Varsity Football: Scum Supreme In Shootout
A late goal and nerves of steel ensures Oxford retains the Varsity football trophy.
Oxford 1 – Cambridge 1 (5 – 3 pens)
Friday evening’s 126th annual Varsity football match saw the visiting dark blues shock a dominant Cambridge side with a stunning equaliser in the dying moments of normal time, before going on to seal victory in a penalty shoot-out.
The opening few minutes of the game were understandably scrappy as both sides sought to assert themselves on the game. It was Cambridge who gradually began to build a stronghold as ‘Paulo’ Hartley and skipper Michael Johnson ran proceedings in midfield while right winger Jack Hylands caused trouble on the flank.
Cambridge’s early dominance was somewhat short-lived however, as the visiting Oxford side came into their only real purple patch of the game during the middle of the opening half, mounting serious pressure on Stu Ferguson’s goal. A smart goal-line clearance from Mark ‘Sparky’ Johnson was required to avert the danger as Cambridge struggled with a dangerous Oxford corner. Centre-half James Day, who grew in stature as the match progressed, was then called upon to make his first real contribution of the game, tidying a scramble inside the 6 yard box with a strong clearance on 18 minutes.
Sensing this danger, the Light Blues were pressed back into action and rewarded with a deserved goal on 29 minutes. A smart cross from the right flank found Matt Stock in the box, whose quick header around the Oxford centre half earned his side a penalty when he was bundled to the ground by the beaten defender. Baxter stepped up, coolly slotting the ball home from 12 yards, sending International keeper Dwayne Whylly the wrong way, and the home support into a frenzy.
The remainder of the first period was played out in the Oxford half, with midfielders Baxter and Hartley running the show. The only negative in the first period for the home side was the loss of right back Mark Johnson through injury (much to the dismay of his future wife, Emma Green). Chris Peacock proved an able replacement.
The second half was a duller affair, with the home-side, it appeared, fairly happy to sit on their 1-0 lead. This tactic would later prove costly to the Light Blues.
The opening minutes of the second half saw a concerted attack on the Cambridge goal. Day was twice forced to clear long balls over the top with the Oxford striker Alex Biggs bearing down on him. After this the Cambridge defence, led by the imperious Gwyther, were rarely threatened.
Cambridge made two changes as the half wore on, replacing the industrious Gotch with Danny Kerrigan up-front, and the impressive Hylands with last year’s captain Jamie Rutt on the right-wing. Kerrigan made an immediate impact, putting serious pressure on the Oxford back four as both he and Stock ran quickly and directly at their Dark Blue rivals.
Kerrigan almost earned the light blues a second penalty when his clever run between Oxford defenders Flood and Thomas saw him tripped inside the box. The referee chose to wave play-on, much to Kerrigan’s and the home crowd’s disbelief.
The game seemed to be petering out into a comfortable victory for the home side until the 88th minute. An alleged trip was given against Danny Gwyther just over 20 yards from the Cambridge goal. Oxford’s James Kelly stepped up and unleashed a superb dipping left-footed effort that beat both the Cambridge wall and the flying Ferguson on its way to the top corner. The scum went ballistic.
The full time whistle occurred shortly after. Extra time was largely uneventful save for a thundering clearance to touch from Maynard which all but ended the linesman’s hopes of children in the future.
The game would be decided by a penalty shootout with the cart-wheeling Whylly proving the difference. Following Ben Quigley’s opening penalty success, Baxter stepped up for his second penalty of the game, which prompted an unbelievable save from the Bahamian, flying high to his right to tip the ball onto the post and then the bar. All seven of the following penalties were scored.
Cambridge’s penultimate penalty from Kerrigan appeared to hand Oxford the victory as Whylly again saved, though to the dismay of the Dark Blues (and jeers from the home fans), it was retaken due to his creeping off his line. Kerrigan calmly slotted home at the second attempt. This was in vain however, as the decisive fifth Oxford penalty which followed was tucked away by Elliot Thomas. The Varsity trophy would remain in Oxford for another year.
Tab Man of the Match – Mark Baxter.
CUAFC are sponsored by Cantab Capital Partners and the Varsity match is sponsored by a2om.