Durham manager Lee Sanders spoke of his immense pride after Durham Women’s FA Cup exit at the hands of Bristol City.
The Wildcats were cruelly beaten by an extra time strike at the Stoke Gifford Stadium, having more than matched their top tier opponents throughout a competitive afternoon of football.
And despite defeat, Sanders was proud of how the side competed against the Vixens – and believed that Durham could have had more from the fourth round tie.
“It’s a bit cliched, but I really can’t be more proud of the players and the way they conducted themselves,” he said.
“I thought we conducted ourselves extremely well in the game, and off the field as well, to some fairly unsavoury comments in the build-up to and during the game made to players and staff.
“The girls worked ever so hard and they didn’t leave anything out on that pitch.
“I think we deserved something at the end. We’ll look at it again, I think it was a penalty. Unfortunately the referee said no.
“The players were tired and there were some heavy legs there, which was telling towards the end, but you just have to feel so proud of them and the effort put in and that’s all we – myself, Steph and Michael – could have asked for.
“They’ve competed with a team in the top tier, who are supposedly full-time, and for 120 minutes there’s really been nothing between them.
“I thought we were the better team in the first half, but Bristol maybe edged in the second half.
“There was nothing between us though over the whole game, and that should stand us in good stead moving forward.”
The game was played amid a backdrop of torrential rain – not that Sanders felt it stopped the Wildcats, though.
“The players weren’t phased by the conditions at all,” he admitted.
“The pitch wasn’t in particularly great shape, but they’ve dealt with the conditions really well.
“We played some good stuff, we got in behind them and created some really good opportunities.”
And when called into action at the other end, Durham had stopper Megan Borthwick to thank – and the ‘keeper came in for special praise from her manager.
“Megan Borthwick was outstanding today,” said Sanders.
“I couldn’t speak more highly of her performance today and the overall defensive work they put in as a team today.
“But at the other end – they’ve also had to clear off the line four times against us.”
The cup tie also saw a debut for local youngster Erin Nelson, while Holly Manders also gained valuable minutes from the bench – and came close to a leveller late on.
And Sanders is keen to keep handing chances to the club’s fledgling talents.
“Where other clubs have maybe signed players and had to change things, we’ve turned to youth,” he admitted.
“We’ve been very unfortunate with injuries since the end of last season and have lost a few key players in Em [Roberts], Shorty [Rachel Lee] and Briggsy [Lauren Briggs].
“But the young players have stepped-up and deserve the chance – and when they came on today they did well.”
The trip to Bristol wasn’t the first time Durham have competed with Women’s Super League opponents – leaving Sanders to believe that the club are close to taking the step into the top tier of women’s football.
“I think we’re very close,” he said.
“I’m biased, obviously, but in my opinion we are a Super League team. We’re as good as four or five other teams that are in the Super League, and I think we prove that year in, year out.
“We’ve always ran teams close from the league above whenever we’ve played them in any competition.
“We’ve got to take the positives.
“We need to take heart from that performance. It was a very, very, very good performance and the players deserve all the credit in the world for it.”