The ladies first travelled to Lurgan Junior High on Saturday to face a Lurgan sided tipped by many as favourites to win this year’s Premier League. Having made the same trip last month for their first game in the Ulster Shield, when they were on the wrong end of a 5-0 score line, the Comber girls knew they faced a tough task. Matters were not helped by injuries and the unavailability of 4 players leaving the ladies with a small squad of 13 for the game.
As expected Lurgan came out in a very attacking manner and put the new look North Down back 4 of Rachelle Adams, Rebecca Dalton, Laura Clarke and Rebecca McBride under a lot of early pressure. North Down weathered the storm for the opening 5 minutes before they found their feet a little and began to counter attack from deep using the skill of Katharine Hill and the pace of Ali Adams. North Down won the first and second short corner of the game however could not make use of either opportunity. Lurgan then again came back with wave after wave of attack piling the pressure on North Down but Rachel Russell used her experience in midfield to turn the ball into feet on several occasions to win a free and a welcome breather for her defence. North Down used these get outs to progress up the pitch and Katharine Hill had two good efforts well saved however there was no one following in on the rebound.
A sustained period of Lurgan pressure followed but the North Down defence stood firm and defended their goal, especially at short corners, with vigour. On the occasions when Lurgan did get the better of them Trish Neill in goal was simply impassable. The Comber girls were hoping to get to half time unscathed but right at the end of the half, when a Lurgan forward found herself unmarked at the penalty spot and the goal at her mercy, Neill made an outstanding diving save to her right, pushing the ball away at full stretch. Half time 0-0.
North Down used the break to re organise and started the second half brightly. With the midfield trio of Selina Lewis, Rachel Russell and Lauren Brown now seeing more of the ball, after having to work so hard defensively for most of the first half, the Comber girls began to make some attacking inroads and 5 minutes into the second half took a shock lead. After a quick counter attack North Down progressed up the pitch and after an initial save the ball came out to Rachel Lucas who made no mistake and put her side in front. The frustration and shock in the Lurgan side was evident and the reaction almost immediate. They piled bodies forward playing 4 players in their forward line and it was backs to the walls for North Down.
Seven minutes later some quick 1-2s saw Lurgan make their way into the D and get the equaliser they had been pushing for. However the home team knew this is a game they would be expected to win and continued to push hard for a winner. Again the North Down back 4 of McBride, Dalton, Clarke and Adams , with Neill marshalling things from between the sticks, stood firm and were well supported by their midfield and forwards who all played their part as Lurgan went all-out attack in search of a winner. As the clock ticked down and a point edged closer Lurgan were awarded no fewer than 10 consecutive short corners. With number 4 being dubious after a good tackle by Lauren Brown and then number 6 being well above head height. However when instinct saw Neill swat the ball down towards a Lurgan player another corner was given for dangerous play, despite the initial shot being far too high. From the 10th consecutive short (and their 14th of the game) finally the North Down corner team was breached with a mere 4 minutes on the clock. This was a heart-breaking result for the girls after the work rate and character they had shown. However moving from a 5-0 loss to a close 2-1 defeat shows how the squad has progressed in the last 4 weeks and plenty of positives can be taken into the weeks ahead. The girls welcome Queens to Comber on Saturday at 14.30.