Durham soundly beat London Bees dev squad 9-0 before seeing off WPL high-flyers Charlton Athletic only to be undone by Notts County in the fifth round. In the league the Wildcats hit the ground running, their first three matches against Sheffield, the Bees and Oxford yielded maximum points as the northern most team in WSL 2 cruised up the table.
A loss to Aston Villa in Sutton Coldfield just a blip as they bounced back with another 1-0 win over Sheffield – Durham the only team in the top half of the table not to have surrendered points to Sheffield this season. In their third meeting of the year the Wildcats were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw against the Bees in Northwood before breaking for the mid-season interval.
Embed from Getty Images
Picking up after a poor run
The Summer didn’t start on the best footing for Durham as they suffered their first loss at home to table-toppers Yeovil before recovering well with a 3-0 win over Villa in their next match, a scoreless draw against promotion-chasing Bristol another fine point before being outclassed by the Lady Glovers at Huish Park.
Once more the Wildcats to the results in stride and came back out fighting for the next fixtures, unbeaten in the next four as they came out on top against Watford, held Everton at 1-1, bested Oxford 2-1 and snatched a narrow 1-0 over Millwall at the Den.
Back-to-back losses to promotion favourites Bristol and Everton put their WSL 1 dreams on hold; the Wildcats in the mixer until October. With another six points from their last two games, a 6-1 dismantling of hosts in Berkhamsted and a competitive 2-1 over Millwall on the last day of the season.
Tipped to have a solid year, though many might not have had them finishing as high as they did it’s been easy and enjoyable watching Durham’s upward curve. The team from the north west have proved that with old fashioned hard work, self-belief and composure anything is possible.
Only really coming undone against the top three, it’s hard not to see other WSL 2 teams eyeing them with caution next season, with work still to be done before they’d be WSL 1 read the Spring Series seems like the perfect place to start. A busy winter is in store for the team that seems to be going from strength to strength, an extra addition or two the shot in the arm the Wildcats would need for a real promotion push.