Birmingham women’s hockey team fell just short of taking the BUCS Championship this evening as they lost 2-1 to a Durham side who, despite being second best for much of the game, proved just too difficult to break down.
The players seemed confident on the journey up north. ‘We’ve been playing some good hockey,’ said Sarah Page, one of seven players set to graduate at the end of the year, who predicted victory ‘if we all play well.' 'We’ve had a bit of an up and down season but we’ve bounced back really well,’ added co-captain Sarah Haycroft, who was enjoying the opportunity to play in a final without the pressure of an expected whitewash of their rivals.
Heavy traffic meant that the scheduled four o’clock start time had to be pushed back 50 minutes following a five lorry pile up on the M1. Four hours on a coach is hardly ideal preparation for the biggest match of the season, but the team seemed in a good frame of mind as they took to the pitch to warm up and refused to accept that the long journey had had an effect on the final score.
Durham started the match the brighter of the two teams but failed to get a shot on Amy Jones’ goal as both sides felt their way into the match in the first five minutes. With Birmingham growing in confidence and more passes starting to find their intended recipients there was cause for optimism amongst the highly vocal contingent of Birmingham supporters who had made their way up to Sheffield to support one of Birmingham’s most consistently successful outfits. Despite early warning signs of Durham’s counter-attacking prowess, it came as something of a surprise when they did take the lead. Kirsty Dawson did well to intercept a powerfully driven pass into the D but Birmingham failed to clear their lines which allowed opposing captain Steph Elliott to drive a shot low and to the right of Jones, who was left with very little chance to make a save.
Despite the goal, Birmingham still kept the Lion’s share of possession, with Alice Sharp at the heart of much of what our women had to offer. Durham, however, packed the defence with bodies and at times looked the more likely to score when Birmingham’s attacks broke down - Cherry Seaborn may well have doubled their advantage had Helena Mortimer’s pass been a touch lighter. Sadly, they didn’t have to wait too long to do so, as a short corner resulted in Sophie Davies scrambling in a second.
Birmingham kept pressing, but half time arrived with the better side trailing by two. A rogue sprinkler gave some entertainment value when it turned on a section of the crowd at half time, but attention soon turned back to the hockey.
The second half was dominated by Brum and Durham failed to counter-attack to any great effect, perhaps because every player was behind the ball when not in possession. Anna Griffiths was unable to pick out a team-mate for a tap in thanks to determined work by the Durham full-backs and Jones was then called into her only real action of the second period with a fine double save from another short corner.
Then came the start of the comeback. In the 13th minute of the half Seaborn was given a yellow card, despite angry protests from the Durham faithful. The woman advantage was made to count by Birmingham from a short corner. Alice Brown darted inside from the right flank and drew a foul that was even more vehemently argued against by the increasingly edgy Durham support. Co-captain Emily Atkinson’s corner was worked to Dawson, who finished in emphatic style to halve the deficit and quell the hubbub along the sidelines.
It is difficult to adequately describe the course of the rest of the match. The gulf in quality was most apparent during the last 15 minutes of the contest. Durham were resilient and determined, but resorted to heaving the ball towards Jones from deep inside their own territory and bracing for another assault on their goal.
The best chance to level the tie fell to Rosie Bailey, who failed to divert Sarah Haycroft’s cutting pass into Harriet Tebbs’ goal from no more than two or three yards out with very little time remaining. A couple of minutes later, Durham were left to celebrate an unlikely of victories, though credit must be given for a sterling defensive effort.
Head coach Phil Gooderham was understandably disappointed after the match. ‘I just feel gutted for the girls,’ he explained, ‘I couldn’t have asked them to have gone out and done anything different’. Despite the devastation of missing out on the Championship trophy, Birmingham will be proud of a very fine performance and should remain confident in their quality as they approach two matches crucial to their Saturday Premier League survival.