Cambridge edged to victory over Oxford in a penalty shootout in a game largely dominated by the dark blues. 90 minutes wasn’t enough for either team to hit the back of the net, leaving Cambridge to take the spoils 4-2 in spot kicks.
Oxford went into the match with only 3 returning blues compared to Cambridge’s 8, giving the tabs the advantage of experience.
This year’s varsity football match shared the spotlight with two other sporting spectacles that took place on the same day. The Cherwell Sport team found themselves covering both the boat race and goat race as well as the football on this cloudy Sunday afternoon.
In the first return for this fixture to Craven Cottage for five years, an impressive crowd of 3,341 saw a first half characterised by nervy play, with both teams struggling to retain possession, and neither team managing to fully find their feet. Cambridge showed the first real attack of the game, but the resulting shot was well blocked by Ben May.
Both teams struggled to get on the ball for extended periods of time, and only really settled into it after half an hour. Oxford’s Ezra Rubstein showed flashes of his potential that failed to materialise into any clear-cut opportunities, but still demonstrated why he is the most capped blues footballer of all time. The dark blues’ first chance of the game came after 18 minutes, with Toner hitting the post from a well delivered cross from Aidan Barry.
Eight minutes later, Barry was lucky not to receive a card after committing a foul that has been described as ‘Matt Nicol-esque’ after Nicol’s notorious challenge made in last year’s Varsity game.
The match remained fairly uneventful until the 34th minute, when Beck-Friis headed Rubenstein’s free kick over the bar. This triggered an upsurge in the performance of both teams, with a flurry of efforts towards the end of the first half. Rubstein’s bending shot was caught by Cambridge keeper Kent on 42 minutes, and Adriaenssens fired over the bar in the 44th to go into half time level pegging at 0-0.
Both sides went into the second half unchanged and Oxford had an early chance with Ben May heading over the bar from Essman’s long throw after 51 minutes. Cambridge began to show signs of fragility with their keeper juggling a cross and nearly letting Oxford’s forwards in on goal after 54 minutes. Cramp began to strike the tabs like wild fire as the second half went on, but they did begin to open up Oxford’s defence. Oxford’s keeper handled a long range shot well after 65 minutes.
With cries raining from the terraces of “Do something”, the game remained tame at 75 minutes.
Beck-Friis showed considerable skill by taking on players down the line and orchestrating an attack that led to a penalty shout for a Cambridge handball after 77 minutes. Referee Jon Moss instead waved the appeals, signalling a corner to Oxford.
Cambridge’s Chris Hutton was the second player to avoid a card after a double footed lunge on Tom Hobkinhson in the 79th minute. Oxford went on to dominate the closing stages of the match, offering Cambridge only one chance which Hutton failed to put away after Farmer blocked well in the 84 minute.
The game ended with a succession of Oxford corners, only for Beck-Friis to fire over at the near post. With Oxford failing to capitalise, the referee blew the whistle, consigning the game to a tense penalty shootout. Cambridge was first to step up, firing in to the bottom corner, but Rubenstein quickly pegged them back to 1-1. Hutton put the tabs ahead again with a shot straight down the middle, but Tozer fired his response over the bar allowing Cambridge to take the lead. The next two penalties were calmly put away by players from both sides, with Farmer coming close to saving. Gorringe put the Tabs 4-2 ahead, and then Heardman stepped up to keep Oxford in the game. His first touch of the game unfortunately sent the ball wide of the post, giving Cambridge their 50th Varsity win, level pegging with Oxford.
Both Oxford centre halves were deserving of the Man of the Match title, whose defensive displays shone in a game largely devoid of chances, but Mike Moneke took the official title over teammate Ben May. It was disappointing to see the performance put in by the dark blues not represented in a final scoreline which gave fair due to their dominance, especially in the second half in which Cambridge barely had a sniff at goal. Both sides will look forward to next year’s fixture with the overall scores now level at 50 wins apiece.