By Lucas Wilson
Football in the North-East of England is infamous for its fiercely contested local derbies, where the likes of Middlesbrough, Sunderland, and Newcastle compete against one another in an attempt to establish themselves as the reigning champions presiding over the region.
These fraught sporting engagements have, not without precedent, become synonymous with brutal tackles, a hostile atmosphere, and aggressive, high-octane action.
After witnessing the inaugural clash between college neighbours John Snow A and South A in the Floodlit Cup this evening, I believe the case can easily be made to induct this particular Wear-side derby into these notorious ranks.
The match got off to a slow start, with neither side really applying a significant amount of sustained pressure on the other during the game’s opening minutes.
What did gradually begin to emerge, however, was a gritty physical battle between John Snow left winger James Barry and South right back Drew Blackett. Both players put in strong challenges which increased tensions both on and off the pitch.
It seemed only fitting, then, that the deadlock should be broken by an attack which originated down this side of the field. Barry turned Brackett, cutting inside onto his right foot and then unleashed a sublime curling effort which nestled in the top right corner of the net in the game’s eleventh minute – South A goalkeeper Connor Davis was helpless.
This moment of individual brilliance from Barry (one of many throughout the match) granted John Snow a new-found sense of momentum. Despite the best efforts of the South supporters and centre back, Yuta Osawa, to instil a sense of belief in the South A players, it was clear that they were being overrun.
The combination of Barry’s pace and power, as well as his neat link-up play with John Snow centre forward Louis Anderson, put intense pressure on the South defensive line. It was all South could do to clear their lines as centre back Morgan Lant repeatedly tried to play long balls over the top in a desperate attempt to relieve the pressure they were under.
Due to this, it came as some shock on the 28th minute when South evened the scoring. South holding midfielder, Joshua Jones, fired in a powerful shot from range, one which any goalkeeper would have struggled to stop. It was game on and the South supporters knew it, cheering on their team with renewed vigour.
However, this sense of optimism was shattered seven minutes later when South found themselves undone by a corner on the 35th minute from which Anderson thumped a header past Davis, putting Snow back ahead.
To compound South’s set-piece woes, a mad scramble in the box from another John Snow corner in the 38th minute led South to concede a penalty after the ball was deemed to strike the hand of one of their players.
The responsibility to take the penalty fell to club talisman Barry (who else?), who slotted the ball past Davis with assured confidence providing John Snow with a two-goal advantage.
It was beginning to look like a long way back for South, who found themselves being dominated in midfield and stretched in all areas of the pitch going into half-time. Unfortunately for them, this did not prove a game of two halves.
John Snow pressure continued after the interval, and it seemed inevitable that they would score again. And, through a thunderous strike from Snow centre-midfielder Mark Christie on the 54th minute mark, they did.
Yet again, Davis was powerless, and by this point the South supporters – like the players – knew it was game over.
Support was turned away from their own players and converted into scathing abuse towards the John Snow ones. Christie’s exuberant celebration drew a cacophony of some of the most colourful language heard at Maiden Castle all term from the gathered crowd. Sadly, this was probably the most fun that the South College faithful had all evening.
From this stage, the game admittedly became rather scrappy. For Snow, the job was done, and for South, the frustrated figure of striker Kaan Ozbasoglu was symptomatic of their offensive deficiencies as they struggled to break down the disciplined back line of their opponents.
Lean remained untroubled in the John Snow goal and, despite admirable efforts to play the ball long over the top to left winger Tom Fox, the offside flag proved a mortal enemy.
John Snow emerged deserved victors at full-time, with a comfortable 4-1 victory securing them a spot in the cup’s next round.
For South, the idea was often good but the execution was lacking. An imperious performance from Snow’s defenders kept the pacy attacking runs of Ozbasoglu at bay, and impressive performances in the midfield area meant Snow could take control of the match. Once they established this authority, they never really gave it up.
It remains to be seen how far John Snow A will progress in the competition, but for now, they can rest assured that they can indeed do it on an incredibly cold (yet not rainy) Wednesday night in Durham.
Image: Thomas Tomlinson