There is a cliché commonly used in football, the idea that the beautiful game is ‘one of two halves’. Yesterday, at Butts Park Arena, the truism played out as Coventry United lost to Durham 4-3, conceding three second-half goals without reply.
Despite the result, there are many positives that can be taken for the Red and Greens, and perhaps all could be found in the first 45 minutes of the game. Beth Merrick’s scintillating first-half hattrick began with a scorching effort from outside the box. The six incisive passes from goalkeeper to goalscorer, each evading the rather enigmatic Durham press, were perhaps more impressive than the goal itself.
This was followed by fantastic play by Shannon O’Brien, who was able to create space for Beth Merrick’s second goal after only five minutes.
Often storming to an early lead can almost be a double-edged sword, in this case, it invited Durham to capitalise through Hepple. The visitors’ first goal of the afternoon was symbolic of their attack, with overlapping runs in behind United defenders, taking advantage of their often-high positions on the pitch.
While Durham started to impose themselves on the game, United turned to runs in behind and route one balls in an attempt to release their front players. O’Brien was unlucky to not score to make it 3-1, forcing a great save from Borthwick. The third would come soon; a great cross in from the right was smashed home by Merrick to complete her hattrick.
By half-time, a 3-1 score-line slightly flattered United but was indicative of a newfound ruthlessness that had taken hold at Butts Park.
This performance should give Jay Bradford’s side the confidence they need
The second half saw a complete domination from whistle to whistle for the visitors, suffocating the United full backs and midfielders on the ball, forcing them to come deeper and isolating O’Brien up front, who could probably count her second half touches on one hand.
An excellent finish two minutes into the second half by Emily Roberts lit a massive fire under a Durham team who now felt they were in pole position to take something from this game. From then, it became one-way traffic, with corners galore for the visitors. United could only desperately defend and use any tactic to try to delay what only seemed as the inevitable.
Durham’s pressure paid off after United failed to clear a corner, allowing Robson to score with a tidy finish. Emily Roberts completed a well-deserved second half comeback a few minutes later, capitalising on a rare counter-attacking opportunity for the hosts.
Such a loss is always devastating, especially when it comes after a stunning first-half performance. But if anything, it showed a progression from recent games. With some massive fixtures up ahead in the relegation battle, this performance should give Jay Bradford’s side the confidence they need over the festive period.