By Kieran Moriarty
Durham Women’s Football 1s firmly asserted their claim to be the best team in purple against Loughborough 1s, storming to an emphatic 4-0 win.
Despite the intense rivalry between both institutions, this match was primarily concerned with pride for teams at the opposite ends of the table. While Loughborough languish at second bottom in the league, Durham are flying high in second behind local rivals Northumbria.
Despite their contrasting league positions, it was Loughborough who started in the ascendancy. In the early stages, it was the visitors who had the majority of the early pressure and began to exert pressure on the Palatinates’ defence. Nevertheless, on this cold winter night Durham soon warmed into the game and promptly neutralised the growing Loughborough threat.
Durham now were gradually growing into the game and seeing far more of the ball. However there was very little they could do with it as a result of a stout Loughborough defence.
After 20 minutes of this stalemate, the game finally burst into life as the Palatinates made the breakthrough. Emory Camper carried the ball out of the midfield scrum and played a neat ball into the Loughborough penalty area. Amelia Pereira seized upon the loose ball and, while surrounded by several defenders, managed to fire away a low shot into the bottom left hand corner, to put Durham into the lead.
This goal invigorated Durham and it was only a matter of time before they doubled their lead. A warning had been issued to Loughborough following a training ground-esque free kick from Durham, in which Pereira volleyed into the side netting. Minutes later, Durham did get their goal. Naomi Feltham scampered down the left wing and whipped in a teasing low cross into the visitors area. Nikki Gears ghosted into the box and slipped in front of her marker to produce a deft flicked finish beyond the Loughborough keeper to make it 2-0.
Durham’s display had become progressively classier as they went further ahead. Yet nobody could have predicted the extraordinary fashion in which Durham would make it 3-0. Emory Camper scored a goal that could surely be a contender for one of the greatest seen on the rubber crumb at Maiden Castle. Receiving the ball from about 20 yards out, she sidestepped an onrushing defender and then struck a rasping effort as the ball bounced off the turf. The shot swerved in a glorious outwards arc and crashed into the net off the underside of the crossbar. The keeper could only watch on helpless and admire such a stunning effort.
Durham took their 3-0 lead into break and began the second half as comfortably as they had finished the first. Within minutes, they nearly made it four. A fluid passing exchange saw the ball fall on the volley to Sarah Wilson from close range. Her effort seemed destined for the top corner but the goalkeeper pulled off a stupendous save to tip the shot over the bar and keep the scoreline credible for Loughborough.
With the game comfortably under control and Loughborough offering little in terms of resistance, the match effectively ended as a contest. Durham continued to go through the motions and have the lion’s share of possession. Yet there was little cutting edge as there was no pressing need to look for another goal.
Late on, the Palatinates had another flourish, spurning a few decent chances to make it 4-0. This was in part due to profligacy in front of goal but also to the stubborn resilience of the Loughborough keeper, who made another two great saves to spare her team’s blushes.
Despite the goalkeeper’s resistance, Durham did get their fourth goal. A routine through ball found Camper on side with acres of space and time to kill. One on one, the midfielder made no mistake and calmly slotted the ball into the bottom right hand corner to seal an impressive victory for the Palatinates.
Greater challenges will face the Women’s team this year. Yet this was a performance worthy of champions.
Photograph: Team Durham