Durham 0-2 Liverpool
Above: Leanne Kiernan celebrates after finally breaking the deadlock in the battle of the top two in the Championship. Photo: @LiverpoolFCW
By Ben Gilby
Liverpool gained a hugely important win in their bid to return to the Barclays FA Women’s Super League at the second attempt after winning the battle of the top two at Maiden Castle.
Goals in the final quarter of an hour from Leanne Kiernan and Taylor Hinds saw the Merseysiders leapfrog their North-Eastern opponents to hit the top of the FA Women’s Championship.
A crowd of well over 1,000 was boosted by a large vocal travelling support from Merseyside who were provided with free transport by a sponsor.
The first goalmouth action came after four minutes, when a Durham free kick on the left was comfortably claimed by Rachael Laws in the Reds goal.
With Liverpool employing the high press, the first corner went their way but massed ranks of Durham defenders headed clear.
Emily Roberts was lively for the hosts in the early stages and needed close attention from Niamh Fahey to prevent her from breaking through.
As the match drifted towards the second quarter of the opening half, Liverpool came desperately close on three occasions in quick succession. Taylor Hinds forced Durham keeper Megan Borthwick to make a sensational double save at the left-hand post. The resulting corner came in and a backheel flick was heading in until Kathryn Hill cleared off the line.
With Liverpool building a head of steam, the North-Eastern-based league leaders were being urged to push higher by head coach Lee Sanders, Roberts went on another sensational run and earned a corner on the left. An in-swinging flag kick went narrowly wide of the far post.
As the encounter approached the half-hour mark, Durham appeared to have ridden out the storm with possession being to even out slightly, but tellingly, the hosts were not troubling Laws in the Reds goal in the same way that Borthwick had been called into action previously.
Seven minutes before the break, Liverpool turned up the pressure once more and were denied by last gasp Durham defending as Jasmine Matthews and Melissa Lawley both saw shots blocked in the six-yard box.
With three minutes to go before the break, Durham fashioned an opportunity when Mollie Lambert squared a ball inside to Ellie Christon, but her effort was way over the bar. Having been on the receiving end of most of the shots on target, Durham did well to go in at the break goalless.
The home side began the second period on the front foot and earned a corner which Laws did well to punch clear in the fact of huge pressure which required her to subsequently receive a long period of medical attention.
Lauren Briggs was at the heart of everything positive that Durham were doing in the opening period second half as they continued to press, although whilst the build-up was impressive, it lacked a killer final ball to trouble Laws.
The Reds began to threaten once more and earned three corners. From the second, the North-Eastern hosts were forced to clear off the line again, but shortly afterwards, they finally took one of their chances.
With just over a quarter of an hour to go, a high ball in from Rhiannon Roberts had to be pushed out by Borthwick, but it fell invitingly to Leanne Kiernan who couldn’t miss and Liverpool were ahead.
Four minutes later it was 2-0 when a great move down the right saw a ball crossed in towards Hinds who was unmarked at the back post to head home.
Liverpool managed the remaining time professionally to record a deserved win which is huge in the context of the season. With London City Lionesses also building a head of steam at the top of the table, the Reds’ victory is far from conclusive, but it marks an important milestone in their bid for a return to the top flight.
Whilst the result will be pleasing for Liverpool boss Matt Beard, he will also be delighted by the fact that this was his team’s seventh clean sheet in their last ten games.
Teams: DURHAM: Borthwick, Hill, Briggs, Lambert, Wilson, Hepple, Salicki, Bradley, Christon, Roberts, Holmes. Substitutes: Galloway (for Hill 20’), Crosthwaite (for Roberts 75’), Brown (for Briggs 84’), Ayre, Mckain.
LIVERPOOL: Laws, Roberts, Robe, Fahey, Matthews, Hinds, Holland, Furness, Lawley, Daniels, Kiernan. Substitutes: Startup (GK), Kearns, Bailey (for Roberts 82’), Hodson, Moore, Humphrey (for Furness 90+1’), Walters (for Kiernan 88’), Parry, Silcock.
Scorers: Kiernan 74’, Hinds 78’
Referee: Helen Conley.
Attendance: 1,500 (Est).