Cherwell

Varsity Match 2011 Preview

This Friday’s Varsity Match sees the conclusion of one of the most successful seasons in the history of OUAFC. After an indifferent start to the campaign, an incredible winning streak after Christmas catapulted the Blues into a promotion play-off position, with the chance to play University football at the highest level next year at stake. The Blues also achieved unrivaled success in the National Cup, eventually defeated at the Quarter-Final stage by an unsurprisingly talented Loughborough outfit. However, as any Oxford sportsman will confirm, a season of competitive success is easily dampened by a failure to succeed in Varsity, and coming up against a Cambridge side going equally strong in their respective league, the Blues will face one of their toughest challenges to date on Friday if they are retain the C.B. Fry Trophy.

A quick look at the stats is all that’s needed to see where the Blues’ strengths lie. Having conceded only 9 league goals all year, a solid back 5 is undoubtedly to thank. Goalkeeper Dwayne Whylly has been consistently spectacular in his shot stopping and handling, and a defence marshalled by skipper Elliot Thomas, ably assisted by the evergreen Timothy Squires, has been at times impregnable. The pressure of full debut seasons seemed not to tell on the other half of the defensive unit either, as both Jason Adebisi and Anthony Beddows have proved to be composed, ball-playing additions to the back line, disciplined when going backwards but confident with the ball on the floor.

In midfield, the seemingly irreplaceable Leon Farr has seen his boots more than adequately filled by silky Blues boxer Alec Ward, whose vision and passing ability has been perfectly complimented by the physical presence of Ben Quigley, another former Blues fighter. Quigley’s strength, energy and eye for goal have seen him transformed from a Half Blue in 2010 to one of the team’s most integral members. On the wings, Players’ Player of the Season and topscorer Ezra Rubenstein has been a constant threat with his quick feet and cultured finishing, as has counterpart Adam Zagajewski. The pint-sized Yorkshireman’s set piece delivery has been nothing short of pinpoint all season, and his pace and trickery will no doubt prove to be one of the Blues’ most damaging weapons on Friday night.

Through the middle, ex-rugby under-21 Adam Healy has proved that a switch of sporting allegiances is not always detrimental for a sportsman. Commanding in the air, Healy has tested the best University centre-backs in the country all season with his dominant physical presence and tireless running. Healy will be supported by relative newcomer Chris Wright, whose late arrival into the Blues set-up was hampered by injury. Still, his sharp movement and clinical finishing has earned him a place in the Varsity squad, and a goal on Friday night will surely ease the frustration of a season on the sidelines.

If, at any point, coach Mickey Lewis looks to the subs’ bench for attacking inspiration, then the talented pairing of Tom Castro and Rob Frost offer superb support to the Blues’ attacking line up. After an impressive season for the Centaurs, fresher full-back Adam Fellows has also gone from strength to strength since his training with the Blues began, recently deputising well at centre half in a tough fixture against the RAF. Similarly coming off the back of a strong season for the Centaurs is sub ‘keeper Tom Haigh, who has trained well and looks ready to step in for Whylly, should the Barbadian find himself in trouble during the game.

With two successful pre-Varsity friendlies under their belt, it looks as if the Blues have managed to maintain the winning habit that saw them find victory against every team in their league, despite their Easter hiatus. But with the added pressure of formidable away support (Cambridge have sold int he region of three hundred tickets) and the cup-final atmosphere that comes with a Varsity Match, it remains to be seen whether the Blues will end their season in the appropriate manner and send their Light Blue rivals home empty handed.

**Support the Varsity Match: tickets available from Elmer Cotton all day, with coaches leaving from Iffley Road at regular intervals to the Kassam Stadium. K.O. at 7:45pm**