Aston Villa faced Durham on the weekend - and magic happened! The match got underway as Durham kicked off and instantly created a chance as Gears put in a swinging cross from the right. Both teams were looking impressive on the ball and the Durham defence was looking hard to surpass. However, the opening goal came in the 5th minute when a driven ground shot deflected off Jade Richards to travel into the back of the away net.
Villa were ahead and their momentum was unrelenting as Tasha Baptiste made another attempt on goal, only to find the side netting. Mollie Rouse also continued to prove her place in the England Ladies team as she volleyed the ball up front and chased down the interception from Durham to gain back possession. A free kick to Durham also gave her the opportunity to show her defensive skills as she tackled Gears to clear the ball away with the help of Hannah George. They link up effectively on the left to pursue the quick pace of the game which is thorough enjoyed by the supporters as they cheer on the home side. There was a huge turnout from fans for both sides with what may be Villa’s biggest audience in the series.
As the game progressed, frustrations arose and Welsh found herself receiving treatment as she seemed to struggle with a leg injury. She limped off the pitch alongside the medical team but quickly returned back to action and performed an effective one-two pass with Rouse. Durham were increasing the pressure and were awarded a throw in close to the Villa goal following an unsuccessful corner. Emily Roberts aimed the ball towards Nicola Gibson who was quick to seek Zoe Ness in space. Ness equalised for her side in the 19th minute after Villa were slow to react.
Despite the goal Jade Richards remained a visible force in the Villa defence as her power behind the ball can be seen to intimidate the Durham forwards. Roberts made another attempt to create a chance for her side by sprinting into the box, squaring it left to another player who stumbled on the ball. In the minutes that followed a free kick was conceded to Durham which resulted in a number of strikes from the players in the box. Kerri Welsh deflected a final strong attempt and the Villa Ladies chased the ball up field. Crosses entered the box for Villa but a few awkward bounces made it difficult to finish for the strikers.
As the second half was coming to a close Villa began to slack off the ball and the third goal of the game came from Ness in the 38th minute, driving it along the ground into the right hand corner past Beattie. When the game kicked off again it was not long before the fatigue and disappointment of the Villa Ladies helped Ness to secure her hat-trick as Gears moved past a number of players to deliver a through ball. The home fans and players were disheartened as the game continued, with Maddy Cusack receiving a yellow card after an unnecessary foul.
Mollie Rouse remained enthusiastic and upbeat and performed an impressive set of skills to run rings around the defenders on the other side of the pitch, although the ball could only strike the side of the left post. Credit is also due for Durham goalkeeper Megan Borthwick who really kept her team in the game with her safe hands as she jumped up high to catch most of Villas threatening crosses. In the last few minutes of the half Villa fans were on the verge of celebrating as Welsh managed to lob the Durham goalkeeper but an amazing overhead kick from Salicki clears the ball off the line to ensure the away side stayed on top. Another chance came as a cross from the right looked as if it may find the back of the net but Rouse launched it over the crossbar from a few yards out.
Half Time: 1-3
A double substitution for Durham at the start of the second half as Jennings and Gibson are replaced with Christon and Briggs. A free kick for Villa in the first few moments amounted to nothing and the clearance from Durham pushed the players towards the Villa goal where a corner was conceded to Durham. Neither side seemed to be out-playing the other until a penalty was awarded to the away side in the 52nd minute following a foul by Jade Richards. Many home supporters felt this was unlucky for the defender as the forward went down very easily, but appeals against the referee’s decision went unheard. Beth Hepple stepped up to take the shot and slotted it into the top right corner out of the reach of the goalkeeper.
The 60th minute saw the beginning of a comeback for the home team as Jade Richards used her strength and height at the other end of the pitch to head home a goal for the Ladies. The score line was now 2-4 but Villa showed the belief to get back into it with just half an hour to go. Hannah George was replaced by Lucy Porter as the teams kicked off again and Durham made their final change with Lee coming on for Dixon. Attempts on goal from Durham were saved by the hands of Chloe Beattie who began to look more confident as her team pushed forward. A ball up field from Durham resulted in a one on one between hat-trick scorer Zoe Ness and Beattie as N’Dow fell to the floor in an attempt to tackle the striker. With her gained confidence Beattie put the pressure on Ness, making herself big in front of goal and forcing the striker to shoot wide to the right.
The game went on with a number of efforts from both sides and a goalmouth scramble saw a fumble from the Durham goalkeeper. A corner was conceded and Richards was able to take possession but a foul on Borthwick denied her another goal. The play then became disjointed for a while as scrappy passes were made. The 74th minute saw a double change for Villa as Hurley and Hinchcliffe came on for Baptiste and Jones. Hinchcliffe gained a free kick for the home team and Rouse was eager to take but her strike sailed over the bar.
The determination from the Ladies saw some amazing attempts in the dying minutes. Lucy Shepherd made it 4-3 as her shot slammed into the back of the goal in the 84th minute after she found the ball at her feet following an attempted clearance from the Wildcat defence. Villa fans roared as the ball found the net again but Welsh was deemed offside and the goal was disallowed. The equaliser finally came in the 88th minute, an absolute spectacle from Cusack as she put it behind the Durham goalkeeper on the half volley.
Fans were out of their seats, cheering Villa on as they finally had the belief to win after such an exceptional comeback. A winning goal came in the final minute as super-sub Hinchcliffe found the left corner. The home fans in the stadium were ecstatic as Villa celebrated their victory. Another minute was played but Durham were quite simply defeated as Zoe Ness tried one last time to take away a point. The whistle was blown and the home crowd and players were quick to run towards each other and applaud together for their performance and support as the sun shined down.
Full Time: 5-4
An amazing end to a great season for the team and to have the belief, determination and skill to do so at home was absolutely incredible.