Picking the form team ahead of the 129th Varsity Football Match, to be played at Selhurst Park this Saturday, is a difficult task. Both Blue contingents have enjoyed almost implausibly good seasons. For Cambridge, the Varsity Match presents just one third of a potential hat-trick of achievements. Already champions of the BUCS Midlands 1A division, and with a postponed BUCS Trophy final to follow, the Light Blues are overcoming opponents with a pleasing maturity, and with no shortage of goals. Last week’s dead-rubber league defeat against Nottingham Trent should not cloud any preconceptions ahead of the game.
For Oxford, an unbeaten league season has redeemed the ignominy of last campaign’s relegation. The Dark Blues have made an instant return to the division which promoted Cambridge will now vacate. Indeed, such has been their dominance, that they have accrued twice as many points as their nearest competitors, Staffordshire. This is an improved side from last season, whose otherwise lifeless Varsity performance last year was only rescued by a desperate twenty minute effort, during which they scored twice. Given the confidence of the two teams this time around, it is unlikely that such a dramatic momentum shift will occur again; expect an evenly contested match from the start.
As for decisive individual contributions, both sides can draw upon a canon of talented attacking players. Although Cambridge will miss the prolific Danny Kerrigan, the triumvirate of Daniel Forde, Ben Tsuda and Haitham Sherif are more than capable of filling-in, whether from the start or as substitutes. They will be ably supported by midfielders – captain Ross Broadway, Ant Childs and Rick Totten – who are briefed to combine breaking up play with imposing themselves in the opposition area. On the other side, Oxford’s forward partnership of captain, Sam Donald, and former captain, Julian Austin, pose the twin threat of creativity and an eye for goal. In particular, Donald seems to assist and score in equally formidable measure. In addition, Ezra Rubenstein and Adam Healy are very experienced wingers. Both were ineffective last year, but remain an important source of width for the Dark Blues, and will hope to atone.
The centre of midfield, predictably, will be the crucial battleground. With the Oxford captaincy again going to a forward, expect Broadway’s influence to reign in this area. If he, or indeed, vice-captain Childs, can enhance the performances of the Light Blues around them, it may well prove decisive. Broadway, in particular, having missed last year’s game through injury, will want to make a contribution to be remembered in posterity.
A refreshing restoration of former glories comes in the decision to host the Varsity Match once more at a major neutral venue. Last season’s contest, hosted at Cambridge City’s Milton Road ground, was admirably organised but failed to shake off the tone of a ramshackle non-league affair; although the less-than-professional level of football did little to help in that respect. This year, Selhurst Park should prove a much more fitting venue, and, although the crowd will fall some way short of capacity, both sets of fans are likely to pass through the turnstiles in greater numbers.Who comes away happier, however, remains to be seen.
TCS Sport Prediction: Cambridge 2-1 Oxford
Oxford wins: 50
Cambridge wins: 48
Oxford goals: 203
Cambridge goals: 201
Felix de Grey