North Down ladies 1sts faced Ballyclare on Saturday at Comber looking to bounce back from their narrow 2-1 defeat to fellow promotion challengers Armagh. With 3 regular starters unavailable and Ballyclare having become somewhat of a bogey team for North Down in the last few seasons, the Comber girls knew that this would be no easy task.
North Down started the game poorly and were under a lot of pressure from a confident Ballyclare side who it was hard to believe had only won one game in seven. As the half progressed the home side began to get a foothold in the game with Lauren Brown in particular trying to drive the team forward. Captain Laura Clarke took a nasty blow on the hand and had to exit but was able to make a return shortly after. Ballyclare had a chance to open the scoring when Laura Irwin’s initial shot saw the ball squirt across the goal line but Karen Moore was on hand to clear before the incoming forward could get the final touch. The remainder of the half was a fairly scrappy affair with excessive frees against both teams meaning there was little flowing hockey and the last 10 minutes passed without incidence. North Down looked sluggish and certainly had more to give in the second half.
After the break North Down stared brightly and were rewarded almost immediately for their pressure. Rebecca McBride made a strong run and her through ball was inch perfect to Shannon Booth. Booth took her chance early putting the ball through the approaching keeper’s legs to score her first goal for the club. North Down were now in the ascendance as the midfield trio of Selina Lewis , Clarke and Brown began to dominate. The Comber girls continued to push for a second but a period of sustained pressure and short corners came to nothing as a series of defence pass splitting passes from both Lewis and Brown were not anticipated and went to waste.
Ballyclare then bounced back and set up camp on the home sides 25 but the North Down defence, in particular Rachel Mornin and goalkeeper Laura Irwin, continued to thwart the visitors. After a series of short corners Ballyclare made good use of a variation to equalise with 10 minutes to go. North Down knew that 3 points was a must and threw everything into attack in search of a winner. Again short corners were not capitalised on and time was running out. With 3 minutes to go Clarke nipped the ball off a Ballyclare defender and squared the ball to Rachel Lucas on the top of the circle. Her effort was saved but the keeper could only kick the ball out at waist height to Clarke who brought the ball down and slid it into the net much to the home side’s relief. This result showed character and is the type of game in which North Down would have dropped points in the past. The girls now face a tricky trip to an in form Dungannon this Saturday.