Categories: General Date: 30/04/17 Title: U18s: Durham 1 Essex 2 (aet)Durham lose again in National final
Durham’s season came to a pulsating end in the ESFA National Inter-County Trophy Final which saw the better side lose at Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena. Essex took the spoils and the trophy but the Durham lads won the hearts of the spectators in a very tight contest worthy of the former Premier League Club’s venue in which the Durham players excelled.
The game kicked off in glorious late afternoon sunshine and the first five minutes saw action at both ends. Dan Mitchell showed his intentions with a spectacular ball over the Essex defence into the path of Dan Maddison which was hastily cleared. Durham then forced a corner from which Jay Redman found Mitchell and his powerful header was nearly converted by Maddison but scooped up by Essex goalkeeper Ibrahim Ugrader on his line. Immediately following this Essex went up the other end and worked the ball through the middle for Solomon Ogunwomoju whose shot was deflected up off the foot of a defender and over the despairing dive of Kieran Stoker in the Durham goal to give Essex a 1-0 lead. All this goalmouth action in the first five minutes suggested that a goal filled thriller was on the cards but the game evolved into a tight, tense affair with both sides fully committed and willing to express themselves on this grand stage. Durham settled quickly and did not let this early setback worry them as they found the rhythm for their passing game.
The pace of Ogunwomoju and ESFA U18 international Max Watters caused problems for the settled and dependable rearguard of Fraser Colling, Tom Joyce, Nathan Kett and Callum Webster. Durham meanwhile, had the engine room of Billy Hall, Dan Mitchell and Adam Little and the creativity of Jay Redman providing the opportunities for Andrei Ardelean and Maddison. Durham forced corners and free kicks which Redman forced Ugrader to punch clear under pressure and at the other end Stoker had to shuffle backward to turn a header over the bar, but it was Durham that edged it for possession as the game swung back and forth.
The second half followed a similar pattern with enthusiastic pressing and good possession from Durham, and Essex looking threatening on the break. Watters twice broke the Durham defensive line to provide a cross which Ogunwomoju just failed to convert at the far post and he then pulled a shot wide across Stoker from a good position. However, it was Durham who continued to provide the greater effort to score as Essex tired. Substitute Jak Hanson brought some tireless running and good combination play to create extra problems for the Essex defence. On 85 minutes Redman won the ball in his own half and Callum Smith combined with the overlapping Colling whose cross was partially cleared to Aaron Duell who produced a well executed, delicate chip over the Essex defence for Jay Redman who composed himself and guided home to deservedly level the scores and take the game into extra-time. The momentum was with Durham as the added four minutes passed and the final whistle came.
Durham started extra-time with the confidence they could go all the way as Essex were visible tiring, only for the Durham dreams to implode as Godfrey Kambaza scored a second to make it 2-1. They lost the ball high up on the left hand side of the field and Essex switched play unchallenged before three Durham players pressed the ball and Harry Hart slipped the ball through for Kambaza to cut inside his defender and finish low into Stoker’s far corner. Despite a massive effort from the Durham team they could not find that final pass or killer touch to bring the scores level and Essex desperately held on to finish the game in front.
Durham’s midfield playmaker Dan Mitchell was philosophical when he stated ‘It was a great experience for both teams to play in such a close game in a fantastic stadium and I enjoyed the whole occasion despite the result.’
A disappointed but proud manager Rob Hope commented ‘The lads can be proud of their efforts and consider themselves unlucky not to have their hands on the trophy. Their application and commitment was superb and we were very worthy opponents in a well fought final and probably deserved more. That’s the fine margins of success and failure in football. We had five first year players out there today and we hope it has whetted their appetite to come back for more.’
This was Durham’s fourth appearance in the ESFA U18 Inter-county Trophy final and their losing streak continued.