Izzy Poles (@izzypolessportsphotography) with permission for Varsity

On Friday 15 March, Cambridge hosted Oxford for the annual Varsity football match. A total of 1,943 fans ventured to the Cledara Abbey Stadium as the men’s Blues tried to follow in the footsteps of the women’s Blues, who won 3-0 in their earlier Varsity fixture.

Cambridge captain Cai La Trobe-Roberts had spoken of the importance of “staying calm” in the pre-match press conference, and this message became ever more important when Oxford’s Nathaniel Downes capitalised on a loose spill by Cambridge keeper Aram Sarkissian to score just two minutes in.

After conceding early, the Blues started to settle and began to find success down the wings. In the 19th minute Deniz Ozer played in Kit Angel-Scott, whose shot was deflected just wide. The next clear chance of the game, however, fell to Oxford. Jovan Williams, a constant handful all evening due to his size and power, found himself free in the Cambridge penalty area but could only direct his header straight at Sarkissian – either side of the keeper would surely have seen the Blues 2-0 down after 35 minutes.

In an attempt to add more firepower to the front line, Cambridge manager Tom Blatch introduced Cai La Trobe-Roberts for the second half. The change proved an inspired one as the Blues started the second half with real intensity, instantly putting Oxford on the back foot. Deniz Ozer, who had been Cambridge’s main threat in the first half, continued to excite the Cambridge fans with his mazy runs down the left wing. With the introduction of La Trobe-Roberts and a more involved role for Joey Dalton, the Blues' front line started to create a plethora of chances. In the 50th minute, La Trobe-Roberts laid it off to Ozer who blazed it over. Two minutes later, Ozer again came close to scoring an equaliser when he dragged a low, driven shot across goal just wide. Just minutes later, Oxford keeper Harry Way made a fantastic save to deny Joey Dalton in a one-on-one opportunity for the Blues No 9. With the trio proving so consistently dangerous, however, and the Oxford attacking threat drying up after the restart, it seemed merely a matter of when, not if, a Cambridge leveller would come. The answer was the 73rd minute. Having completely invigorated the Blues since his introduction at halftime, Cai La Trobe-Roberts squeezed the ball past Way and caused bedlam among the Cambridge support.

With both sides now in search of a winner, the game was set up for a frantic last 15 minutes. In the 77th minute, Cambridge substitute goalkeeper Moritz Przybilla denied Nathaniel Downes with a fine piece of keeping. It was then the turn of his opposite number Way to deny a Cambridge winner, tipping Ozer’s shot from outside the box just over. Ozer’s chance would prove the last of the match. With the full time score ending 1-1, the fate of the Varsity match rested on penalties.

Oxford’s Tom Deighton stepped up first and slotted away a fine penalty to Przybilla’s bottom right hand side. Deniz Ozer saw his effort saved – an unfortunate blot in what was an outstanding performance from the Trinity Hall fresher. Sadly, Ozer’s miss was compounded by Oxford’s Noah Fletcher who scored their second penalty. Things went from bad to worse for the Blues when Aaran Mehmood, another Cambridge fresher, failed to convert from the spot. There was a brief flicker of hope for the Blues when Oxford’s Finlay Ryan-Phillips saw his penalty saved by Przybilla. However, Masaki Kawasaki’s subsequent missed penalty left Oxford needing to score just one more penalty to win the shoot-out. Sure enough, up stepped Johnny Evans-Hutchison who calmly carried out the task in hand and ensured it was Oxford who celebrated victory on the 150th anniversary of the Varsity fixture.


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Despite the result there is much to be optimistic about for the Blues. This season was always going to be one of change and transition – a reality consistently reiterated with their injury woes. Over 35 different players, for example, have represented the Blues this season. In the Varsity squad, only four players were returning Blues. The majority of the squad, therefore, were either freshers or former Falcons playing in their first ever Varsity game. Despite this, there were some real standout performers and promising signs for the future. Most notable was left winger Deniz Ozer whose ease of movement was a delight to watch and earned him Varsity’s official Player of the Match. With a promotion and a cup already in the bag, the treble merely proved a step too far for Cambridge in a season which must still be recognised as incredibly successful. The draw was a fair reflection of a very even game and unfortunately, as the cliche goes, penalties truly are a lottery. Lady luck may not have been on the Blues’ side this time but there was no shame in their performance.