Balliol versus Wadham, the final game of the season: a clash of the liberals hasn’t mattered this much since Asquith took on Lloyd George. For Wadham, sitting in fourth in the Premier Division, this was, admittedly, a game of minimal significance. For their Broad Street near-neighbours, they don’t come much bigger. Following St Catz’ shock victory against Worcester, Balliol suddenly found themselves in a relegation dogfight; a win against Wadham would guarantee survival, whilst anything else would leave them nervously dependent on rock-bottom Hughs producing the goods against Catz.
Wadham started brightly, drawing a series of well-timed tackles from defensive rock Matt Lynch, followed by an impressive save from Alex Potten. The resulting corner was only partly cleared, the ball swept into the net on the half-volley from the edge of the six-yard box by Julian Albert. Balliol’s day was not going according to plan. As we have come to expect from this Balliol team, they reacted strongly, with the tireless Sam Atwell – a man well-versed in Balliol’s special brand of long-ball football – delivering a succession of inch-perfect balls into the Wadham box. Nevertheless, the situation went from bad to worse for the older college, with Jeremy Stothart converting clinically for Wadham for his eighth goal this season, following enterprising work on – predictably – the left wing.
Balliol, now 2-0 down within the first half hour of the most crucial game of their season, kept knocking on Wadham’s door, with Colenutt beating his man on the edge of the area and producing a sublime low drive – only the post prevented a rapid Balliol revival. It was not all Balliol, however. Wadham winger Chris Nicholls frequently troubled the Balliol defence with his tricky feet and rapid movement, whilst Wadham’s quick passing allowed them to move the ball quickly up-field and threaten on the break. After a highly entertaining forty-five minutes, with all three spectators thoroughly enthralled, Wadham entered the half-time break 2-0 up.
For Balliol, this was crunch time. Captain Hooker rallied his troops for the second half, his cries reminiscent of King Leonidas in ‘300’ (or actual Sparta): the team had forty-five minutes to save their season. Wave after wave of Balliol attacks were thwarted by impressive defensive work from Wadham centre-halves Lyle and Vivian, who managed to keep last season’s top-scorer Jack Hostick isolated. When Rob Wight fed Hostick just inside the penalty area on sixty minutes, however, the striker produced a moment of magic, effortlessly turning his man and sweeping the ball into the bottom right corner. Kids around the world will be attempting to copy Hostick’s turn for decades to come; Balliol’s substitutes were trying it within seconds.
The comeback, it seemed, was on. Balliol piled on the pressure, with fresher Laurence Warner forcing a clearance off the line, but this disciplined Wadham side retained their shape effectively. With Hooker’s boys throwing everything at the Wadham defence – including Hooker himself, who moved up from centre back to spearhead the attack – they were inevitably left vulnerable to counter-attacking play. The warning lights were flashing when Potten was forced to produce a spectacular save from a Tom Johnes piledriver. Soon after, Balliol were made to pay the ultimate price for their valiant efforts when Wadham snatched a late goal on the break, leaving the final score at 3-1.
Balliol, then, despite dominating, now look likely candidates for the drop. First year Laurence Warner saw the silver lining, musing “It’s not even cool to be in the top flight these days. Far too elitist.” Balliol certainly have plenty to be optimistic about considering the talented team Hooker has assembled, and the college’s remarkable strength in depth, with Denvar Antonyrajah’s fearsome 2nds outfit currently making waves in the Reserves Second Division.
Wadham captain and goalscorer Jeremy Stothart, meanwhile, was proud of his team: “It was a great result considering that was our third game in four days, and we had our bar man in goal”. Stothart, ever ambitious, is delighted with Wadham’s performance this season, as “mid-table mediocrity… is what it’s all about.”