Cambridge celebrate their Varsity winIzzy Poles with permission for Varsity

Ailie Rennie scored twice as Cambridge beat Oxford 3-0 in the Varsity match to cap off a wonderful season.

The scoreline may have flattered Cambridge slightly, with the visitors to the Abbey Stadium more than contributing to an entertaining affair; both sides had chances throughout and the game could have been a lot closer. Yet the home side just seemed to want it more; they had a togetherness not matched by Oxford, even from the very start. During the team huddles before kick-off, the entire Cambridge squad came together, whereas the Oxford subs trudged off and those left on the pitch looked disorganised.

It was Oxford who looked brighter in the opening exchanges, however, winning a free-kick in a dangerous position. It was wasted though, and from there the home side took the initiative. A ball in from the right presented their first chance of the game, but co-captain Abbie Hastie was caught offside. Cambridge wouldn’t have to wait long for another chance: a minute later, a fantastic through ball from Alexia Dengler set the impressive Ella O’Connell one-on-one with the defender. She was able to show great composure to cut back on to her right foot and slot the ball into the bottom right corner. The hosts in front just before the ten-minute mark.

After the first goal, Oxford looked troubled and, as Cambridge kept up the pressure, as though they might struggle to stop the game getting away from them. But the unpredictable nature of the first half persisted. Out of nowhere, Oxford striker Hannah Williams was able to burst past centre-back Alexia Dengler on halfway and find her co-captain Iona Bennett in the middle after a fine run down the right flank. Bennett was unable to capitalise on the golden opportunity, as she managed to run out of all the time in the world, allowing the hosts to get back.

Five minutes later, we were back at the other end and this time it was Cambridge’s turn to spurn a great chance. Fran Mangeolles took it round Oxford keeper Iona Ffrench-Adam, but was unable to get a shot away. She pulled it back to O’Connell, whose shot was blocked. Oxford looked to start another dangerous break, but fortunately a crunching Hastie tackle avoided any further neck ache for the crowd. The end-to-end nature of the first half continued, however, with Oxford winger Lili Wondwossen-Burnett flashing the ball across the six-yard box. At the other end, Lalini Colas’ diagonal found Jasmine Wright, who chested it down superbly and cut it back to O’Connell, who, for once, should’ve done better.

Before the game, Hastie spoke about how her team liked to play attractive football and that was always on show. A lovely exchange from defence to attack led to a corner on the right which gave O’Connell an immediate chance for redemption. She certainly took it. A pinpoint cross on to the head (well, shoulder) of an unmarked Rennie, who made it 2-0 five minutes before the interval. Oxford may have felt frustrated to go in two down, but they only had themselves to blame, giving the tallest player on the pitch the luxury of the penalty area.

They didn’t let their heads drop though and looked positive in the early moments of the second half. Their big number 9, Williams, undoubtedly the away side’s brightest spark, beat Dengler and managed to craft a sight of the goal, before the centre-back was able to recover well. But the second half was as up-and-down as the first, and soon it was Cambridge’s turn to have a bit of momentum. Midfielder Colas was beginning to look very bright and much of the attacking progression in the second half came through her. She won a free kick just inside the Oxford half, which this time Rennie was unable to head on target. But the eventual player of the match wouldn’t have to wait long to get on the scoresheet for a second time, as the ball dropped to her 30 yards out, she picked out the top left corner perfectly, giving the Oxford keeper no chance. 3-0 just after the hour mark and a long way back for the visitors.


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The game fizzled out from there. Credit to Oxford: they didn’t stop fighting, hoping to restore some pride. Substitute Katie Glendening came very close to reducing the deficit and the admirable Williams was able to beat two before hitting a poor finish straight at Cambridge goalkeeper and co-captain Emilia Keavney to deny herself a deserved goal. But time was ticking away, and the outcome of the match became increasingly clear. Cambridge boss Dave Mellor rang the changes with Rennie dropping into centre-back, to make sure of the clean sheet and complete a fantastic all-round display.

As the final whistle blew, the rain that had poured throughout the second period showed little sign of stopping. But the weather could not dampen the celebrations of the home players who crowned a wonderful season in style. Perhaps the scoreline was a little harsh on Oxford, but I doubt the home side will care. A strong defensive display, complemented by clinicality in the final third is all you can ask for in a derby, and they were fully deserving of their win.