Selwyn I sneaked through to the semi-finals of the Cambridge University Association Football League (CUAFL) Plate competition, overcoming a tenacious Homerton I side via a penalty shootout to conclude a topsy-turvy thriller at Homerton College on Saturday afternoon.
Though both teams were in fine form – Homerton were seeking to maintain their 100 per cent record in CUAFL Division 3 this season, while Selwyn were four games unbeaten in the CUAFL Premier League – the away side went into the match very much as the favourites. But Homerton’s unusually tiny pitch, the effect of late arrivals, a shortened pre-match warm-up, and a degree of complacency seemed to hinder the Selwynites, who rarely showed their quality throughout the game.
Indeed, barely two minutes into the match, Homerton should have scored an unlikely opener: a through-ball bisected the Selwyn centre-backs and sent Chinedum Echeta away, but the striker could not beat a resolute Keir Baker in the Selwyn goal. Yet, despite this danger sign, the away side were not alive to the pace of Homerton’s attack – particularly Nick Jones and Justin Maroy, who were constant threats down the wing – and with five minutes on the clock, Echeta capitalised on another through-ball to slide the ball calmly home.
Stunned, Selwyn tried to rally but it was to no avail as Homerton swiftly doubled their lead, as Jordan de la Prida’s free-kick from 20 yards out sailed majestically into the top right corner. The barrage from the home side continued, and it was thanks to a vital defensive header off the line from Tom Higgins Toon and another save from close range from Baker that the Premier League side remained in it by the 20-minute mark.
But then the Selwynites woke up. Unable to utilise the pace of wingers James Massey and Charlie Stone thanks to the pitch's dimensions, the away side had altered their approach and began to threaten. Sam Makin saw two shots fly agonisingly wide, while Oscar Wilson in the Homerton goal did superbly to deny a freekick from Jonny Dodd that looked destined for the top corner.
But the pressure began to toll and, from a stroke of luck, Selwyn finally grabbed a foothold in the game with five minutes left in the first half. A poor clearance from Wilson fell to Higgins Toon and, keeping his composure, the Selwyn midfielder drove the ball home from over 30 yards out to grab his first goal of the season. In fact, with the frenetic first half drawing to a close, he could have doubled his tally as he headed a Dodd free kick over from close range.
And early in the second half, Homerton’s 2–1 lead looked under threat, with resolute defending from Jacques Smailes and Toby Brown keeping Selwyn at bay. Increasingly frustrated, as Massey, Stone and Makin all saw shots saved, the away side kept pushing forward and, moments after a Dodd free-kick was deflected narrowly over, they finally struck: a long throw from Josh Brocklesby was flicked on by Pablo Lemos Portela to present Alex Thompson with the opportunity to steer home the equaliser.
Relieved to be back in the game, Selwyn continued to push. But, in their eagerness, they left themselves open at the back and Homerton very nearly capitalised on two occasions: Jones should have done better one-on-one with Baker but could not beat the Selwyn goalkeeper, while substitute Cam James was desperately unlucky to see his piledriver slam the crossbar.
Undeterred, however, the home side took an unlikely lead with five minutes left on the clock. Selwyn failed to deal with a free-kick that found its way to James, who selflessly steered the ball back across the box for George Boughton to tap in from point-blank range.
Staring elimination from the Plate competition they had won two years ago, Selwyn’s heads dropped and they resorted to unthreatening long balls from which it seemed they would never equalise. But substitute Adam Parkins had other ideas: seizing on the loose ball, he muscled his way into the box and, as he was chopped down just before he could pull the trigger, the referee had no choice but to award a penalty, which Massey – holding his nerve in the last minute of the match – dispatched low into the bottom left corner to take the match to 3–3.
So, with the light dwindling fast, the game entered extra-time, which was a tense affair that lacked any goalmouth action to prevent the lottery of penalties. And it was to be Selwyn who prevailed as Massey, Dodd, Lemos Portela and Brocklesby all converted before a superb one-handed save from Baker kept out de la Prida’s penalty to secure the away side a 4–3 win in the shootout.
Despite the result going against perhaps the more deserving team, Homerton’s Nick Jones – speaking to Varsity post-match – was determined that the heartbreak would not inhibit his side’s success next term: “We’re obviously gutted to have gone out of the cup on penalties – it’s a cruel way to lose a match that we could have won. Credit to Selwyn for hanging in there and coming from behind twice in the match. As our skipper Toby [Brown] has said so wisely in the past, for the rest of the season we’ll be looking to score more goals and get more three points, and hopefully, win promotion into Division 2.”
Homerton I: Wilson, Cawthorne, Brown (c), Smailes, Fryer, Dodd, Boughton, Jones, De La Prida, Maroy, Echeta.
Substitutes: James, Patwary
Selwyn I: Baker, Robertson, Comb, Brocklesby, Dodd, Stone, Lemos Portela, Higgins Toon, Thompson (c), Massey, Makin
Substitutes: Amand, Parkins
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