Played at Iffley Road in front of hundreds of fans, Cuppers Final is the pinnacle of the Oxford football season. As such, one would expect a tie befitting of this glorious occasion but unfortunately the battle between New and Worcester college in 8th week of Hilary was a cagey affair which lacked the end-to-end energy or late drama one associates with knockout football. For nearly the whole game, defence triumphed over attack as New looked for their first Cuppers victory since 1912 and Worcester sought to extend their dominance of 21st Century college football.
Looked at in this manner it was a Herculean task for New – of the JCR league’s third tier – taking on the Blue-dominated double winners of 2008. The plucky New side had already eliminated several supposedly superior teams such as the high-flying Magdalen in their run to the final, but unfortunately their progress was to be curtailed on the turf of Iffley Road.
In the opening exchanges there were few clear chances. The classy set piece deliveries of New College’s Tom Pearson-Jones provided rare moments of danger for the Worcester defence before the match came to life midway through the first half. New’s Onuchukwu jinked his way past the opposition backline before he was cynically pulled back by Blues captain Elliot Thomas. The free kick awarded by the referee right on the edge of the box seemed lenient, as did his decision to let Thomas off the hook with just a yellow card.
This proved a turning point in the game. The resulting set piece was struck just over the bar by the impressive Pearson-Jones. However, this served only to spring Worcester’s fortunate 11 men into action, scoring what turned out to be the match’s winning goal just before the break. New’s otherwise resolute back four were caught napping as Worcester finally created a clear opening. Former Blues striker De Walden made no mistake, sliding the ball past the onrushing keeper into the far corner of the net to the delight of the hundreds of spectating Worcester fans.
Despite the often lacklustre football on display, the atmosphere was truly befitting of a cup final. Worcester also excelled in the verbal battle taking place in the Iffley Road Stand; several particularly creative individuals seemed to have an endless supply of chants and were a deafening contingent often drowning out their opposition’s supporters. To the tune of Yellow Submarine by the Beatles, they sung a song entitled “a team
of Jamie Brown
‘s”, punctuated by screams of a vuvuzuela. Particular joy was taken as hundreds of Worcester fans stood to the chant of “Stand up if you’re 1-0 up!” as the attritional game wore on into the second half.
In truth, New College never seriously looked like equalising, threatening only sporadically after the break with the speed of Onuchukwu on the counter-attack and from set pieces failing to set up a grandstand finish and the possibility of extra time. Indeed it was Worcester who had the only clear-cut chance in the second half in the final ten minutes when an attempted chip failed to fool the goalkeeper when a simpler finish may have fared better.
New’s Cuppers run was a great feat but was ended by the resilience of their opponent’s back four. Meanwhile, Worcester’s place at the head of collegiate football looks set to continue.