Southampton FC Women’s difficult March continued following a narrow 1-0 Championship defeat to Durham at St Mary’s Stadium.
Southampton produced a respectable performance and created plenty of chances throughout the encounter, but constantly failed to convert them.
On the other hand, Durham created fewer chances but crucially proved the more clinical in front of goal, earning all three points through the solitary strike of Rio Hardy after 62 minutes.
Reflecting on their electric February form, March had been a fairly lacklustre month in comparison for Saints thus far, with the team only able to take a single point from their last two league matches before today.
That being said, Marieanne Spacey-Cale’s side did make a bright start to this afternoon’s clash, earning an almost instantaneous opportunity through the lofted free-kick of Chloe Peplow which found Laura Rafferty in space at the far post, but the defender failed to make proper contact with the swing of her right boot.
Continuing to threaten in the early stages, the hosts nearly created a second opening in the 6th minute when Lucia Kendall was set free down the left flank, but her low cross toward unmarked Katie Wilkinson in the middle was vitally cut out at the final moment, possibly sparing Durham of an early disadvantage.
Coming into the match off the back of a heavy 3-0 defeat to league leaders Bristol City last weekend, the visitors were very slow to grow into the action, allowing Saints time and space with the ball at their feet.
The reverse fixture between these two sides in January is widely remembered as a feisty, energetic encounter which ultimately concluded in an evenly-fought 0-0 draw. With the exception of the score line, so far this match was considerably different.
Perhaps taking their foot off the gas a little, Southampton carelessly provided Durham with a golden opportunity in the 25th minute when miscommunication between Rosie Parnell and Laura Rafferty granted Jess Clarke with space to let fly from inside the box, but her effort lacked both power and precision, resulting in a simple block from a red and white shirt.
Saints quickly bit back and flew up the other end, registering efforts on goal from both Beth Lumsden and Alice Griffiths, but neither were able to rustle the net beyond Naoisha McAloon, who was gradually being worked more and more as the game grew in age.
Looking back to last weekend’s 0-0 draw against Blackburn, Spacey-Cale’s side performed well and arguably should have won the match, but were wasteful in front of goal. Concerningly, today’s display looked to be following a similar trend as the minutes crept beyond 30, with the team unable to trouble the scoreboard despite numerous attempts on goal.
In a final effort to get ahead before half-time, Ella Morris looked to feed the darting Wilkinson with a whipped pass from inside her own half, but the striker was narrowly beaten to it by the alert McAloon, who ensured the game remained goalless come referee Megan Wilson’s whistle.
Emerging for the second 45, Durham looked to improve on their fairly dull first-half display, while Saints just needed to find that cutting edge in front of goal.
Following a more positive start, the visitors would create the first half-chance after 47 minutes, Clarke whipping in a dangerous ball from the right toward Saoirse Noonan in the box, but she couldn’t keep her effort down on the turn.
With her side continuing to push, the striker would try her luck for a second time shortly after with a venomous, right-footed strike from just outside the box which the alert Kayla Rendell did well to hold.
The away side had started the latter period much better, while Saints struggled to match the intensity of their first-half display, something they were made to pay for dearly come the 62nd minute.
Calls for a foul on Wilkinson were quickly dismissed by referee Wilson, which in turn allowed Grace Ayre to make good ground with the ball at her feet before releasing Hardy to the left of Rendell’s goal, the attacker taking a touch before firing a powerful effort across the goalkeeper and into her top left corner.
It was a fine strike to open the scoring, and one Saints would need to respond to quickly if all three points were to stay in SO14.
Back up and swinging, the hosts had the crowd off their seats in the 72nd minute when Peplow’s whipped corner was bustled into the back of the net by Parnell. However, the captain was later judged to have fouled the goalkeeper in the process, with the goal swiftly chalked off.
Seven minutes later came another sight of goal, but Lumsden couldn’t control her volley at the far post and struck over as another opportunity went begging.
With Southampton understandably throwing bodies forward at every opportunity, Durham nearly doubled their lead in the 84th minute when a defensive misjudgement from Rafferty resulted in a corner. From the subsequent cross, the ball fell the way of substitute Lily Crosthwaite who blasted goalward from close proximity and surely would have scored if it weren’t for the bravery of Rendell.
Southampton had their goalkeeper to thank once more in the 90th minute, when she produced further heroics to keep out Maria Farrugia in a one-on-one situation, keeping her side in the fight against all the odds.
Even into the dying embers of injury time, the hosts continued to try and salvage a point but constantly found their efforts thwarted by the resolute defence of Durham, which ultimately stood firm to secure the visitors maximum points on a frustrating day for Spacey-Cale and her squad.
All eyes for Southampton now turn to next Sunday, when promotion favourites Bristol City visit St Mary’s with the hope of further extending their lead at the top of the table. Kick-off at 2pm.