Durham 0-4 Manchester City: WSL title contenders book their place in the fifth round of the Women’s FA Cup

Second division Durham hosted three-time FA Cup winners and WSL title contenders, Manchester City, to the northeast on Sunday in the fourth round of the Adobe Women’s FA Cup. Gareth Taylor named an unchanged side from City’s final WSL game of 2023 that saw them defeat Everton 4-1 as they looked to prevent Durham from scoring their first goal against WSL opposition.

DUR: McAloon; Bradley, S. Wilson, Salicki, Briggs; Crosthwaite, Hepple, Robson, Lambert; Noonan, Andrews

MCI: Keating; Casparij, Aleixandri, Greenwood, Ouahabi; Hasegawa, Coombs; Hemp, Roord, Kelly; Shaw

The first set-piece opportunity of the game came just three minutes in when the visitors were awarded a corner. City played it short with a well-worked move seeing England international Chloe Kelly cut the ball back to Laia Aleixandri, forcing Naoisha McAloon to make a low save at her near post. Kelly whipped the follow-up corner right across the face of goal, with Lauren Hemp heading it just wide of the far post.

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Another opportunity to take the lead at Maiden Castle – the only non-grass pitch in the top two divisions of women’s football – came for three-time FA Cup winners, Manchester City, in the fifth minute when Jill Roord made space 20 yards out with her powerful shot hitting the woodwork with nobody there to knock it home.

After a dominant start with chances being created, the first goal of the game came inside seven minutes. Chloe Kelly floated a cross deep into the area that was met by an untracked Laura Coombs who struck the ball on the volley, opening the scoring. The power of the strike meant that the hand McAloon was able to get to it only helped to guide the ball into the roof of her net, giving the WSL side a deserved lead.

McAloon was called upon in net for the Championship side just moments later to keep the hosts in the game as she made a double save to deny City from doubling the advantage. Kelly struck with power and precision with McAloon spilling the save, the ball falling to Coombs who looked for her second goal.

After struggling to get sight of the ball against their top opposition, Durham made their way forward for the first time, collecting the ball from City’s short corner. Lily Crosthwaite failed to make the desired cross, but it was a glimmer of positivity for the hosts who were being penned in by the visitors inside the opening 15 minutes.

A free kick for City wide on the right presented an opportunity for Shaw who narrowly failed to head home the dangerous cross from Alex Greenwood, with the Jamaican striker set free one-on-one shortly after with a long pass from Keating, but rather than shooting herself, she squared the ball to Lauren Hemp who was only able to slide the ball into the side netting.

A mishit clearance from Khiara Keating gave Durham a chance to finally pressurise City with the hosts earning a free kick 30 yards out central, only for Beth Hepple to mishit the cross sending it flying out for a goal kick.

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Clinging on and now looking to create opportunities, Lily Crosthwaite took a shot from distance as it neared the half-hour mark after City gave the ball away in their own half, but the shot was comfortably saved.

There was still a fighting chance for Durham to find the back of the net as Manchester City had only recorded one clean sheet in their last eight games.

Regaining control, the WSL title challengers looked to put the game to bed at Maiden Castle with Jill Roord making space on the right of the Durham box before rocketing an unstoppable strike into the top corner to double the advantage at 38 minutes.

Domination of possession continued as City looked to prise open the Championship side’s defence and go further in front, but the full time whistle was blown with City leading 2-0.

Despite Durham growing into the game in the first half, the second half began as the first half had with City in control and applying the pressure.

Netherlands international, Jill Roord, looked for her second in the 52nd minute as she tried her luck from 30 yards out, her strike flying wide.

A poor back pass by Dee Bradley gifted the ball to Khadija Shaw in the 55th minute, but her shot just missed.

City patiently continued the search for their third, testing Durham’s defence and concentration until the 69th minute when their patience was rewarded, courtesy of Roord.

Bursting forward, the 26-year-old played a one-two with Lauren Hemp who chipped the ball over Durham’s back line to find the midfielder who lifted the ball over McAloon from close proximity to score her brace.

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A double substitution for the hosts still couldn’t help them find a way back into the game with City finding the back of the net for the fourth time in the 76th minute – but the goal from close range was denied by the offside flag, much to Durham’s delight.

Not settling for three, Chloe Kelly tried her hand at goal with her shot pushed to the left by McAloon only to be met by Jess Park who looked guaranteed to capitalise upon the opportunity, but played the ball across the face of goal and behind from a tight angle.

The 80th minute saw Durham-born Steph Houghton make an appearance from the bench, taking the captain’s armband – a huge moment for the England defender returning to her hometown after what has been an incredibly successful career to date at both Arsenal and Manchester City.

City’s 18th shot of the day came from Kelly in the 82nd minute with her shot from the right hitting the side netting before Durham created a chance at the other end of the pitch in the 84th as Poppy Pritchard pulled the ball back to Mollie Lambert, her deflected effort sent behind by Keating.

In the 87th minute, the fourth goal came for the visitors. Naoisha McAloon pushed away Kelly’s low effort with substitute Mary Fowler able to control and convert the rebound before Durham’s defence could clear the danger.

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After four added minutes, the full time whistle indicated that Manchester City had booked their place in the fifth round of the Women’s FA Cup with Durham having still not scored a goal past WSL opposition despite fighting hard at Maiden Castle in front of a sold-out crowd.