ST CATHARINE’S 0 (3) JESUS 0 (0)
The final Monday of Lent term saw a strong crowd gather at Grange Road for this year’s cuppers final between Jesus and St Catherine’s. Jesus went into the game as slight favourites, having put up a strong showing in Division 1 as usual, although St Catz were seeking their second cuppers victory in only three years. Catz were able to call upon one of their star men, Matt Stock, returning from his year abroad, to take part and he proved a constant thorn in the side of the Jesus defence.
Catz completely dominated the first twenty minutes, nearly scoring in the first minute with a header from Matt Finn. Stock had a goal disallowed for offside in the twelfth minute, and he had another headed chance soon after. It was practically one way traffic, and Catz were on top off the pitch as well, their fans far larger in number and making more noise than the few Jesus fans who had bothered to come.
Midway through the first half, Stock shot just wide after a one-on-one with the Jesus goalkeeper and Captain Chris Ellis, who was his side’s most impressive performer. Catz simply had more presence on the pitch, appeared to be rising to the challenge and were enjoying the big match atmosphere. They were good on the ball and solid at the back, and it was surprising to see the sides go in 0-0 at half-time.
Jesus improved somewhat in the second half, working the ball around better and channelling it through to striker Aki Laaksl, who was now proving more of a threat. There was little drama though, and the final failed to reach the heights of last year’s thriller when Christ’s thrashed Girton 6-2, although given that that game included Christ’s goalkeeper Fraser Murray scoring, among some other stunning goals, it was always going to be hard to live up to.
Stock had a couple more chances towards the end of the 90 minutes, once shooting just over the bar, and with four minutes to go he shot weakly when well positioned and Ellis easily saved. For the last 15 minutes Catz had all the possession, but the game appeared inevitably headed towards extra-time.
Catz continued to press in the extra half hour and Jesus didn’t look like scoring with Laaksl failing to receive much support. It was a game bereft of any moments of genius and the Catz trombonist looked as if he was on course to be Man of the Match! So without further drama we headed to penalties and justice was done, with Catz scoring three clinical penalties, whilst Jesus failed to hit the target with any of theirs, shooting their first two over the bar and hitting their third wide. It was just what Catz deserved. They had been the better side throughout and they clearly wanted it just a little bit more.
The cuppers final hadn’t really brought out the best in either side, but it is a victory Catz will relish more than most, and Jesus, as has been the case in both league and cup in recent years, once again failed at the final hurdle. Catz skipper David Clinton was naturally thrilled with the win: ‘It’s a fantastic achievement to win Cuppers, and for St. Catharine’s to win it twice in three years is very special. It shows that on our day, when we can get our best players out on the pitch together, we’re the best college team in the league. That’s something that can give us a lot of pride. And it was a real college-wide performance: the players who developed a real spirit, the substitutes who came on and made a big impact, and the army of maroon-and-blue fans who roared us home.’
In the league meanwhile, Downing ran out convincing winners, defeating Jesus 3-1 in their final game to clinch the title. St. John’s ended strongly, undefeated after losing their first two league games, and secured the runners-up spot. The relegation battle proved one of the most intense in years, as up to six sides were involved in the battle to avoid joining bottom side Churchill in Division Two. Christ’s secured safety with a 5-3 win over Catz and a dramatic 2-1 win against Trinity thanks to a late Mike O’Halloran screamer, and Fitz’s 4-2 defeat of Girton rendered Selwyn’s late efforts, with maximum points taken against both Fitz and Christ’s, meaningless.
Rob Newman – Deputy Sports editor