Cambridge struggled to breach an organised Oxford backlineNicholas Foong

Cambridge University Association Football Club fell once again at the hands of their oldest rivals, losing 1-0 to Oxford – thanks to a late Leonardo Ackerman goal in a game not short of controversy.

The Blues’ second successive BUCS defeat of the season leaves them bottom of the Midlands 1A division, and makes a defence of their 2017-18 title an improbability, even this early in the season.

Looking to bounce back from a 3-0 defeat at Nottingham last week, the Cambridge coaching staff called for quick, precise passing during the warm up, reminding their players that they gave the opposition too much respect the week before, and that Oxford should not expect the same.

However, it was the Dark Blues who came out the strongest, beginning to dominate possession and looking more composed on the ball. Oxford’s Varsity hero Dom Thelen’s run-ins behind proved a constant threat for the Cambridge defence, and it was he who had their first chance, capitalising on a loose pass in the Light Blues’ midfield only for his shot to be saved low to the goalkeeper's left.

"Holding on for a 1-0 win, Oxford sent out an early statement that they would be working to demonstrate that their Varsity dominance was not just a one-off. ”

It was clear that he and Leo Ackerman remained Oxford’s most influential players from last season’s Varsity defeat, and a beautiful cross-field ball from the latter was brought down with ease by Thelen, who took on his man but found only the goalkeeper with his low cross.

Cambridge, struggling to get out of their own half, were condemned to defending Oxford set-pieces. The Dark Blues, seemingly in homage to England’s World Cup exploits, had implemented the so-called ‘love-train’ routine from corners, although without the same success in practise.

Oxford’s clearest chance of the first half hour came in the wake of a Cambridge attack. Committing men forward for the first time, the Light Blues were left exposed at the back, and a loose touch in midfield allowed Thelen to advance at the Cambridge defence and flash a low shot past the goalkeeper’s far post. The Oxford number 9, who had just been told to drop deeper in order to aid his side’s defensive efforts, gave a wry smile to his bench.

Oxford and Cambridge midfielders in an aerial battleNicholas Foong

The first controversial call came in the 29th minute, as Henry Alexander, an isolated figure for much of the first half, was brought down in the area whilst through on goal; despite emphatic Cambridge protests, the referee was unmoved.

Just 10 minutes later Cambridge heads were in hands once again, as a handball appeal was turned down. The Light Blue winger’s reaction warranted him a stern talking-to from the officials, and the scores remained level at the break.

At the start of the second half, Oxford almost capitalised on Cambridge sloppiness to go ahead. A Light Blue goal kick was given straight to Thelen, who advanced into the penalty area and, evading rash challenges from the Cambridge defence, chipped the goalkeeper, only for his shot to be cleared off the line. Had he gone down, Oxford would likely have been awarded the penalty.

The Light Blues responded, switching to a 3-5-2 formation, isolating Thelen up front and causing the game to become scrappier. They were almost immediately rewarded. A free-kick 30 yards out was met by a Cambridge head and guided into the bottom corner, but the offside flag had been raised.


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Oxford seemed to be shaken into action, and began to attack with more persistence. Again acting as the Oxford talisman, Thelen beautifully brought down a long Ackerman ball and seemed to have added the finish, only for a goal-line clearance to keep the scores level; the Oxford players seemed certain that the ball had crossed the line.

The breakthrough came with just eight minutes to go, and it was no surprise at those involved. A Thelen run down the right-wing was pulled back for the Dark Blue centre-forward, who laid it off for Leonardo Ackerman. The left-back’s low shot was struck too sweetly for the Cambridge keeper, who got a hand to the ball but failed to keep the effort out.

With just minutes to find an equaliser, the Light Blues increased the pressure, but a series of late corners could not trouble the Oxford defence; indeed it was Oxford who went closest to adding a second, with Thelen twice denied, by a fantastic save and the offside flag in quick succession.

Holding on for a 1-0 win, Oxford sent out an early statement that they would be working to demonstrate that their Varsity dominance was not just a one-off. Walking off the pitch, goal-scorer and captain Ackerman barked out to his team: “This is just the first of three, boys!” It will now be down to the Light Blues to prove him wrong.

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