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U18s: Durham 2 Northumberland 1

Semi-final hopes kept alive

Posted by: allan

Durham U18s finished their Northern Counties East League campaign with their best performance and possibly their finest result of the season by bringing an end to Northumberland’s unbeaten run in another intense and dramatic game.

For Durham this was a must-win game to keep their semi-final qualification hopes alive, but they were also seeking revenge for the narrow defeat to Northumberland in the ESFA National Trophy and they set about the game with the intention of achieving both.

Durham set up with a 4-5-1 formation to nullify the talented midfield of Northumberland and with the dual purpose of utilising the pace and power of wide men Joe Sloan and James Thompson to lead their attacking potential. The midfield trio of Matthew Jackson, Tom Hunter and Mason Hurworth formed an effective combination of strength, technique and controlled aggression which provided a solid base to stop any North attacks and put Durham on the front foot. With the advantage of playing downhill, Durham dominated the early stages but had to be aware of the attacking prowess of powerful striker Sam McLennan and the pace of Robbie Christie and Tom Hizzett. Their sustained pressure paid off when front-runner Matthew Law finished off a good combination move with an excellent shot across the Northumberland goalkeeper Liam Renwick from the edge of the penalty area into the opposite corner of the net to take the lead on 22 minutes. Northumberland were pegged back at this stage but refused to let their 100% record go easily and hit back when they could with quick counter-attacks with Josh Skivington getting free through midfield on several occasions and last-ditch tackles were needed by the dependable Durham defence of Liam Robson, Ryan Colquhoun, Nik Krokhin and Jonny Langley, who were directed and orchestrated by goalkeeper James Thorpe.

However, Northumberland are a good side and produced some moments of quality eventually tying the game up with an equally well-taken goal by Hizzett who cut inside the defender and picked his spot with a well-placed shot; 1-1 and game on. Durham were temporarily set back but continued to get the better of the exchanges as the half time break quickly came and went.

Northumberland began the strongest on the restart and Thorpe was called into early action to get down quickly to strikes from Christie and Skivington and turning a shot from Connor Walker over the bar. Durham were struggling to get momentum at this stage and relied on quick counter-attacks to relieve the pressure and get their defence further upfield. However, they eventually regained their first half momentum and the very, evenly-balanced match regained its intensity with both sides capable and eager to win the game. In a dramatic finale, it was Durham who struck the killer blow in the final minute when Yussef Hakamiou got on the end of another creative midfield through ball and placed a cool finish beyond the despairing dive of Renwick. With two minutes of added time signalled by the referee, Northumberland launched an onslaught and had shots blocked and parried by the desperate but committed Durham rearguard.  Durham managed to hold on to a sweet victory.

The Durham lads were well worth the result and revenge was particularly sweet as they gained the three points to move to second place in the table which gives them a good chance of a semi-final place in the Northern Counties Championship and captain Nik Krokhin was able to lift the Derek Watson Trophy to make it a job well done.

Since 2005-06 this was only the fourth time in 17 attempts that Durham have beaten Northumberland.

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