The men’s football Blues fell agonisingly and disappointingly short of capturing the BUCS Midlands Division 1A title on Wednesday: a 0 -0 draw was enough for their opponents, Nottingham Trent, to claim the championship instead. With only the league’s top side gaining promotion, this was a doubly bitter blow for the Blues.
Oxford endured a desperately frustrating afternoon at Iffley Road, failing to break the resilience of a determined Trent defensive line. The side from Nottingham began the day one point clear of the Blues, knowing that they would wrap up promotion if they avoided defeat here. Perhaps inevitably, the game began tentatively, both teams settling in for a high-stakes, winner-takes-all encounter. The standard of football was not particularly high, and neither side looked capable of asserting themselves upon the contest.
The first real chance of the game fell to Oxford in the 15th minute, when centre-forward Tom Mayou found himself in behind the last man; his slightly heavy touch invited the Trent goalkeeper to smother the loose ball and nullify Oxford’s most penetrating move of the first half. Trent offered little threat going forward in the early exchanges, content to sit on their cushion of an ultimately decisive one point advantage: Oxford’s full-backs and centre-backs dealt comfortably with Nottingham’s blunt attacks, and the Blues goal was rarely troubled until midway through the second half.
After the break though, the game opened up, as did the heavens above Iffley. On a slick surface, both sides began to pass the ball with more zip and quality. Blues captain Leon Farr uregd his team forward, his determined commands echoing around the grandstand: the heart and desire of the Blues could not be faulted. Oxford needed a spark, a catalyst to propel them towards a coveted championship, but it became harder and harder to see where it would come
from. The Trent keeper and captain was exceptional, both in his shotstopping and distribution, but he was not tested enough by an Oxford attack that was, at best, ineffective.
Tom Howell worked hard, often as a lone forward, but was rewarded with few chances in front of net: the Blues just seemed to lack creative talent, relying upon predictable channel balls that were easily handled by Trent’s competent defenders. Lacking invention in the midfield areas, Oxford could not muster a cutting edge to complete their decent passing play. The balance of domination swung back and forth as the second half progressed, both teams enjoying spells of pressure and possession. A whipped Oxford cross into the box narrowly evaded the head of an oncoming midfielder, and the Blues were unlucky not to gain more from several dangerous corners. Cameron Knight made some enterprising runs for the Blues, striving to forge something
that would test the Trent defence.
Opportunities were difficult to engineer though, and composure deserted Oxford at vital times. Trent too were wasteful, squandering their sporadic chances with a series of miscues and weak shots: without doubt, neither side did enough to justify victory on a day that impartial spectators will quickly forget.
One moment that will haunt Oxford arrived in the dying minutes, when a ball from wide right deflected, bobbled and squirmed its way across the gaping goalmouth: an Oxford player, unmarked at the back post, swung a leg, almost ready to wheel away in glorious celebration- unfortunately for the luckless Blues, only the damp air received a lashing from his boot as the ball trickled away to Trent safety.
The final whistle brought jubiliant cheers from Nottingham’s champions, now promoted to the Midlands Premier. The Blues left their home pitch humbled and disconsolate, regretting the two draws in the season’s final two games (the other coming last week at Lincoln) that have cost them a league title and a much sought-after promotion to the region’s top division.
Nonetheless, Oxford must now focus on the upcoming Varsity match against Cambridge’s Light Blues, for which they have a couple of months to prepare. On this evidence, they will need to use that time wisely and profitably, lest disappointment here become even more intensified with a loss to the rival Tabs. The Blues will require no greater motivation than what they witnessed today, ushered away from their own field by Trent’s taunting chants and flowing champagne.