St John's dominated the opening 45 minutes, refusing to let Selwyn escape from their own halfCharlie Stone

St John’s I held off a spirited Selwyn I comeback at Barton Road on Saturday afternoon to record a dramatic 4–3 away win and gain progression through to the last 16 of the Cambridge University Association Football League (CUAFL) Cuppers competition. 

With both sides having made poor starts to the CUAFL Premier League season, the Cuppers match presented a vital opportunity for the injection of some much-needed confidence, with a dominant first half performance from St John’s suggesting the away side were making the most of this. But this was all to change, as a revitalised Selwyn fought back in the second half and came agonisingly close to grabbing an equaliser to add an extra element of drama to an already-thrilling Cuppers match. 

Yet Selwyn’s poor first-half performance ultimately left them with far too much to do. With influential captain Joe Hudson consigned to a role on the touchline through injury, the home side’s defence looked shaky and struggled to contain the St John’s attackers or deal effectively with the astronomically long throws of Ben McCleery.

Indeed, within three minutes, St John’s opened the scoring. A ball down the right wing saw Michael Samuelson-Beulah granted acres of room to guide a ball across the box to where, lying in wait, Sam Smith was able to guide home a volley from six yards. And moments later, the away side had doubled their lead, as a McCleery long throw arrowed onto the head of Johnian captain Ned Gompertz, who headed home with aplomb. 

Stunned, Selwyn looked to rally. They put together some cohesive passing moves orchestrated by Alex Thompson and veteran Daves Hawes in midfield but very little by way of attacking threat resulted. Indeed, St John’s more direct route was paying dividends: a well-placed ball behind the Selwyn defence gave Smith the chance to coolly round Keir Baker in the Selwyn goal and inflict further pain on the home side. 

And as the half drew a close, the away side looked to have put the game to bed: a lack of passing accuracy and numerous instances of poor refereeing had seen frustration creep into the Selwyn game and the Johnians took full advantage, with the Gompertz sending Newbitt through to score a carbon copy of Smith’s second goal. 

With the score 4–0 to the away side at halftime, the opening 45 minutes had been the stuff of footballing nightmares for Selwyn. They looked devoid of confidence and lacking in ideas, but some choice words from Hudson and they came out in the second half all guns blazing.

And a few minutes after the restart, they found a foothold in the game. Josh Brocklesby’s long throw-in was spilt under pressure by St John's goalkeeper Dan Osbourne and Pablo Lemos Portela seized on the loose ball to turn home from a tight angle. Moments later, the home side halved the deficit as Sam Makin controversially beat the offside trap to guide the ball home.

Indeed, the referee, by all accounts, was having a nightmare and more controversy was soon to follow. Makin was set away by an inch-perfect ball from Jonny Dodd and, as the Selwyn striker brought the ball under his spell, he was clattered by Osbourne. While Selwyn screamed for a penalty and a red card, the Johnians canvassed for a free kick and a yellow. But the referee inexplicably denied the general consensus that a foul had been committed; instead awarding a drop ball after having taken but a cursory glance at the bruise slowly forming on Makin’s forehead.

Selwyn, feeling hard done by, took a few seconds to adjust and St John’s began to threaten further upfield, with Smith, Gompertz and Selway all seeing attempts fly narrowly wide of the home side’s goal. But the Selwyn comeback refused to abate, and with 15 minutes to go, Hawes set up a grandstand finish as he latched onto the end of a delightful chip to volley home.

The final 15 minutes saw wave after wave of Selwyn pressure and some superbly resilient defending from the away side. Yet, as dogged and determined as the Johnians were, Selwyn will rue their missed chances: substitutes Charlie Stone and Adam Parkins had the best of the lot, but both fired wide. And so a monumental comeback was not to be for Selwyn, though they will undoubtedly take heart from the quality of their second half performance. 

Indeed, St John’s skipper Ned Gompertz, magnanimous in victory, paid tribute to Selwyn’s efforts as he spoke to Varsity after the game: “This was a game that epitomised the cliché that football is a game of two halves. Finding ourselves 4–0 up at half time, we spent much of the second with our backs to the wall, unable to get any meaningful possession or territory. All credit to Selwyn for making us sweat at 4–3 for the last quarter of an hour, when our dominant first half performance suggested we would run away with it.”

After their troubles in the league, Gompertz will be hoping for better things in the Cuppers competition: up next for his side is a last 16 tie with Division 5 side Peterhouse for a place in the quarter-finals that the Johnians look almost certain to win. Selwyn, meanwhile, drop down into the supplementary CUAFL Plate competition to try and reclaim their crown from two years ago, a task that might be more tricky than expected as they are joined by reigning Cuppers champions Robinson I, who crashed out of the competition in a shock 2–0 away loss to Downing I. 

Selwyn I: Baker, Diana, Robertson, Brocklesby, Fox, Lemos Portela, Thompson (c), Hawes, Dodd, Massey, Makin

Substitutes: Roweth, Stone, Parkins

St John's I: Osbourne, Salter, McCleery, Shields, Campbell, Hearn, Selway, Gompertz (c), Samuelson-Beulah, Newbitt, Smith

Varsity is looking to expand its coverage of college sport this year. If you would like to either contribute or provide information for a match report, or some other news about your sport, please email