OXFORD 1 CAMBRIDGE 0
On Sunday 29th March, the Blues met Oxford at Fulham’s Craven Cottage in the 125th Varsity football match, seeking to extend a run of three consecutive victories in the fixture. Oxford started as slight favourites, with Cambridge fielding a team containing many more varsity debutants than their opponents.
Oxford were much the better team in the early stages, with Cambridge looking nervous and hesitant on the ball, and it was no surprise when the light blues went behind in the 8th minute, Sam Hall finding himself in acres of space and smoothly shooting past Stuart Ferguson in goal.
Eight minutes later Hall should have doubled the lead, again finding himself in an unfathomable amount of space but somehow managing to shoot wide from barely six yards out.
Cambridge were barely managing to get the ball on the ground, offering only long-balls which the Oxford defence were easily able to handle, and right-back Chris Maynard looked the only player like providing any creativity.
Oxford hit the bar with a header in the 29th minute after a stunning cross by their star striker Alex Toogood, and he was also denied by Ferguson late in the half with a stunning save.
The Blues midfield was providing little, rarely able to get the ball, and unable to do much when they did have it, and by half-time the Oxford goalkeeper had not had a single save to make. It was fortunate to say the least that the score remained only 1-0 going into the break.
The main question as the second half began was how long Cambridge would wait before making use of their substitutes, but the only early change was the impressive James Day coming on for the injured Hakimi. Things went a bit better, but there was still not much of a threat to the Oxford defence. There still seemed a general reluctance to play the ball through the midfield, and the only real chance came from a strong looping header by Amos which was brilliantly saved by the Oxfordgoalkeeper in the 77th minute.
Finally, with only 11 minutes to go, Fitz midfielder Paul Hartley was brought on for Eddie Burrows, and 5 minutes later, to huge cheers from the army of Christ’s fans who had turned out for the game, speedy striker Stephen Harrison was finally given a chance. With his first real touch of the ball, Harrison; not nicknamed ‘Gas’ for nothing, made a sublime run to set up Johnson; who only managed to shoot weakly. However, Oxford still looked more likely to add a second than the Blues did to equalise, and it required a stunning save from Ferguson in the 88th minute to keep the score at 1-0, Oxford hitting the post from the resulting corner.
Four minutes of injury time went by without Cambridge threatening again, and Oxford ran out deserved winners. It was clear however, that the introduction of Hartley to some extent, but especially Harrison, had had a real impact on the game, with his pace having the potential to cause the Oxford defence real trouble. Why he was not given at least twenty minutes, or even brought on at the start of the second half, is a puzzle that only the Cambridge coach knows the answer to.
Nevertheless, defeat would have been harsh on an impressive Oxford side, and, incredibly, after 125 Varsity matches, the record now reads 49 wins apiece for each side, with 27 draws, and both sides having scored the same number of goals in those matches, 197.
Rob Newman – Deputy Sports editor