Blues win 3-2 on penalties
Football Blues top off strong season with Varsity victory
by Edward Abedian
Friday 16th March 2012, 21:15 GMT
Both teams came into the 128th Varsity Football Match with completely different form cards. Cambridge, after a storming season which has seen them gain promotion of their BUCS league, were striving to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat to their bitter rivals. Oxford, though buoyed by their 3-1 win last year, have had a tough season, rooted to the bottom of their division. The Light Blues may have had the momentum, but the game kicked-off with much anticipated apprehension and nerves.
For the first ten minutes both teams seemed content to spar with their opposition, with neither side capable of maintaining sustained possession. Nevertheless, the first glimpse of promise for the Light Blues came when forward Danny Kerrigan showed mercurial close control to draw a foul on the near touchline. The resulting free kick came to nothing, but Kerrigan had shown a glimpse of what was to come later on. Five minutes later, Cambridge crafted their first penetrating attack. Assured hold up play from No. 9 Sherif fed captain Hartley who jinked his way past the Oxford midfield to thread in Kerrigan on the right hand side of the box. Cutting inside, Kerrigan went down claiming a foul, though Premier League referee Kevin Friend saw otherwise. As the game's first quarter drew to a close, both sides would have been disappointed that neither keeper was forced to make a noticeable save. Yet Cambridge would have felt some satisfaction in that they had effectively nullified any potency from the opposition midfield, who failed to make use of their extra man in the middle.
At the half hour mark the monotony was broken. Kerrigan again lifted the crowd – this time drifting inside, between centre-back and full back, to deliver a rasping cross that just evaded the attacker on the near post. Cambridge continued the pressure around the Oxford penalty area, finally making the breakthrough in the 34thminute. A break from midfield fed in Kerrigan one on one with the oncoming Oxford keeper. Under pressure from a man on his back, Kerrigan squeezed the ball under the keeper to the roar of a lone vuvuzela in the Cambridge crowd.
Confidence was high and the Light Blues doubled their lead five minutes later. A throw in from the right hand side allowed Sherif to lay the ball off for winger Rick Totten to calmly place into the side of the goal beyond the keeper's reach. Oxford provided nothing in response, though credit must be given to the Light Blues who finished the half in complete dominance, finally passing from back to front with poise and menace.
The second half started as the first had ended, Oxford unable to control the midfield and Cambridge again looking threatening as Kerrigan drifted into dangerous positions in between the Oxford back four. The first meaningful opportunity for Oxford came after a cross was dubiously dealt with by the Cambridge keeper. Karakashian palmed it straight in front of him, only for Castro to blaze over the bar with a poor volley. Fifteen minutes in, Kerrigan drew another foul on the edge of the area, after cutting in from the right hand side. A wellcrafted free kick almost led to a third. Two dummy runs over the ball hoodwinked the Oxford defence who simply ball-watched as the it was passed into the centre of the box and laid off for a ghosting Kerrigan. For once his touch was less than perfect and from eight yards out the ball was edged clear for a corner.
On sixty-five minutes, Oxford coach Mickey Lewis had had enough. Fresh blood came on with the ineffective Castro, Rubenstein and Devereux making way. The substitutes had an immediate impact with the lively Onuchukwu marauding down the right and new forward Donald proving a nuisance in the box. A freekick from the right hand side gave Oxford the lifeline they craved for, though it came from a Cambridge head. With the ball gliding over to the back post, Totten inadvertently powered it into the top corner, a great header, had it not been at the wrong end.
The Light Blues looked edgy from then on and failed to maintain the possession play and pressure that had served them so well until then. A Childs free kick almost restored the two goal cushion, but his cross was met by the oncoming Cambridge winger who crashed his volley against the bar. With Onuchukwu providing Oxford some much needed urgency, the inevitable came on the 80thminute when poor defending in the Cambridge box allowed substitute Donald to wriggle free and squeeze the ball in from outside of the left hand post. For all of Cambridge's dominance, they had let their two goal lead slip. They attempted to hit back immediately, substitute Forde almost making an instant impact as he lofted a shot towards goal with the keeper scrambling back onto his line. The last 5 minutes reverted back to scenes from the first half, with long balls from either side being adopted in order to break the stalemate. Penalties would prove the only answer.
Fans made their way to the school end to exert some pressure as Oxford took the first kick. Captain Austin placed his penalty well into the bottom left hand corner, but Jamie Rutt replied with a calm shot to the keeper's left. Donald scored again for Oxford; yet Anthony Childs kept up the pressure, sending the keeper the wrong way. Oxford's Basset provided the first miss, his short run up perhaps the reason why he scuffed his effort horribly past the left hand post. Captain Hartley came forward to take the crucial third, but he too placed his effort past the post. It seemed as if it would not be Cambridge's night, for once again they had failed to consolidate their lead. Order was restored with cool conversions from both Biggs and Forde respectively. At the fifth, Oxford's Beddows charged in and curled his side footed effort high and wide over the jeering crowd. Totten now had the chance to finally win it. The sponsor's man of the match showed nerves of steel as he sent the keeper the wrong way, leading the Light Blues into joyous celebrations.
Cambridge coach Che Wilson could not hide his delight, 'I think the boys deserved it today, I'm so pleased as they've worked so hard all season.' When asked whether he had been disappointed to see the two goal lead slip away, Wilson remained characteristically positive. 'Look, we knew the third goal was always going to be the crucial one, but I'm just glad we've won the match and that's all that matters.' Captain Hartley took time aside from signing autographs to reflect on his side's performance. 'At two nil up at half time we couldn't ask for more. We we're very pleased with the first half performance, passing it about like we've been trying to do all season'. Hartley cited nerves as the reason for the second half collapse, but the character shown to remain in the game and triumph in the shoot-out will be what those at the Pro-Edge stadium will most remember from the night.