Oxford and Cambridge end Varsity weekend at one apiece

Sport University Sport

‘Varsity weekend’ began with a narrow loss for Oxford’s footballers but the rowers ensured that the week would end a darker shade of blue:

Totten sticks the boot into Blues…

Sam Donald - OUAFC Captain
Sam Donald – OUAFC Captain

A hat-trick from Cambridge winger Rick Totten earned them a second consecutive win in the Varsity football at Selhurst Park, beating Oxford 3-2. The Light Blues dominated play for much of the 90 minutes and if anything the scoreline flattered Oxford, as they were all but bullied into submission in the second half.

The game was fairly slow to start, the cold damp conditions making play sluggish for the first fifteen minutes as both teams sized each other up. The first meaningful chance of the match went Cambridge’s way as just past the quarter hour, attacking midfielder Ben Tsuda latched onto Daniel Forde’s cross and blasted the ball towards Oxford ‘keeper Tom Haigh’s net. Oxford dithered a little but managed to bundle the football clear. This was an early indicator for the tone of the match, as Cambridge settled faster than the Dark Blues and were soon passing the ball with assurance across the field. Rick Totten ominously began harassing the Oxford back four, a fine chance coming after twenty-five minutes as he scurried into the Oxford box before eventually sending a lame shot towards Haigh.

It was a little against the run of play, then, when Oxford took the lead just before the half-hour. Skipper Sam Donald curled in a free kick from the left hand side, met by the head of Julian Austin who watched the ball loop into the top corner. A finely taken effort, but perhaps more than Oxford deserved for the amount of possession they had enjoyed. The lead lasted no more than six minutes. Ben Tsuda had a free kick in the middle of the pitch, thirty yards from the Oxford goal, which he played along the ground into the path of Rick Totten who prodded the ball between Haigh’s sprawled legs from a tight angle on the right hand side. It would have been an injustice at this point for Cambridge to have been anything other than on equal terms with Oxford, although Haigh should probably have made more of a show of saving Totten’s effort.

Oxford reacted well to the concession of the goal as they started to assert themselves more strongly. Julian Austin had a string of attempts on goal, peppered at Cambridge goalkeeper Fergus Kent. It appeared that Cambridge had the threat under reasonable control since for a while the efforts were well contained outside the penalty box, but ten minutes after drawing level the Light Blues found themselves trailing again. Anthony Beddows won the ball in the centre thirty yards out and passed it to his right where Ezra Rubenstein waited. The midfielder duly took the ball on, marched down the wing before rifling the shot along the ground into the far corner of the net. Oxford kept their lead going in at half time, a lead that they had just about earned for their reinvigorated offensive performance in the second quarter.

Whatever Cambridge’s coach said to them at half time, it had the desired effect. From the moment the match resumed it was almost one-way traffic towards the Oxford goal, the Dark Blues being relentlessly assaulted on all sides by the marauding Cambridge forwards. The Tabs had a slightly optimistic penalty shout rightly turned down by referee Lee Probert an hour into the game as Ben Tsuda fell in the box under pressure from Daniel Bassett. It was only a matter of time before the pressure broke, and break it did on sixty-two minutes. Having dusted himself off from his rejected penalty claim, Tsuda placed an inch-perfect pass between the defenders to catch Totten’s cleverly disguised run. Totten casually slotted the ball home to level the scores for the second time. Once again it was little more than the Light Blues deserved as they had been imperious in possession. It had been a long while since Oxford had had any meaningful attempt at goal.

Totten saved his best for last when he put Cambridge into the lead for the first time after seventy minutes. Wide on the right and with seemingly nowhere to go, he shifted the ball onto his left foot and stroked a curling effort into the goal past Tom Haigh who could do very little at all. It was a sublime strike to fire Cambridge into a deserved lead. The Dark Blues were pressed into making switches, with winger Peder Beck-Friis being replaced by Sam Firman, but it looked as though only an Easter miracle could save Oxford from defeat. With fifteen minutes left, Cambridge skipper Ross Broadway had a chance to put the game beyond doubt, rising to meet a cross from the right-hand side, but his header fell harmlessly wide.

Oxford’s final throw of the dice came in the introduction of Worcester College striker Adam Healy up front, and with five minutes to go they began their last-ditch attempt to find an equaliser, broadsiding the Cambridge defence with shot after shot, but it was too little too late. The final whistle blew to give Cambridge the win they firmly deserved.

Man of the match Rick Totten was unquestionably Cambridge’s best asset but the Light Blues’ overall performance was simply too good for Oxford on the day, combining patient building play with a solid attack that looked dangerous on the break. The head-to-head in Varsity football now stands at 50-49 in Oxford’s favour. We already look forward to next year to see if Oxford can hang on to their supremacy.

…but relentless Oxford power to Boat Race victory

On a grim Easter Sunday Oxford came out smiling after a confident win in the year’s biggest Varsity event, the 159th Boat Race. The Dark Blue boat, named Acer after Oxford and Olympic cox Acer Nethercott who lost his battle to cancer in January, led almost from the start and came home in 17 minutes and 27 seconds with Cambridge just over a length behind.

Compared with last year’s interrupted outing, the Race this year was remarkably smooth with very little in the way of unexpected drama. Oxford, heavier by 6lbs per man, were firm bookies’ favourites on Sunday morning and they delivered. From the start it appeared as if Cambridge had got away the better, but Oxford soon found a powerful rhythm and took a lead of ten feet or so heading into the Surrey bend. Oxford started from the Surrey station so this point was where they needed most urgently to capitalise and take a strong lead. Cambridge, however, had other ideas and refused to be beaten. Under the vigilant coxing of Will Fieldman, who has ten years of rowing on the tideway under his belt, they remained very firmly in touch with the Dark Blues as the river straightened out.

Oxford weren’t rattled at their failure to see off Cambridge quickly, and just before the Middlesex bend which should have placed the advantage back in Cambridge’s favour, they made their decisive move. Having been no more than half a length ahead for several minutes, the Dark Blues suddenly found themselves with clear water between themselves and Cambridge. They were firmly in the driving seat and locked up the optimum line through the Middlesex bend, essentially guaranteeing a triumph unless anything went disastrously wrong.

Credit must go to Cambridge for still pursuing the Oxford boat even after their defeat became assured, but they never really looked like winning, offering only spirited opposition to the triumphant Oxford crew. The Dark Blues, having felt a little hard done by after last year’s result, can bask in the glow of a victory which was clinical if not overwhelmingly dramatic.

PHOTOS/Justin Ramsden; tombaaaaa


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