Oxford complete Varsity hockey double

Matthew Roller reports on a memorable day for Oxford Hockey

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Photo: William Mooney [Facebook]

A man of the match performance from goalkeeper George Oyebode helped Oxford secure a Hockey Varsity double on Sunday.

After a 4-0 victory for the Women’s side earlier in the day, the Men’s Blues came from behind to draw 2-2 against their Cambridge counterparts at Southgate Hockey Club.

In the shoot-out that followed, fresher Oyebode was the star of the show. His pair of crucial saves in the second set of penalty shuffles secured Oxford their first Varsity win in six years.

The Women’s team retained their title with a comprehensive victory to start the afternoon off. Captain Naomi Kelly put in a commanding performance to lead her side to victory and make amends for October’s league defeat against the Light Blues.

Marginal favourites going into the game, Kelly’s side raced into a 3-0 half-time lead thanks to goals from Imogen Brown, Philippa Nicholls and a tap-in from Sophie Shakes.

Alexa Copeland added a fourth in the second half with a close-range finish at the far post, and Oxford were great value for their win.

The Men’s side went into their game without a Varsity win since 2011; an entire generation of Men’s Blues hockey players had passed through the University without tasting Varsity success.

However, after two close-fought league fixtures against Cambridge this year brought a scrappy win and an unfortunate draw, it was clear that the two sides were evenly matched.

Indeed, Oxford started the better of the two teams, with good spells of possession early on in the game—it seemed as though the Dark Blues were still brimming with confidence after their recent 2-2 draw with Cardiff which sealed a promotion play-off.

Just before half-time, the pressure paid off as drag-flick specialist Noah Francis rifled a penalty corner hard and low to the Cambridge goalkeeper’s right, giving his side a 1-0 lead.

Yet the Light Blues would not go down without a fight. Soon after half-time, Cambridge pulled a goal back on the counter-attack, before an Oxford yellow saw the Dark Blues temporarily reduced to ten men.

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Cambridge had slightly the better of a cagey half and looked to have sealed a win when their centre-forward bundled in from a yard out, following some dogged Oxford defending.

Despite Mark Lilley and captain Ryan Kavanagh both impressing throughout, it looked as though their efforts would be in vain as Cambridge held firm at the back.

However, a late equaliser from the impressive William Mooney—a goalscorer in every one of his Varsity appearances—meant that the game went to hockey’s equivalent of a penalty shoot-out, known as a penalty shuffle.

Introduced to the professional game in 2011, the shuffles format sees each team nominate five attackers, who start with the ball on the 23-metre line, one-on-one with the opposition goalkeeper. The attackers then have eight seconds in which to score.

The first round of shuffles saw both keepers—Oyebode for Oxford and Fergus Flanagan for Cambridge—on top form, with only one player out of five from each team managing to score.

However, in the second round of shuffles, Oxford’s attackers held their nerve, scoring each of the first four shuffles.

Having already made a commanding stop, Oyebode kept out Cambridge’s fourth effort to seal a dramatic 4-2 victory. Wild celebrations ensued as five years of pain were forgotten.