The BUCS 2014 Championship final saw Durham take on Birmingham, with the sides already having met twice in league play this season. Durham came into the game having an unbeaten season including two wins against Birmingham (14 – 4 and 15 – 6) and wins against south league teams Oxford and Bristol. Birmingham on the other hand started the season in shaky form but pulled through to finish 2nd in the league behind Durham, to lead into a cup run, overcoming Exeter and last year’s champions, Cambridge along the way.
With both teams boasting international representation and stand-out players, this was always going to be a good game for supporters and neutrals to watch, however most people would have Durham down as favourites with an impressive 182 goals scored and only 39 conceded in 12 games this season.
From the first draw, there was a scramble for the ball as both teams fought to get possession, with Durham getting the first real attempt at goal, Jessica Nonn weaving between three Birmingham players to slot home after 1.19 minutes (1-0 Durham). Durham kept the pressure on early not allowing Birmingham to clear the ball easily resulting in a turnover which was eventually capitalised by LouLou Rowlands collecting a feed and finishing up high past Birmingham’s Harriet Side (2-0 Durham). Birmingham’s first goal was somewhat fortunate, a pass from outside bounced off Rowlands head into the Durham goal after 5 minutes (2-1).
The Birmingham defence were being tested at every opportunity by Durham, but waves of attack were repelled with Katie Armstrong and Sophie Whitehead making some important checks. At the other end, Izzy Mcnab in goal for Durham was showing one of the reasons they have conceded so few goals this season, making some impressive saves from the Birmingham attackers. The next goal came from Durham’s Hannah Khin, who sneaked a shot from a tight angle to make the score (3-1). Claudia Button would keep Birmingham in touching distance, picking out a high feed on the crease to turn and place past McNab (3-2 Durham).
In such a tight game, both keepers were called on and both pulled out some impressive saves, before Durham converted a free position shot (4-2). Button now starting to find the target netted the next two goals to bring the score level before Birmingham’s Hollie Harrington used her trademark drive from up top to put the Midlands side in the lead for the first time in the game (5-4 Birmingham). With 30 seconds left in the half, Durham tied the game, Gabriella Flibotte had time and room to wind up and rip a shot into the top corner (5-5).
As the weather turned from clear and sunny to moments of snow, followed by rain, the teams came back onto the pitch. The early action saw both defences on top form, Durham were playing a zone on the Birmingham clear making it hard for them to get into attack, but the hard-working midfield managed to find passes through. An injury to the influential Harrington forced her off the pitch, but her midfield sub Annie Miller would prove as much a threat by scoring the next goal to put Birmingham back in the lead (6-5). The game was opening up and it took under two minutes for Anna Featherstone to reply converting a free position shot (6-6). Just as quickly as Durham had equalised they were back in the lead as a fast break from the draw led to Nonn firing a powerful shot into the goal (7-6 Durham).
Kirsten Lafferty, Birmingham captain was a constant threat to Durham and she set up Armstrong to tie the game before Harrington now back on the pitch finished a free position shot (8-7 Birmingham). The tide was turning and Birmingham were now enjoying more scoring opportunities, Verity Harrington-Green firing just over the crossbar before Lafferty shuffled her way to goal to make it a two goal game (9-7). Durham were not going to lie down and stepped up the pressure, however while chasing the game they were shown a yellow card, meaning they would have to play a player down for two minutes. Both teams battled away for the 50/50 balls with Rowlands constantly working hard in the Durham midfield and Whitehead putting her body on the line, even running into a fence to chase down a loose ball. Durhams Flibotte and Khin would score a further two goals for Durham between a goal for Button to leave the game 10-9 to Birmingham with under a minute left. Harrington would have the final say, playing through an injury to score Birmingham’s eleventh goal with just over 30 seconds in the game, leaving the final score 11-9 to Birmingham.
In a truly epic game, with the lead swinging between teams, it was Birmingham who outlasted the favourites Durham in a show of great teamwork. Durham fought to the final whistle and had some superb moments in the game, with NcNab having an outstanding game. Birmingham’s Kirsten Lafferty was instrumental in the win and picked up the game MVP in her final game for the Midlands team who last won the Championships in 2010.
After the game, Birmingham coach Colleen Shea summed up the season;
“During the last few games of our season and into the playoffs, I feel like the team has been hitting their stride. It’s clear we peaked at the right time because today was the best and most complete performance I’ve seen all season. They played not only with intensity but also with composure for the entire sixty minutes.”
Final Score: Birmingham 11 – 9 Durham
Harriet Side Izzy McNab
Deborah Owen Carrie Gamper
Emily Walker Katie Evans
Beany Wadsworth Katharine MacFarlane
Georgie Eastell Alex Aljoe
Katie Armstrong Rachel Sweeney
Sophie Whitehead Loulou Rowlands
Kirsten Lafferty Jessica Nonn
Hollie Harrington Gabriella Flibotte
Verity Harrington-Green Anna Featherstone
Alice Horler Izzie Clifton-Brown
Claudia Button Jenny Hobbiss
Nicole Paterson Annabel Edwards
Tor Jefferies Addie Godfrey
Jenni Aiton Louise Jeffrey
Emily Hughes Hannah Khin
Annie Miller Claudia Bertolotti