Durham breeze past Swansea to reach National Cup Quarters

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The Game

Durham University A.F.C. M1s produced a ruthless performance in the National Cup round of 16, thrashing Swansea University 5-0. Despite a rocky opening, Durham lived up to their pre-match status as favourites thanks to first half goals from Freddie Merrett and Tom Hizzett.

Swansea’s red card early in the second half all but confirmed Durham’s victory, and was swiftly followed by finishes from Jack Gibbons, Hizzett and Eirik Abney. The result sets up a tough quarter final tie away at Bath, but the men in purple will hope that their recent run of form can give them a lift against one of the tournament favourites.

On a sunny day at Maiden Castle, Durham knew that a fast start was essential to make sure that they did not slip up in this fixture. Chances were scarce in the first 15 minutes, but Durham dominated the ball and rarely let Swansea enter their defensive third.

The only downside to the opening was an injury to Ollie England, who was forced off due to a hyperextended knee. His replacement Abney, however, made sure that England’s presence was not missed, and was commanding in defence and attack throughout the match.

The breakthrough came courtesy of a corner, after good play on the wing by Zach Alfalahi. Gibbons whipped the ball in, putting it on a plate for Merrett, who timed his volley beautifully, tucking it into the bottom corner, well out of the goalkeeper’s reach. Durham continued to dominate, continuing to threaten on both wings and from set-pieces, with Morgan Lant, brought into the team for the injured Maxen Garagic, having the best opportunity, heading narrowly wide from a corner.

With ten minutes left in the first half, Fin Gwillim produced a mazy run through the Swansea defence, before playing Hizzett in. Hizzett continued his goalscoring form that won him January Player of the Month, and squeezed the ball past the goalkeeper, who got a decent hand to the ball.

After the break, Swansea threatened to get back into the match quickly, but Durham’s defence was impenetrable. In fact, it was Durham who had the best chance early on, with Gwillim striking the post from close range. Abney was there for the follow up and forced a strong save from the Swansea keeper.

Abney was commanding in defence and attack throughout the match

With an hour on the clock, the match heated up. Swansea’s forward threw an elbow at Jack Camarda, causing arguments amongst the Durham and Swansea players. The forward was shown a red card, with Merrett, Gibbons, Camarda and Matt Keogh all picking up yellow cards. Keogh was sinbinned as a result of his actions.

Swansea had no time to capitalise on Durham’s missing defender, as Gibbons added a third minutes later. Abney launched one of his trademark long throws into the six- yard box and, after a few ricochets, Gibbons was able to get a clean shot off to make it 3-0.

From then on, it was Durham dominance. Buoyed by the return of Keogh, Durham pressed forward, with Gwillim and Hizzett constantly linking up and creating chances. Eventually, they got their reward. Gwillim rose highest to flick on yet another Abney throw, leaving Hizzett a free header at the far post. The number 11 made no mistake.

With the pressure off, Durham were able to show their quality in the final stages, seeing the match out without any drama. Swansea only had their first shot of the half in the 83rd minute, indicating the one-sided nature of the match. In the closing minutes, Abney got a goal to show for his fine performance, guiding his volley past the goalkeeper from another Gibbons corner.

This cup run, on top of their final day survival, gives Durham great momentum coming into the closing matches of the season. Hopefully the purple patch will carry on to end the season in the strongest way possible.

What was said

A tired but delighted M1s captain Jack Gibbons was asked about his team’s recent run of form, and his thoughts on the next match. He said:

“It is huge. Before Christmas, we had lost quite a few games and drawn quite a few. The aim was to just pick up points and stay up and we’ve done it. We have also got people back from injuries. We’re going into every game confident and that makes a huge difference. “It’ll be a tough game. Bath finished near the top of their group. They’re a good team, from a footballing university and it is a long travel, so we just need to keep up our momentum that we had in recent matches.”

The game was won on the wings

A feel-good atmosphere

One could wonder what might have been, had Durham shown this kind of form at the start of their league campaign. This win represents three on the bounce, with so many players starring at different points in the match.

The game was won on the wings. Rob White was a constant threat on the right flank, providing an outlet and regularly taking on the defence, providing Durham the territory needed to dominate. His link-up play with Hizzett has aided the striker’s recent scoring form and, whilst he did not get an assist today, created many chances for his teammates.

On the left, Abney was unstoppable. One might forgive him if he started slowly, having come off the bench unexpectedly early due to England’s injury, but he wasted no time in getting stuck in. Conceding a throw-in anywhere near the penalty area was a bad idea for Swansea, and Abney was able to launch the throws into the box with ease. He can be very satisfied with a goal and assist.

Gibbons produced yet another classically consistent captaincy performance, being vocal throughout the match and carrying the ball forward with ease and composure. He showed his prowess over set-pieces, with many of his balls into the box ending up in big chances or goals. Alongside Camarda, the two Jacks starved Swansea of possession and quickly cut short any potential counter attacks.

Once again, Hizzett and Gwillim were there to reap the rewards. Whilst Alfalahi had an uncharacteristically quiet performance, the other two members of the front three worked seamlessly. Hizzett’s goalscoring form is relentless and Gwillim quietly proved his worth, dropping back more to collect the ball and acting more as a provider for the majority of the match.

The people who turned up to the track pitch to support their friends or teammates were in good voice and a relaxed atmosphere reflected Durham’s recent form and results, which has brought smiles to the players’ faces. Performances like these give Durham great hope that they can go far in this competition and, with many of the players still being in Durham next year, hopefully they can challenge towards the sharp end of the league in the 2023/24 season.

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