Hockey Blues Triumphant in Varsity
The Hockey Blues are on form for the third year in the row. FELIX STYLES reports.
Cambridge 2 -1 Oxford
The Hockey Blues returned the Varsity trophy to Cambridge for a third year running after a dramatic 2-1 win at Southgate last Sunday. The Light Blues took an early lead through skipper Will Cairns, but were pegged back in the second half before Wes Howell deflected home the winner with ten minutes remaining.
The game began in stark contrast to 2013’s scrappy 1-1 draw, with both teams exhibiting flowing hockey on a sunny afternoon in North London. Charlie Bannister, the Cambridge coach, opted for a high aggressive press, a tactical decision which almost paid off immediately, Jamie Bristow’s early effort flashing just wide of goal.
After ten minutes of energetic running from the forwards, Cambridge finally won a short corner through Joe Rich. A Felix Styles drag flick was met with a smart save from the Oxford ‘keeper, but the rebound fell to Cambridge captain Will Cairns, who emphatically volleyed the ball into the top corner to give Cambridge a deserved lead.
Oxford almost hit back within minutes, when their centre-forward was sent through on goal, but Cambridge goalkeeper Sam Brooks reacted quickly to clear the danger. The Light Blues began to settle into the game, with Cairns and Styles spraying passes from the back, and Preston and Senaratne bossing the midfield. Cairns nearly doubled his team’s lead when he robbed the Oxford centre-half and surged forward, only to blaze his shot over.
Cambridge were firmly on the front foot as half-time approached, with Oxford’s attack looking short on both ideas and fitness. Half-backs Defroand, Cobbold, and Cartwright were advancing at will down the wings, while fresher Kieran Gilmore terrified the Oxford defence into numerous mistakes. The Dark Blues held out until half-time, although their deficiencies were brought into sharp relief when Dave McLean somehow evaded four Oxford players near his own corner flag in a spectacular piece of individual skill.
The second half began with the same frenetic pace, although Oxford had regrouped, and were by now enjoying the majority of the possession. The BUCS South Premier champions were hitting their stride, and this was reflected by a succession of short corners, the second of which was rifled into the roof of Sam Brooks’ net to level the scores.
End-to-end hockey ensued, proving nail-biting for both sections of the 1,000-strong crowd that had descended upon Southgate. Time after time, attacks were foiled at both ends, and even when it seemed Howell had given Cambridge the lead, the goal was ruled out for an alleged obstruction.
As the half wore on, Oxford began to struggle under the Light Blues’ high press and the physicality of the Cambridge defence. A clumsy tackle from one frustrated Oxon earned a dismissal to the sin bin, and Cairns’ men surged forward, winning a short corner. The Styles flick hit the Oxford’s captain’s knee on the way to goal, leading to the dark blue skipper limping off and a re-awarding of the set piece. This time, the drag flick was fed to Howell, who ghosted in at the far post to tap in his 31st goal of the season for Cambridge.
The massed light blue support erupted. With ten minutes remaining, Cambridge kept hold of the ball, and weathered a late storm of Dark Blue attacks and short corners, before the umpires blew the final whistle on a famous victory for Will Cairns and his team.
After the game, Coach Bannister commented: “We were delighted that everything went to plan. The boys were terrific: it was an excellent performance and they were deserved winners. We had the better of the game and caused Oxford some problems which they never came to terms with.”