"Despite some challenging periods in the game, Cambridge can take plenty of heart from their performance"Ben Phillips

Substitute Kosi Nwuba scored a controversial equaliser as the Light Blues drew 1-1 in a fiercely-contested encounter against the BUCS Midlands 1A frontrunners at Clare College Sports Fields.

The University of Derby came into the game as strong favourites, unbeaten in the league this season having won seven out of their eight games. And right from the first whistle, Derby showed their quality, playing a slick, possession-based brand of football.

“The Light Blues, however, were not to be denied, and finally got their just rewards in the dying seconds”

Early signs certainly looked ominous for Cambridge, with the skilful Derby left winger, who was particularly bright in the opening exchanges, only denied by an excellent reflex save from goalkeeper Jakub Sypniewksi. Derby again came close in the fifteenth minute, as the winger let loose a smartly struck shot from close range, which flew narrowly wide.

To Cambridge’s credit, though, they maintained their discipline in those challenging opening stages, and gradually began to gain a defensive foothold in the game. Well-organised under the guidance of former Cambridge United caretaker manager Jez George, the Light Blues set up in a compact, defensive shape, keeping ten men behind the ball and largely restricting Derby to efforts from range.

In an opening half of few clear-cut chances, however, Derby always seemed the side more likely to open the scoring. Despite managing to frustrate and stymy Derby’s attacking play for much of the first-half, Cambridge struggled to create any chances of their own, lacking creativity and numbers in the final third, with target-man Henry Alexander often cutting an isolated and frustrated figure in the first-half.

It was, therefore, little surprise when Derby opened the scoring early in the second-half. A cross into the box somewhat fortunately fell into the path of Derby attacker Jude Ayetine via a number of ricochets, and Ayetine finished with aplomb, striking a smart finish across Sypniewski into the far corner of the net.

With the Light Blues still reeling from the setback, Derby then missed two big opportunities to double their advantage in quick succession, chances which they would later come to rue. First, the Derby central midfielder was denied from 12 yards out by an excellent save from Sypniewksi and, moments later, Sypniewski produced yet another save of high quality, somehow tipping a fine effort from the Derby left-winger onto the post at full stretch.

Buoyed by Sypniewski’s heroics, coach Jez George introduced the imposing figure of striker Kosi Nwuba from the bench on the hour mark, and his arrival proved something of a turning point in the game. With Nwuba partnering Alexander up front, the Light Blues switched to a 4-4-2 formation, and their more direct approach and increased intensity levels caused real problems to a tiring Derby side. A sustained spell of Cambridge pressure ensued, as the Light Blues laid siege to the Derby defence.

Cambridge’s first real chance of the game came in the 70th minute, when a well-worked free-kick appeared to be turned over the line by Alexander, only for the referee to wave away Cambridge’s appeals, though later footage from the Varsity photographer did appear to suggest that the ball had indeed crossed the line. Another excellent set-piece delivery - this time from a corner - led to a free header for Noah Reich from six yards, but his effort flashed agonisingly wide. And when the impressive Oliver Lerway, whose quick feet and explosive turn of posed problems for his opposite number all game, again came close for Cambridge with a well-struck effort form the edge of the area, cynics in the crowd wondered whether it might just be one of those days for the Light Blues.


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The Light Blues, however, were not to be denied, and finally got their just rewards in the dying seconds: Sypniewski launched a long ball forward, and after the Derby central-defender misjudged the flight of the ball and missed his clearing header, Nwuba pounced, bustling his way past the covering defender to knock the ball past the keeper and tap home into an open net. Cue jubilant celebrations from Cambridge players and supporter and anger among the Derby players, who surrounded the referee, aggrieved by an alleged foul by Nwuba in the build-up.

Despite some challenging periods in the game, Cambridge can take plenty of heart from their performance against a Derby side who (at least, on paper) are far stronger than their Varsity rivals, Oxford. Certainly, Sypniewski’s virtuoso performance between the sticks, the promising Nwuba-Alexander partnership up front, and the grit and defensive solidity shown in the first-half stand Cambridge in good stead ahead of the 134th Varsity football match in March.

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