Tina Gough’s early goal proved enough to earn Oxford a deserved 1-0 victory over Cambridge in the 31st women’s varsity football match.
After a series of tense opening exchanges, Cambridge had Savage put clean through on goal only for Blues goalkeeper May Martin to snaffle the ball at the striker’s feet; rather than offering the light blues any momentum, Oxford promptly went on the attack and, in the seventh minute, a brilliantly headed through ball bounced kindly for Gough who powered a shot over the keeper and into the top left corner for a jubilantly celebrated opener.
Again, the game remained fraught; Cambridge nearly responded five minutes later when Savage was put through on goal, this time with plenty of space between her and the Oxford number one, but was contentiously called back for offside. For the rest of the first thirty minutes, Oxford held onto most of the possession, whilst their opponents had the best of the chances, including a surprising call from the referee to award an indirect free kick for a notional back-pass twelve yards out. To the delight and relief of the Oxford defence, the resultant teed up blast well-cleared the crossbar.
Oxford came back stronger as the half wore on and really should have had a greater lead by half time. Ellie Backhouse’s close range effort from a Sonia Curtis’ square ball across the six-yard box was well-blocked and the resultant goalmouth scramble was hacked clear. Another Cambridge penalty box free-for-all was just cleared away after a cheap free kick and, after Anna Green’s clearance over the top put Curtis in a one on one with the opposition keeper Farrell, her shot rose just too high and over the bar.
With time ticking away on the first period, Oxford saw another short range effort cleared off the line after a goalkeeping error, and though the half-time score would have elated the Blues team, it might have come as some relief for the visiting light blues.
Cambridge’s coach clearly knew how to motivate his players, who started the second half intensely, dominating play from the first whistle. After just two minutes, a mazy run down the left flank by Bull, and a dangerous cross, forced a headed clearance by the Oxford defence over their own bar and showed the intent that an invigorated Cambridge side were bringing to the second period of play.
For the next fifteen minutes or so, Oxford defended resolutely and superbly, but were kept under vigorous pressure as Cambridge camped themselves in the opposition half. Regardless, the light blues failed to create any clear cut chances, excepting a scramble and a shot from six-yards out that flew over just before the hour mark.
Credit has to be given to Oxford’s defence who pressed hard and put bodies in the way of every half-chance and shot that might have threatened Martin in goal. Green was particularly impressive, but players across the field put their bodies on the line for the team.
The break in play that ensued due to the substitutions two thirds into the game seemed to afford both teams the opportunity to focus; as Martin made way for Kirsten Anderson in goal for the blues, and Sian Kelly replaced Zoë Wallace, Oxford began to get a stronger foothold in the second half like they had done the first.
The entire team showed off immense energy, harrying Cambridge all over the pitch, forcing turnovers in a tense and end-to-end period of the match. Colleen Lopez, who put in a superb performance all game, showed talent and tenacity to win the ball and play it across goal, before place her shot from the resultant block agonisingly over the far corner.
Cambridge’s own pair of substitutions with ten minutes on the clock made for a nervy climax to the game as the light blues sought to force an equaliser. Chantal Paine had a chance to seal the win with three minutes to go but saw her low shot from distance collected by the goalkeeper.
As the game drew towards a close, both teams showed some signs of tension and tiredness after energetic displays. Deep into stoppage time, a Cambridge free kick on the right was cleared only temporarily, but the attempted lobbed through ball sailed harmlessly out of play, and with it ended Cambridge’s last chance.
The final whistle drew cheers of elated triumph from the Blues who had put in a spirited and dogged performance to hold out against long periods of sustained pressure, whilst displaying their qualities when surging forward to create good chances; yet in the end, Gough’s solitary goal was enough to see them through to victory.
Having beaten Cambridge last year quite handsomely on an away trip 7-1, this was a rather different, tighter affair, but one that will taste just as sweet.