Cambridge's wastefulness in front of goal cost them a potential first Varsity match win since 2014Louis Ashworth/Varsity

A hat-trick from Oxford striker Rebecca May was enough to consign Cambridge to their third consecutive Varsity defeat in the first ever double header at Barnet’s Hive Stadium.

A goalless first half, in which Cambridge squandered a host of clear chances, including one particular near-miss from striker Xelia Mendes-Jones, was followed by a second half where all of Oxford’s chances of note resulted in a ball in the net.

It was an especially frustrating day for Cambridge, whose characteristic high line continually disrupted a packed Oxford midfield.

Despite being one division below their rivals at the start of play, the Light Blues played like they were one division above. Scarcely sixty seconds on the clock and the Dark Blue defence were broken down already, as a neat turn and run from the excellent Katy Edwards created the space for Becca Hirst to score a corner with hardly sixty seconds on the clock.

Then, Ceylon Hickman’s shot just inside the penalty area was blocked by Ellie Backhouse in the Oxford defence after Liz Ashcroft’s drop of the shoulder and driven cross had teed her up. No goal was forthcoming, but the warning signs were there.

The dogged defensive shift of Beccie Graves helped too. The Cambridge right-back gave Oxford no joy in the first half as Oxford’s Katie Plummer tried to get in behind her opposite number time and again, but to no avail.

Oxford’s five in midfield rather played into Cambridge’s hands too, as lone striker Becca May was much too isolated to worry the likes of Graves and Linnea Gradin. When the ball came down the Oxford left, it soon found its way back down the Cambridge right as Graves’s composure on the ball as she brought Ashcroft and Edwards into the game.

Edwards’s cross after some confusion between Oxford defenders Ellie Backhouse and Claudia Hill nearly set up Hickman for the tap-in but the ball fell just beyond the Cambridge midfielder.

Cambridge are dejected at the final whistleLouis Ashworth/Varsity

Meanwhile, the Dark Blues’ only real chance in the first half came as captain Caroline Ward tried to bend the ball into the top corner from all of thirty yards, but her shot was comfortably collected by Bleehen, who looked grateful for something to do.

The resulting counter-attack saw Ceylon Hickman dance through the Oxford midfield, but she should have opted to thread through to meet Ashcroft’s brilliant run instead of releasing a tame shot at May Martin’s goal.

Then, the moment that Cambridge would live to regret. A stunning run on the ball from Xelia Mendes-Jones left the entire Oxford back four on their heels, and as May Martin rushed out to close ranks, the Cambridge striker, on the edge of the box, opted to curl for the far post instead of dinking over the Oxford keeper.

Hours seemed to pass as the Hive held its breath, and then let out a collective sigh – half frustration, half relief – when it landed just on the outside of the post and behind for a goal kick.

The feeling was that Cambridge needed a goal before half-time to make their dominance count, and that feeling was proven right when, with two minutes on the clock in the second half, Oxford took the lead. Caroline Ward’s slide-rule pass was picked up by May, hanging off the shoulder of defender Gerda Bachrati, got the better of her marker, who went to ground much too rashly, and side-footed across the Cambridge goalie. It was Oxford’s first chance worthy of the name, and it was converted for 1–0.

The game started to open up as Cambridge brought star player Becca Hirst into the game a bit more. Oxford seemed to drop off the mercurial winger whenever she found herself on a forward run. On one occasion she found Linnea Gradin’s excellent run down the left wing with a good pass but the defender’s cross was too high and found only Liz Ashcroft, who had no one in the middle to pass to.

Bachrati later made amends, whipping a free kick into the box that curled too awkwardly for Oxford to deal with. The ball bounced once, and was met by the forehead of Ceylon Hickman. Almost in slow motion it crossed the line, with some help from the inside of the Oxford post. Cambridge finally had the ball in the net, and they were hungry for more.

But they had to settle for second-best as Oxford put themselves ahead yet again. The pace of the game was slowing noticeably, and Rebecca May got in behind Bachrati yet again. It wasn’t clear whether May meant to shoot, or whether she meant to cross, but either way the ball looped up and dipped in over Laura Bleehen who was nowhere near it. With the score now 2–1 to Oxford, Cambridge’s hard work had been undone.

Though Cambridge did create chances, few of them were worthy of note. Substitute Daisy Luff’s excellent through-ball to Becca Hirst gave the Cambridge player acres of space and hours of time in front of May Martin but her swerving shot looked trained for the top corner for only a second before diverting safely into the range of May Martin to catch.

Five minutes from time and the game was sealed, as a long ball out of the Oxford midfield wasn’t cleared by Cambridge, and Rebecca May sprinted clear. With Bleehen charging away from her line, the Oxford forward only had to drop her shoulder and roll the ball home to seal a 3–1 win for the Dark Blues – their third consecutive Varsity win

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