Worcester won men’s Cuppers for the first time since 2013 on Friday night, thanks to a clinical 2-0 victory against New College.
After New enjoyed most of the early running, Andrew Kinsella opened the scoring against the run of play, scrappily bundling home from a corner.
Worcester grew into the game, and took control in the second half. With moments left on the clock, man-of-the-match Olly Cobb jinked past his opposite man, and his deflected shot squeezed in to seal the win.
Having comfortably overcome St. Catz in their semi-final, and with promotion to the JCR Premier Division all but assured, New went into the game as favourites, and they had most of the early running. James Foord, Dylan Evans and Alex Craig looked to control things in midfield, and Patrick Leahy’s dangerous runs in behind seemed to worry Worcester’s centre-halves.
Five minutes in, Jeff Sload made the first of a series of fine saves in the Worcester goal, as he held onto a deep free-kick that Evans, one of two Blues players on the pitch, had whipped in.
Another chance soon followed, as the diminutive midfielder found Leahy with an inch-perfect through ball, but the number nine fluffed the finish, firing wide of Sload’s goal.
Matt Wilson’s last-ditch block then kept the game goalless, following another wave of New pressure, before Worcester finally got a foothold in the match.
Sam Hale and Ben Jones pressed well in midfield, and Cobb’s direct running down the right began to cause problems.
After winning a corner, the winger whipped in a delicious cross that New failed to deal with; Kinsella, languishing in the six-yard box, could hardly believe his luck as the ball fell to him, and his scuffed shot looped agonisingly over Connor Sargent. Worcester were ecstatic, and led against the run of play.
A matter of minutes later, only the woodwork could prevent the men in pink doubling their lead. Jones lifted his head up some twenty-five yards from goal, and saw the space around him: he unleashed a thunderbolt with his left foot, and with Sargent beaten, New’s travelling army breathed a collective sigh of relief as the ball slammed against the upright.
Worcester looked invigorated by the goal, and went into half-time firmly on top; for all their early dominance, New created little in the twenty minutes before the break.
Following the interval, the men in white – searching for a first Cuppers title since 1908 – were re-energised, and Tom McShane’s deep cross forced a good save out of Sload. Craig then worked an opening for himself in midfield, but again, his shot was lacking in any real venom, and Worcester’s clean sheet remained in tact.
The quality of the game descended in the second half, and openings were few and far between. Worcester were quite happy to sit deep and play on the break, as Hale pinged diagonal balls to both wings and the tenacious Jones continued to work hard in midfield.
Jones threatened again from range, and Tom Oliver nearly scored an outrageous lob after being sent through, as Worcester looked the more likely to grab the all-important second goal.
With ten minutes left, Evans – forced deeper and deeper in the second half – managed to release the isolated Leahy, whose knock-down found Craig, but he couldn’t find the finish: New’s profligacy in front of goal would prove costly.
In the dying embers of the game, Cobb worked an opening for himself down the left. He darted past the New defender following a corner, and fired low and hard at goal. A wicked deflection took the ball past Sargent, and sent the Worcester fans into jubilant celebrations. The New players slumped on the turf, dejected: they knew that their dream had faded.
Worcester, meanwhile, were rightly thrilled. After three consecutive titles between 2011 and 2013, four years without a Cuppers win had seemed like an eternity. While their position in the relegation zone of the JCR Premier Division might suggest otherwise, they will hope that this can be the start of another period of domination of college football. The dominant Hale’s midfield presence will be sorely missed, but there is enough quality in this side that this win could be the start of something special.