Fran Mangeolles on the ballHannah Mawardi with permission for Varsity

Ella O’Connell’s early goal was enough to see the Blues beat Loughborough 2s and advance to the semi-final of the Women’s National Championship.

The only goal of the game came within the opening ten minutes as O’Connell’s fine strike from outside the box beat the Loughborough keeper. Or so I was told, having arrived just after the goal, but within plenty of time for the two o’clock kick off I had obviously imagined. Cambridge’s great start was not matched by my own. Fortunately, the goal was described to me by a friendly St Edmund’s postgrad called Zubair, whose company throughout the game was welcomed during what was, at times a turgid affair. But perhaps that doesn’t do the game justice, it was a proper cup tie and as a lover of the game, one I thoroughly enjoyed.

The goal was followed by a cagey first half, with neither side able to really take the initiative. Some confusion at the back led to an opening for the visitors, but the strike from outside the box rattled the bar. The sound of the woodwork seemed to reawaken Cambridge, as a nice move down the left saw O’Connell beat two players before her cross was pulled wide. This summed up her excellent performance, the winger’s movement and trickery throughout the game was a joy to watch, with Cruyff turns even the Dutchman himself would’ve been proud of. She was obviously a fellow lover of FIFA 19, as she even pulled out a La Croqueta at one point allowing me to reminisce about the good old days. Towards the end of the game she moved in behind the striker where her vision brightened up a second half where Cambridge chances were sparse. Speaking to vice-captain Abbie Hastie before the game, she told me O’Connell was one to watch and she certainly delivered. A player of the match performance in the biggest of games.

The half ended without any further goalmouth action to leave the hosts 45 minutes away from a place in the last four. It would be a long 45 minutes though. Loughborough were on the front foot from the start and a couple of early corners needed to be well cleared. This pressure did leave the visitors susceptible to a counterattack however, as on the hour mark a ball over the top broke for Jasmine Wright who forced a save out of the keeper. Despite this, the pressure continued to build on the Blues as Loughborough pushed for an equaliser. Cambridge continued to battle though and the section of the pitch in front of me was a mud bath by the end of the game, thanks to the consistent drizzle in combination with the fierce tackling of right-back Lara Branston who epitomised the attitude of the home players.


Mountain View

Wrens soar in the BUCS league

Despite the pressure, Cambridge’s goalkeeper and captain, Emilia Keavney (who was back after a spell out with a broken finger) was hardly tested. This is testament to the home side’s backline who thoroughly deserved their clean sheet. Loughborough did have the ball in the back of the net with 15 minutes to go, but it was ruled out for a clear handball in the build-up. A point evidently missed by the Loughborough bench. The goal didn’t stand, but this seemingly did little to calm the anxieties of the Cambridge coach whose volume increased incrementally throughout the second period.

Unlike the weather, which was miserable throughout, the Blues’ play brightened up in the closing exchanges and it started to seem like Loughborough’s race was run, but with three minutes to go the visitor’s right winger flashed a ball across the six-yard box. There was no-one to get on the end of it though and from there Cambridge were able to see out the game. There were moments of tidy football in the win, but it will be the strong defensive performance and muddy knees that the team will be most proud of.

So what does this mean going forward? A semi-final place in the National Championship. An incredible achievement in itself. Although the greatest challenges are still yet to come, I’m sure the players will relish what’s ahead. They’ll be keen not to get carried away with ideas about trophies and champagne, but with just two (admittedly large) steps left, it may be difficult not to.