Durham Women ended their Continental Cup campaign with a draw against top tier side Aston Villa – a result which all-but seals their passage to the knockout stages of the competition.
And while Villa took the bonus point via a penalty shoot-out win, the Wildcats can be proud of a performance in which they more than matched their higher tier opposition.
Indeed, Durham took the lead through Emily Roberts with just four minutes on the clock after some patient build-up allowed her to whip in a cross which caught out Sian Rogers and flew into the roof of the net.
That early goal buoyed the hosts who were the better side for much of the first half.
Mollie Lambert could have added a second just moments after the opener, with her long-range effort held by Rogers, before another slick move ended in Christon firing narrowly wide of the near post.
Durham’s high-press and intensity was causing Villa no end of problems and the chances were flowing.
Lambert once again saw a shot held by Rogers before Bridget Galloway’s quick-thinking allowed Beth Hepple to break into the box – with her shot beating Rogers before cannoning back off the post.
Hepple would then clip the corner of post and bar with an effort from range, before Villa started to show their quality as the half wore on.
It took a fine tackle from Sarah Robson to stop Emma Follis breaking into the area, before Nadine Hanssen saw a strike from the edge of the box well-saved by Megan Borthwick.
And it would be Villa who started the second half strongly, too, enjoying much of the play even if they failed to seriously trouble Borthwick.
But they would have a golden chance to restore parity when referee Christiana Hattersley pointed to the spot after a Villa player went down in the box.
Durham were far from happy with the decision, but justice was perhaps done when Borthwick flew to her right to parry Stine Larsen’s penalty.
It would be another dead ball situation that would see Villa draw level, and again it was one which wasn’t without its controversy – with the hosts unhappy when a free-kick was awarded against them in a dangerous area.
And Follis would show her renowned set-piece prowess as she sent the strike curling into the bottom corner to put the Villans back on level-pegging.
But it was Durham who were in the ascendancy from that point, with Molly Sharpe twice coming close to a winner.
First she saw a header cleared off the line by Asmita Ale before Rogers did well to deny her as the game ticked into injury.
And with nothing to separate the sides across ninety minutes, the game went to penalties for a bonus point – where Rogers was again the hero.
She kept out Beth Hepple and Mollie Lambert to allow Natalie Haigh to net the winning spot kick, as Villa won the shoot-out 4-2.
That means Gemma Davies’ side finish atop Group A, with Durham all-but set to join them in the knockout stages as a best runner-up.
Durham XI: Borthwick, Hill, Briggs, Lambert, Wilson, Robson (Lee 70), Hepple, Sharpe, Galloway (Brown 85), Christon (Ayre 85), Roberts (Crosthwaite 79)
Subs not used: Mackain, Greenwood, Gears