By the end of Durham’s Men’s Box Trophy match against the University of East London, even the spectators were breathless. With seven goals, one missed penalty and a late winner for the Palatinates, this tie had it all.
Durham were firm favourites against a side who finished sixth in the Premier South with a mere six points, and were looking to bounce back after a crushing 2-1 loss to Loughborough in the Premier North meant they narrowly finished in third place.
But any hopes the Palatinates might have had of a walkover were soon extinguished. This was an incredibly open game from kick-off, and neither team were able to get the ball under control.
Despite the frantic start, Durham had the first two clear chances. First a Matty Cornish shot was smothered by the East London keeper, and then a fine break for the home side ended with James Philpott flashing a chance wide.
It was the southerners who got the first goal, however. East London’s tricky number 10 weaved his way into the box and was brought down, a clear penalty. It was dispatched tamely, but still trickled past Pat Ulrich to make it 1-0 to the visitors.
Durham went in search of an equaliser, and after several attempts finally got their reward. Cornish took the ball past two defenders with ease and played in Dan Gilbey, who produced a perfect cross from the left-hand side. Cornish sidefooted past East London’s no.1, and the Palatinates seemed to have lift-off.
Again, East London snuffed out Durham’s hopes. A long throw-in fooled the home defence and was helped on with a deft touch which wrong-footed Ulrich. The keeper saw the ball late, and somehow the away team were back on top again on the stroke of half-time.
Half-time was much-needed, but after the restart things got worse for Durham. A weak header following another defensive mix-up fell to the feet of one of East London’s wingers, who dribbled into the area and curled a crisp finish low into the net.
The home side could have been forgiven for giving up at this stage, but instead of whimpering they bit back. A fine corner from Cornish was touched on by Mike King and then finished by Philpott to give Durham a lifeline. Moments later Philpott flicked the ball over an East London defender’s head and pulled it back for King, whose powerful first-time shot was blocked.
It was suddenly all Durham, and the Palatinates could smell blood. Jack Dancey’s bullet header from another excellent Cornish delivery drew a one-handed save from the opposition keeper, but Philpott was in the right place to follow up for his second of the match and draw his team level.
And still Durham pushed, knowing that a draw would take this tie into extra time. Gilbey burst forward and blasted a shot at the keeper, who palmed the effort away. But the ball looped up, and as it came back down to earth Dancey was on hand to smash it into an empty net.
Durham were finally ahead, but there was still time for more action. In the final minutes Will Hargreaves dashed into the box and was fouled, winning a penalty. King stepped up to take it, but his attempt from the spot was far too potent, skimming off the top of the crossbar. It was a fitting way to end a frantic game.
Photograph: Tomas Hill Lopez-Menchero