Talk about an upset. The holders had not gone out of Cuppers before the quarter-finals since 2004, when a depleted Somerville side lost on penalties. Balliol had not beaten Lincoln since February of 2009, when Alex Crutchett scored the only goal of a dour game, while Lincoln were unbeaten in Cup and League since a suprise 2-0 reverse at St Peter’s. But, in the most important competition of all, Balliol swept to victory courtesy of a brace from playmaker Ben Allen before resisting Lincoln’s fightback to end their Cuppers defence prematurely and blow the competition wide open.
The first half looked to be assuming an all-too familar pattern for Balliol; they dominated, but lacked penetration in the final third. In the middle, Allen was running the game. Nick Worsley and Nathan Riddell, normally so comfortable in the middle of the park, were isolated and bullied by the powerful Jack Cox. For all Lincoln’s superb possession play last season, there is a suspicion that, shorn of the towering Matt Flood, they are weak defensively. But with Alex Crutchett, Balliol’s top scorer, a peripheral figure, Balliol lacked the resources to put Lincoln under pressure.
Triumph came through what could have been a disaster for Balliol; Ben Allen, the first-year who has already become so influential in the Balliol midfield, pulled up with injury. The captain, Niall MacCrann, moved Allen to a more advanced role and was immediately rewarded with two fine goals. The second half belonged to Lincoln, but, after Josh Thomas’ early strike, they were unable to find the equaliser; Danny Savigar came close to bringing the champions level, but they failed to ask any serious questions of George Colenutt in the Balliol goal. Shorn of Chris Dunn to lead the line, Lincoln lacked an effective centre-forward and Balliol’s defence held up well in the face of the Lincoln onslaught.
With St Catz, last year’s runners-up, also exiting in the first round, Cuppers this year looks set to be full of surprises.