21st February 2018
Cambridge 1 - 0 Oxford
The CUAFC Men’s Blues capped off a stunning unbeaten campaign with a resolute 1-0 victory over their closest rivals Oxford to clinch the Midlands 1A league title.
With just two games remaining before proceedings kicked off, both against Oxford, the stage was set for a thrilling finale to this year’s race for promotion, Cambridge safe in the knowledge that just one victory would be enough to push them over the line.
And on a slick 4G surface in Newmarket, the Blues as ever rose to the task, turning in a performance which epitomised exactly why they have been worthy winners for the year.
Back in October, when Cambridge delivered a rugged defensive performance to draw 0-0 away at Loughborough, captain Jack Congdon admitted he was delighted with a point which would aid in their perceived battle against relegation.
However, the Blues’ first half showing against Oxford starkly demonstrated just how far they have progressed as an attacking force in the intervening months, delivering a slick and controlled display full of patient passing and incision.
As ever with a Cambridge-Oxford fixture, the opening 10 minutes or so were filled with tough tackling and niggly fouls, Joe Gregory impressing in particular with his combativeness against the Dark Blues’ right-wing back.
After that, the home team asserted their dominance for the remainder of the period, with Ben Bolderson’s quick transitions from the left hand side into defensive anchor George Herring ensuring that Cambridge were stretching their opponents from both sides.
Indeed, the Blues carved out the first real opportunity of the game as a scramble in the box was desperately hooked clear by the Oxford defence as Ollie Lerway and Henry Alexander looked poised to open the scoring.
As ever, Cambridge threatened through Stefan Wolf’s set-piece delivery and it was no surprise that he prised open the away defence to open the scoring on the half-hour mark. A delicious in-swinger from the mercurial Dutchman was glanced on by Michael Hofstetter at the front post, ricocheting off a few more bodies before nestling into the bottom corner.
It was no less than the Blues deserved and they almost added a second from another corner when both Oscar Melbourne and Joe Ellis freed themselves at the back post only for Melbourne to head over as his team-mate looked better placed to nod home.
If the first half demonstrated Cambridge’s attacking poise, then the second period brought their considerable defensive qualities to the fore as, to their credit, Oxford improved considerably and threw everything at the home side in search of an equaliser.
Returning goalkeeper John Harrison was called into action on the hour mark, diving superbly to palm away a downwards header from Oxford’s lanky striker. The defence continued to stand firm, with a barrage of Oxford crosses either being blocked by both full backs or swept clear by the established duo of Hofstetter and Melbourne.
Alexander offered a reminder of Cambridge’s threat on the counter, executing a ridiculous Bergkamp-esque flick beyond Oxford’s defence before just failing to release the on-rushing Bolderson or the fresh legs of Yusuf Mushtaq.
The last 5 minutes appeared to last an eternity (and were diligently counted out by manager Jez George to the referee) and offered two moments of high drama as Oxford came inches within drawing level.
First, their substitute striker was set bearing down on goal with what seemed to be all the time in the world only for Hofstetter emerge onto the scene like a man possessed to gobble up the danger. Then, John Harrison pulled off a heroic point blank stop to divert a free header onto the bar and away.
As the referee finally applied lips to whistle, victory tasted all the sweeter for the rather torrid and unpleasant defensive attrition that preceded it. Oxford provided resolute opponents, but an unexpected league title is a tremendous achievement for a group of players who have been outstanding in every department for the vast majority of the year. In what is an extraordinary testament to the team’s character, the 4 second years involved in today’s starting XI and last year’s Falcons squad have not lost a league match in 19 attempts since they began university.
One more trip to Oxford in the league and Varsity beckons for a team determined to end the season in style.