Durham Women put in a spirited performance as they fell to a narrow defeat against top tier side Leicester City.
The Wildcats more than matched their higher-level opposition, despite having to play over half the game with ten players after Abby Holmes’ dismissal.
Indeed, prior to the red card it had been the hosts who looked more likely to score – only for Leicester to strike twice in quick succession at the start of the second half through Shannon O’Brien and Molly Pike.
Lily Crosthwaite’s stunning goal reduced the deficit late on but Durham couldn’t find a leveller despite plenty of endeavour.
Lee Sanders once again took the opportunity to hand opportunities to young players in the Continental Tyres Cup, with Crosthwaite and Grace Ayre included from the start.
And the Wildcats competed from the off in what was a fairly low-key first half.
Chances were at a minimum with Jemma Purfield drilling wide for the Foxes before Mollie Lambert narrowly failed to connect with a corner at the other end.
The first major chance of the game would fall to Durham, though, as Crosthwaite cut in from the right and saw her powerful cross cannon back off the post before Leicester managed to scramble away as Bridget Galloway looked to poke home.
Galloway’s pressing and work rate was making life difficult for the visiting defence and she almost opened the scoring on 34 minutes.
After stealing possession from Ashleigh Plumptre, the striker bore down on goal but saw her lofted effort drop just the wrong side of the crossbar.
At this point it was the Wildcats who were well in the ascendancy, with Leicester offering little at the other end.
But the trajectory of the game would soon turn after Pike found herself brought down by Holmes when through on goal. Referee Matthew Dicicco brandished the red card, leaving Durham with a mammoth task ahead of them.
A tactical reshuffle took place at the break, but the second half was just six minutes old when O’Brien was picked out in space and drilled home from 12 yards to hand Leicester the lead.
And that lead would be doubled just seven minutes later as Pike bundled home at the back post following another deep cross.
At that point it would have been easy for Durham to crumble, but they rallied and began to put some serious pressure on their visitors.
Galloway again came close after charging down a clearance from stopper Demi Lambourne, before Sarah Robson glanced a header wide from a corner.
A raft of changes followed for both sides, with the Wildcats taking the chance to hand young goalkeeper Brooke Mackain and teenage midfielder Erin Nicholson valuable minutes.
And it was another youngster in the form of Crosthwaite who would bring Durham back into the game.
The winger, who was a threat throughout, latched onto Lambert’s stunning through ball before firing into the top corner for her first senior goal.
It was a fine strike and one which gave Durham plenty of hope.
From there on out, the hosts were practically camped-out in the Leicester half with Mackain’s long kicks putting Leicester under some real pressure.
Leicester did come close to a third on the break – Ayre sliding in to deny Paige Bailey-Gayle before Abbie McManus’ header was cleared from the resultant corner – but it was Durham seeing all of the ball.
There were some late half-chances, with Becky Salicki deployed as an additional striker in a bid to unsettle the visiting defence, but there was to be no late drama.
Nonetheless, it was another battling performance from the Wildcats who will take plenty of pride in how they competed despite their numerical disadvantage.
Durham XI: Borthwick (Mackain 76), Lambert, Robson (Bradley 76), Hepple (Nicholson 76), Galloway (Roberts 66), Crosthwaite, Salicki, Christon, Brown (Briggs 66), Ayre, Holmes
Goals: Crosthwaite 78
Yellow Cards: None
Red Card: Holmes 41