Play-offs beckon for DUAFC after final day heartbreak

By Will Jennings

At half past three last Wednesday afternoon, DUAFC’s First XI had done their job.

Their local rivals Northumbria had been taken care of. Two terms and 10 gruelling fixtures had been endured, a turbulent run of games that had seen Chris Moore’s side accumulate a laudable 19 points.

A polished 3-1 victory on the final day had propelled them to the summit of the Northern Premier Division. All they had to do was wait.

160 miles south in the East Midlands, Nottingham Trent were yet to play. Loughborough, slumped at the bottom of the table yet with faint hopes of top-flight survival still lingering, were their opponents. The equation was simple: anything other than a Loughborough win and Durham’s temporary tenure at the top of the league would be rendered irrelevant.

It wasn’t to be. Despite its relative inevitability, Durham’s hearts were broken as Trent did what they knew was required of them and professionally swept their visitors aside in a 4-1 win. Celebrations ensued as the deserved champions took to social media to disseminate tales of their triumph. The title was theirs.

Durham have only themselves to blame after a season filled with doses of promise and inconsistency in equal measure. Only one week before, they had profligately failed to protect their two-goal lead against eventual champions Trent, conceding a crushing stoppage-time equaliser and therefore handing their travelling opponents the initiative going into the final day. They were jubilant. Durham were devastated. The emotion was palpable.

The game was a microcosm of Durham’s season, a campaign saturated with moments of opportunity yet one in which the team failed to capitalise. Back-to-back wins against Loughborough, Northumbria and Stirling were followed by a barren spell of just three points in four games, while a slow start to the season saw Durham accumulate just a solitary point from their opening two matches.

They will surely look back with regret. Despite that strong finish to the campaign a few minutes down the road last week, it was too little, too late. Indeed, it is difficult to argue that Trent did not deserve their success. While performances on the pitch have often been promising, it is ultimately results that matter.

Nevertheless, showings from much of the team throughout the season have been impressive. Captain Alex McGrath led his side admirably, demonstrating not only his ability to command but also his tenacity and skilful distribution. Fresher Ben Sampson has partnered him with considerable competence in the emergence of a dynamic midfield duo, while Gibraltar Under-21 international Tom Isola has been characteristically superb.

Going forward, target-man James Philpott continued his clinical exploits in his third year, scoring five goals and more significantly becoming Durham’s leading scorer in Northern Premier League history. Matty Cornish was even more prolific from the right-wing and finished as the team’s top scorer, while Kyle Patten’s composed finish in the penultimate game against Trent showed his goalscoring prowess.

Despite the Palatinates leaking goals with alarming consistency, Jack Dancey has impressed in defence. While the prestige of winning the league has been lost, the side remain optimistic prior to the advent of the national playoffs later this term.

Having finished runners-up in the Northern League, they are guaranteed a fast-track route straight into the quarter-finals, where they will receive a home draw later this term. They will enter the apogee of the tournament with a fervent desire to avenge the events in the regional competition.

They are aware of the magnitude of the task at hand. They will be ready. As a collective, we can only hope that they discover the form found all too intermittently this season and flourish on the bigger stage.

Photograph: @DUAFC via Twitter

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