A resilient Durham hold off a feisty Stockton side
By James Talbot
In a game where the away team were travelling with confidence, even with a bare 11 side, and a win essentially required, Stockton were unwilling to be cowed.
Durham enjoyed a first half of dominance, incisive play and comfort. They were able to control the lion's share of possession and restricted Stockton to playing merely with counter-attacks.
It did not take long for Durham to open the scoring, with Jambo receiving the ball in the middle of the pitch with time to pick out whichever pass he wanted. Iain Mason had made a fantastic lead in behind the defending centre backs and wide left of the D. Jambo played an inch perfect pass into Mason who turned and beat his marker. Taking the ball deeper into the D, the keeper came to challenge Mason, who rounded him and shot, only to see his shot be stopped on the line. It wasn't a clean stop however and Tim Hargreaves showed predatory instincts and was on hand to pick up the ball just off the right post and flick home.
In the hope that this a sign of more good things to come, Durham pressed on. Several chances fell Durham's way, one of the best of them being off a long corner from the middle of pitch. Jamie White had managed to slip his marker and found space on the right outside of the D. Jambo slipped White the ball, who carried the ball down towards the baseline and pulled back to the waiting Adam Khan. Khan took the ball out of his feet onto his reverse and sent a venomous reverse strike towards the back post. Keeper rooted to the spot, Khan had fired only inches wide, with no Durham player on the post to take advantage of what would have been an easy deflection goal.
The next goal was coming however. After some lovely interplay with several Durham players involved, the ball worked it's to Iain Mason in the D. Mason showed great strength to hold off his man, turn and flick the ball towards bottom left corner, with too much power for the keeper to do anything about. Durham were beginning to enjoy themselves.
The second goal had a frustrating effect on the Stockton players however and they began to resort to breaking down play with some vicious tackles. Durham led at half time by 2 goals to nil, confident that more goals were coming. Stockton rallied however and came back out after the break organised, determined and employing a half-court press. Durham were very patient with the ball and played some showroom hockey, switching the ball from side to side, waiting and looking for an opportunity to break through the lines.
No opportunity was forthcoming though as Stockton worked very hard to keep their shape and follow the transfer of the ball, leaving Durham frustrated. Stockton began to attack more on the counter and were awarded with several suspect short corners from the the home umpire, leaving Durham feeling hard done by. Stockton were able to pull back one goal from one of these short corners.
It was 2-1 then to Durham when in the final moments of the game, another short corner was awarded to Stockton, much to the chagrin of the Durham players, since the reasoning seemed flawed. The whistle went and Stockton were sniffing to steal a point from a tired Durham. Determined not to give in however, Durham worked hard to get everyone back to defend and Durham were desperately unfortunate to penalised again for a short corner off a what the umpire claimed as a stick tackle. Players sent back to the half way line again, they braced themselves for what they hoped was one last sprint. Once again working hard, Durham managed to fill the D with their players on the short corner and space was hard to come by for the Stockton players. One final tackle saw the ball creep beyond the dotted line, calling the short corner finished and the game completed, with Durham coming out victorious.