North Down made the short trip to The Dub last Saturday to play Victorians looking to bounce back from a disappointing draw against Ballymena.
Conditions were cold and blustery and North Down started the game poorly. Victorians dominated most of the early encounters as North Down struggled to get possession and when they did they misplaced their passes or were out muscled by a strong Victorians team. It was only a matter of time before North Down found themselves behind. The visitors were caught napping as Victorians took a free quickly near the left hand touchline and drove the ball into the circle. The initial effort was saved by Laura Irwin but in the ensuing scramble the ball ended up in the air and the Victorians forward took it well as she volleyed the ball on the full at waist height into the net. However despite their disappointing display until this point North Down were back on level terms within 10 minutes. Lauren Brown picked the ball up in midfield and made a driving run across the pitch, as she reached the top of the circle unchallenged she unleashed a strong shot which a Victorians defender could only help on its way into the back of the net.
North Down now started to find a little rhythm and began to string a few passes together. They nearly went in front when a through ball from Laura Clarke found Olivia Brown. Brown used her speed to beat her marker and round the keeper however a Victorians defender managed to clear the ball on line when a goal looked certain. Victorians had chances to go back in front but could not make use of a series of short corners and found Bethan Brittain and Rachel Mornin in central defence hard to get past in open play. When they did, Laura Irwin in the North Down goal was more than equal to their efforts.
The second half continued in much the same vein with neither team stamping their authority on the game and play swinging from end to end. Again Olivia Brown found herself through on goal but the Victorians keeper got down well and the ball was scrambled to safety. Half way through the half North Down again found themselves behind. After a spell of pressure Victorians made use of a short corner variation and the ball was slapped home at the left hand post. However North Down were back on level pegging almost immediately. Olivia Brown again charged through for another one on one with the keeper but rather than attempting to go round her she caught the keeper unawares taking her effort early and smashed the ball against the backboard.
North Down then pushed hard for a winner and as a result the game became very stretched. Both teams had chances and again Bethan Brittain and Rachel Mornin had to be on top form as North Down committed so much to getting a winner the defence were on occasions left exposed. With the umpires having signalled two minutes it looked like North Down were going to have to be content with a draw. A quickly taken sideline ball by Rachel Mornin found Natalie Wallace who controlled the bouncing ball, drove across the circle and swept the ball into the left hand corner on her reverse. Relief as North Down went in front with all of 70 seconds remaining but Victorians frustrations boiled over as they appealed with the umpire about the high ball but the decision remained. North Down put all 11 players behind the ball for the remaining minute to see out the victory.
This was the first 3 points of a targeted 15 from North Down’s final 5 games. The girls remain in second place with four games to go, three of which are at home, and they face Knock at Comber this Saturday.
Report by Laura Clarke.