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On a sunny March afternoon our King James Sixth Form squad travelled to Eastbourne Sports Complex in Darlington to play against a Darlington College team who they had narrowly lost out to by the odd goal the month earlier.
King James lost striker Lewis A to injury prior to travelling, and the stalwarts were joined by four Sunderland AFC Foundation of Light Scholars.
Playing conditions were perfect with a slight breeze and the sun beating down.
Under the new stewardship of Paul Jarps from Sunderland AFC's Foundation of Light, it was King James who started the brighter and quickly forced Darlington College back. Within the first minutes they were unfortunate not to take the lead, causing chaos in the home team's penalty area but unable to force the ball home.
The fixture was extremely competitive with both teams tackling strongly, however it was Darlington who took the lead after 20 minutes, converting a spot kick past King James shot stopper, Carl R after Ryan P was harshly judged to have handled inside his area.
This didn't deter the King James squad though, who pressed on and used their new formation effectively to exert pressure on the home defence; this was rewarded in the 25th minute when the lively King James striker, Will D was upended on the edge of the Darlington 18 yard box. With Kieran M and Ben H stood over the ball, it was Kieran who strode up and struck a thunderous shot past the wall and home keeper to even the scoreline.
The first half entertainment wasn't over though and it was King James keeper, Carl R who was next called into action when Darlington were awarded a second penalty of the day from what can best be described as an innocuous challenge inside the area, leaving both the Darlington and King James players perplexed. As the Darlington player struck the spot kick, Carl dove to his left to expertly save with the rebound being cleared to safety.
At the break the teams went in level at 1-1.
The second period was as frantic as the first despite the heat. King James defensive unit of Kieran M and Liam W looked in excellent form, being well protected by Harry T who was having a great game in the heart of the King James midfield. Full backs, Callum R and Ryan P were getting the opportunity to play higher up the pitch, and attacking midfielder Ben H was in outstanding form, driving at defenders and working tirelessly to win the ball back. Matthew T was holding well in midfield, strong and committed in the challenge, and strikers Will D, Nathan T and Connor J were working hard to prevent Darlington play out.
Carl was called into action again, tipping over expertly from a close range header from a Darlington corner.
It was Darlington though who regained the lead when they capitalised on some defensive uncertainty, but again the Bishop players refused to lie down and after some sustained pressure, Callum R drove forward from his full back position, beating three Darlington players with his pace and played the ball back to the on-rushing Ben H who drove the ball into the roof of the Darlington net from 12 yards. This was just reward for an outstanding performance.
The final minutes were frenetic with both teams desperate to get the winning goal but equally as resolute to avoid defeat, and when the final whistle blew, a 2-2 draw was probably a fair result.
King James' whole squad had worked tirelessly for the full game with some great performances, particularly from keeper, Carl however, the man of the match accolade goes to Ben H for his energetic performance, displaying skill, pace, tenacity and endeavour.
King James I Academy next entertain East Durham College on Wednesday 15th March 2017.
King James I Academy, South Church Road, Bishop Auckland, County Durham DL14 7JZ