Durham Men’s Football 2s were left to rue missed chances as they stumbled to a 2-1 defeat against Leeds 2s at the Racecourse.
On another day, the Palatinates could have secured an impressive victory from behind but luck was not on their side. The game was decided by contrasting fortunes from the penalty spot, from which Leeds scored the decisive goal in the first half, while Durham failed to equalise from theirs in the second.
Durham started the game sluggishly and were duly punished by Leed’s early pressure. After three minutes, Steele just about prevented Leed’s left winger from scoring a fine solo goal, putting in a timely last ditch tackle to see the ball out for a corner.
However, from the ensuing set piece, Durham did not pick up their attackers properly. The in-swinging corner looped off the head of one of the Leed’s strikers and over the helpless goalkeeper Will Legg. With only five minutes gone, Durham were already 1-0 down.
With the onus now on Durham to chase the game, their passing gradually became sharper and they tried to exploit the right flank of the Leeds defence. Despite their best efforts, the boys in green were defending resolutely and the game descended into a scrappy midfield battle, in which a combination of good tackling and misplaced passes prevented any eye-catching football being played.
It got worse for Durham after the 15 minute mark. A clumsy challenge in the box gifted Leeds a penalty. The player from the visiting team made no mistake, sending Legg the wrong way with a low drive into the bottom right hand corner. The Palatinates were now in trouble.
Following their poor start, Durham finally began to get into the game and carve out some chances. A good run from Firoozan saw him ride a few challenges and play an incisive through ball with the outside of his foot to Fairbrother. However from a tight angle, the striker could only fire straight at the keeper.
On the stroke of half time, Durham had a decent shout for a penalty denied by the referee. Fairbrother seemed to have beaten his last man, only to be tugged back by the Leeds defender. The referee played on, which seemed to be the correct decision.
Following a stern half time team talk, the 2s started the second half as a team unrecognisable to the one that had delivered a lacklustre first half showing. Ricky Goulding had been brought on before half time and seemed to revitalise the Durham midfield.
It was not long until the Palatinates got a goal back. From a corner that had been initially cleared, Clarke did brilliantly to chase down the ball and keep it in play. He then delivered a sumptuous left footed cross back into the box which the Leeds defence did not deal with. Fairbrother seized on the loose bouncing ball and smashed the half-volley home, to make it 2-1.
Durham were now on top and Leeds seemed to be on the ropes. This proved to be true as Leeds replicated the first half mistake of the Palatinates, by conceding a soft penalty. Suddenly Durham had a golden opportunity to level the score line.
However it was not to be. The goalscorer Fairbrother was denied by a tremendous sprawling save from the keeper and Leeds were able to clear their lines once more. Durham were still behind and needed a goal desperately.
The Palatinates may now have been the team exerting all of the pressure but they were nearly caught out on two occasions as they were left thin at the back. A marauding run by the Leeds left winger was only prevented from producing a fatal third goal thanks to a solid save from Legg.
Minutes later, Legg came to Durham’s rescue again. A long corner eluded the scrum of bodies in the box and found its way to a Leeds player who had ghosted in at the back post. He hit his volley first time along the floor but the Durham keeper managed to get a strong foot to the shot with an unorthodox but effective save.
However, Durham continued to press for the equaliser. Clarke found the ball at his feet in the Leeds box but was only able to drag his shot agonisingly wide. Under sustained pressure, Leeds were playing themselves into trouble. A bit of hugely reckless defending somehow did not lead to a Durham goal. A Leeds defender was robbed on the edge of the box and the ball squirmed across the face of goal, beyond the goalkeeper. Fairbrother strained to reach the ball but his shot from a very tight angle only hit the side netting.
The pressure was clearly getting to Leeds and they were beginning to irritate the referee with their incessant complaining as they tried to run the clock down. Rightfully so, referee Barcroft booked two of the visiting team’s players for time-wasting and dissent.
However, Leeds could have put the game to bed in the final minutes. Another rapid break at a cost of Durham’s committing of men forward left their number 7 one on one with Legg. Once again, the keeper spared his team’s blushes with another fine save.
Durham continued to push but it was too little, too late. 2-1 was how it finished.
Photograph: Kieran Moriarty