Durham Women suffered a first defeat in the Continental Cup at the hands of Sheffield United – but still harbour hopes of qualification for the knockout stages.
Keri Matthews, Aimee Palmer, Jade Pennock and Maddy Cusack found the net for the Blades in an unfortunate evening for the Wildcats.
Both teams made a raft of changes for the penultimate cup clash, and there was plenty of action in a dramatic opening few minutes.
The Blades had the first real chance of note as Pennock saw a header clip the bar on its way over, before Lisa Robertson’s corner had opposition stopper Emily Batty beaten only to come back off the woodwork.
Durham grew into the ascendancy, with Molly Sharpe and Holly Manders both coming close to opening the scoring.
But somewhat against the run of play, it was Sheffield who took the lead – Matthews breaking free on the right flank before slotting past Megan Borthwick.
There was almost an immediate second, only for Borthwick to acrobatically tip Pennock’s rasping drive over the bar.
And it was indeed two moments later as Palmer curled an inch-perfect free-kick into the top corner.
The Wildcats rallied, with Nicki Gears seeing a header held by Batty as the break approached.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the second half was a far more tepid affair – with chances few and far between.
But with the first chance after the interval, the Blades added a third with Pennock netting a deserved goal through Pennock’s crisp finish, despite more than a hint of offside as she bore down on goal.
Durham came close to a late consolation as substitute Megan Bell came agonisingly close to sliding home Robertson’s teasing cross, but it was Sheffield who would add some late gloss to the scoreline courtesy of Cusack’s stunning volley from 30 yards.
Durham XI: Borthwick, Hill, Robertson, Wilson, Hepple (Bell 76), Sharpe (Robson 64), Gears, Manders (Achterhof 64), Salicki, Christon, Weithofer
Durham subs not used: Reid, Holmes