Lucky set plays and some exciting individual performances saw a hard-working Oxford win the 127th Varsity Match at the Kassam Stadium last Friday. Despite being the away team and undeniable underdogs, Cambridge were the team who looked most determined to begin with. Oxford’s kick-off and attempt at calm play was promptly halted by an interception from a Light Blue midfield set on doing some immediate damage. Urged forward by their centre-mids, Cambridge dominated the first ten minutes, forcing Dark Blue goalkeeper Dwayne Whylly to make a few early saves. This calmed the Oxford side, and under the constant encouragement of Ben Quigley they were able to compose themselves and start to get back into the game. Still under constant pressure from the Tabs, centre-backs Anthony Beddows and captain Elliot Thomas managed to survive two corners in quick succession, again aided by the safe hands of Whylly. Kept busy by the incessant attack, Oxford’s two strikers were frequently drawn down the pitch to try and suppress their confident opposition. A long throw gave them a chance to get enough players into the box: following a headed assist from Beddows, Alec Ward volleyed the ball past Cambridge’s dozy keeper, cheekily putting the home side ahead from their first attempt at goal.
Oxford then proceeded to make the most classic of errors: relaxing, having taken the lead. Five minutes after the first goal, in one of the most skilled passages of play of the match, Cambridge’s Ryan McCrickerd beat two defenders to seek out striker Rory Griffiths. Hammering the ball into the top corner, he equalised for the Light Blues, who at this point should probably have been ahead.
Immediately, Oxford’s defence stepped up. The Dark Blues reaped the rewards from this hard work just before half time. A great run down the right wing by Thomas set up play reminiscent of the first goal – a long throw with several touches inside the box – and Alec Ward found the net again. The perfect way to end the first half: punishing the Tabs with a goal which, despite its messiness, taught them to learn from their mistakes, leaving the somewhat lucky home side up 2-1 at half time.
Cambridge returned to the pitch first after the break, tightly in formation as ever. Periods of exciting play were seen from both teams, who had both decided to try and defend each other’s number 10s out of the game. The attacking interplay which led to Cambridge’s goal remained on show, but their strikers lacked the finish to score again. Oxford however, got lucky again when Beddows’ height allowed him to put them further ahead, making the only successful connection with a cross and heading the ball past the keeper.
Oxford’s good fortune continued from then on. Cambridge were still allowed a few chances, with the 1,141 person-strong crowd on their feet at several points, only for the Tabs to hit the post twice in a disheartened effort to revive the match. One howler involved a looped shot catching the Dark Blue keeper off-guard, for the ball only to hit the crossbar and miss the wide-open goal.
Once Oxford brought on O’Brien to boost the midfield, leaving Healy as a lone striker, it was clear that they felt the game was won. As so it was, giving Oxford their 49th Varsity win, with Ward named man of the match. He was clearly lost for words, but complimented the Cambridge team, saying that “they were better than we expected; it was a tough match.” Leon Farr, OUAFC Sabbatical Officer and last year’s captain, was overjoyed at the result, which he summed up perfectly: “I’m so proud of the lads. We rode our luck at times, but stayed strong defensively to pull off a Varsity to remember.”
The result was unfortunate for Cambridge, who were certainly formidable opposition. But after hard work all season to great success, Oxford deserved this victory, cementing what has been an incredible year for them.