BY MO SHER
Katie Natkiel reckoned there were plenty of positives for Crystal Palace to take from their 1-0 loss to Durham on Sunday.
The unbeaten visitors kept their FA Women’s Championship title ambitions on track thanks to a terrific strike from Mollie Lambert midway through the first period.
The Wildcats remain three points behind leaders Leicester City but Palace deserved more from a combative, high-tempo affair.
The Eagles dominated the opening 45 minutes in Bromley with Bianca Baptiste and Natkiel proving a real handful on both wings.
Despite enjoying the bulk of possession, they conceded first.
Beth Hepple, the attacking heartbeat of Lee Sanders’ outfit, picked up the ball just outside the Palace box before finding Danielle Brown in a pocket of space.
The midfielder cleverly used Hepple’s decoy run to tee up Lambert, who smashed home a belting drive from 20 yards, giving Chloe Morgan in the Palace goal no chance.
The goal strengthened Durham’s resolve. They continued to soak up the pressure going into the break with centre-backs Kathryn Hill and Becky Salicki the epitome of absolute resoluteness.
Baptiste was denied by a superb block from Hill, before Lauren Briggs cleared one off the line from a close-range Cherelle Khassal effort.
It was a more even affair after the break, with Durham offering a greater attacking threat.
Emily Roberts saw plenty of action on their left-hand side but only tested Morgan late on – the Palace keeper pulling off a very smart low stop when Roberts really should have put the game to bed.
That came after the dismissal of Durham’s Lauren Briggs for a heavy challenge which saw her receive a second yellow card.
Ashlee Hincks crashed one against the bar right at the death but, despite enjoying a numerical advantage for the final 15 minutes of the contest, Palace couldn’t conjure up the equalising goal their performance merited.
Natkiel said: “We’re gutted we didn’t get anything from the game but at the same time we are really proud of not just how we performed here, but this week as a whole.
“To have played the top two sides in the division [after a 1-0 defeat to Leicester in the League Cup quarter-finals last week] with basically two different line-ups and to have run them both so close shows the direction we are going in.
“It just wasn’t our day, but sometimes that happens. There were so many positives to take away from it and had Ashlee’s amazing strike gone in at the end, I don’t think there could have been too many complaints from Durham.
“Every single player on our side did everything they could and most of it was exactly what we wanted. We just couldn’t find that goal and they’ve had that one bit of quality with theirs.
“What this week has reinforced is that we can compete with the best teams and now it’s a case of taking the standards we’ve shown and putting them into practice for the remainder of the season.
“We want to finish as high as possible and that’s the sole focus now – we won’t be easing off.”
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PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD
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