Varsity Football Preview
The Tab looks ahead to Friday’s big game, with Cambridge seeking to avenge last year’s penalty heartbreak.
This year has not been the greatest for Cambridge in the higher profile Varsity Matches, but James Day and his football blues will be looking to set that right on Friday evening.
Defeat at Rugby Union at Twickenham, Boxing at The Troxy, Rugby League at the Stoop and of course disastrously on the Thames last month means that a football win is all that stands between Cambridge and a sporting year of shame.
But hopes are high that the football team, so unlucky in last year’s defeat at The Abbey Stadium in Cambridge, can turn the tide at Oxford’s Kassam stadium this Friday.
The Oxbridge rivalry may be better known for its water-based counterpart, but the football Varsity is steeped in History. The match dates back to 1873, and is traditionally a tight affair. Over the 126 matches so far Oxford lead by just one victory (49 to 48 with 29 draws), and the two sides have each scored exactly the same number of goals.
In more recent history however the Dark Blues have held the advantage. Last season’s match was decided by the narrowest of margins with Oxford winning on penalties, and defeat for Cambridge this year would make it three years without a win.
The teams this season:
The light blue footballers have had a frustrating time of it this season, finishing runners up in their league, having led by 6 points at the half way stage. Captain Day, in a recent CamFM interview, put this down “awful opposition pitches” disrupting the passing style his team like to play. Recent friendlies have however provided some evidence that the team are getting back into good form before the big day.
The Light Blues before their game against UEA this season
The Other Place meanwhile have been excellent, winning promotion to the top flight of University Football, meaning that they will be playing at a level two divisions higher than Cambridge next year.
For those who played in last year’s final, which should be 4 or 5 of the squad, this is a chance for revenge. Day has lost both of his Varsity matches so far, and he will be desperate to get a taste of victory, but this is also an opportunity for Cambridge to earn something from an otherwise disappointing season.
Even without all of that, this is a Varsity match, and it could well come down not to who wants it more, but who can better control their emotions. Nerves, a big occasion, and a professional stadium (even if Oxford United’s ground doesn’t quite compare to some of the fixtures previous venues) could all interrupt a team’s plans.
This Cambridge side like to get the ball down and pass it. Quick wingers and power in the air up front mean that they will look to get it wide and whip it into the box, while the defence, which has been playing together for a bit longer, work well as a unit.
The Oxford side are usually less expansive. Their good work this season has been built on a solid defensive base, with a well-drilled team shutting opponents out of the game, and looking to nick goals on the break.
Experience in the key positions is always important, so Cambridge will hope that Stuart Ferguson in goal and Day at Centre Half, both returning blues, will win out in their battles.
But where the game could really be won and lost is in Cambridge’s ability to break down the Oxford defence, so Ryan McCrickerd, last year the Other Place’s creative force, this year likely to lead the line for the light blues, will be important. If McCrikerd can find a way through his old team mates, Cambridge have a real chance.
Don’t expect a runaway win, but despite the two division gap Cambridge could easily grab something at the Kassam. Oxford have to start as favourites, but it will be well worth making the journey if the Light Blues can pull off an upset.
Cam FM will be broadcasting LIVE from the game on Friday evening (kick off 7:45pm), and you can hear their coverage through The Tab, where you will also be able to read live updates throughout the match, followed by a full report after its conclusion.