It was never going to be an easy couple of matches down at Sport Central for Newcastle as they prepared to face off against two very strong Northumbrian sides.
On paper, it looked like both Northumbrian sides would take home easy wins, since both are currently comfortably sitting at the top of the premier Northern leagues, whilst Newcastle’s teams both sit at third.
In previous matches this season against the local rivals, neither side had come away with a win, so it looked as though Stan Calvert would be no different. Despite this, Newcastle were determined not to go down without a fight, and although both teams lost in straight sets it was by no means a walkover.
The first match of the evening was the men’s (contrary to the timetabled schedule. Confusing, I know). Newcastle sauntered in fashionably late and with wry smiles, to cheers from Northumbria, and began to warm up. It was during this warm-up that Northumbria began to establish dominance.
Never before have I been more fearful for my life than whilst sitting on the side, as they were throwing around the balls so hard they thwacked against the wooden floor with a reverberation that that the futsal ref came over and complained was giving him a headache. Based purely on physicality, Northumbria made Newcastle look positively diminutive.
The game started off with Northumbria taking the first point, but Newcastle weren’t intimidated, with strong serves from Newcastle’s Nathan Fullerton and Ryan James, allowing the score to stay relatively even, making it 10-5 to Northumbria at the first time out.
Despite their obvious advantage in terms of stature, Newcastle put up a strong fight, and worked really well as a team, setting each other up with several well- practised and precise lay-ups that struggled to penetrate Northumbria’s tight defence.
“Going into the first set, there were several great volleys from both sides”
Strong blocks from a formidable Northumbrian side made life very difficult to Newcastle, as even Fullerton’s strongest spikes rebounded back onto Newcastle’s side of the court, or out of court to add more points to Northumbria’s tally, allowing them to take the first set with a comfortable 25-16 lead.
The second set followed in a similar fashion, as Newcastle struggled against impenetrable Northumbrian blocks. Despite this, they still looked slick, setting up several impressive dummies, whilst Zhou managed to score several points from some masterfully placed drop-shots that Northumbria failed to return, much to their frustration.
It seemed although Northumbria outclassed the Toon in terms of sheer strength and physicality, Newcastle were able to use this to their advantage.
Experienced setter, Pablo Fernando Del Hierro Cadena, added some stability to the Newcastle side, but it wasn’t enough against the clinical attacking force of Northumbria, who took the second set 25-12.
Northumbria continued their well-drilled attack in the third set, serving hard continually to Fullerton, who consistently managed to return. Impressively strong diagonally placed strikes from Northumbria were too much for Newcastle, who desperately fought and dived for every ball, with moments of pure brilliance from James, Banaszek, Rai and Cultrera. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough as Northumbria easily clinched the third set 25-12.
"Based purely on physicality, Northumbria made Newcastle look positively diminutive"
In a similar situation to the men, the women had an equally tough situation on their hands. Again, Newcastle sat at third in the premier Northern league, whilst Northumbria looked untouchable at the top spot, and they had not yet beaten them thus far this season.
In the warm-up, again, it became clear that Northumbria had strength on their side, and Newcastle were the clear underdogs. Despite this disadvantage, the three sets that followed were closely fought and, at times, Northumbria seemed rather rattled by such a strong performance from the Toon.
Going into the first set, there were several great volleys from both sides, and each point was hard fought. Setter, Petra Jeřábková, worked extremely hard to provide opportunities for her team, and Sareeta Dolores executed some beautiful serves that Northumbria struggled to return.
Such a performance meant that Newcastle pulled ahead to 8-9 in the opening minutes of the first set, but this lead wasn’t to last as strong spikes from Northumbria, that even athletic dives from Bonnie Ma and Jeřábková couldn’t return, allowed them to take the first set 25-21.
Josephine Panafieu performed some masterful serves going into the second set, and Newcastle worked really well as a team to set each other up, for spikes, with several dummies that caught an experienced Northumbrian team off-guard at times. Despite this, Northumbria cruised to victory, 24-16, with some incredibly strong blocks and well- placed shots.
The third set followed in a similar fashion, as Northumbria took it 25-15. However, Newcastle didn’t lose momentum, diving for every ball to huge cheers from the enthusiastic Newcastle crowd, which spurred them on in the dying moments of the game.
All in all, Newcastle should be proud of themselves after two very strong performances from both teams, that although did not bead Northumbria, certainly made them hurt.