A spirited St John’s effort could not prevent a hard-fought 4-0 victory for Keble on Saturday in the Cuppers quarter-finals. With SJC top of the Second Division and Keble sitting pretty at the summit of the First, the game was shaping up to be a cracker, with the teams renewing a rivalry dating back to Keble’s foundation.
With Blues forward Ashley White returning, St John’s belied their underdog status with a battling performance from the off, lining up with an aggressive 4-4-2 and closing down high up the pitch. Keble had other ideas, though, their left midfielder clattering Habiba Daggash off the ball in the opening minutes. After complaining loudly to the referee, the Nigerian winger responded with a series of searing runs down the Keble flank, providing brief respite from the midfield battle. With Sonia Morland snapping at their heels, the Keble midfielders struggled to take control of the middle of the park, despite the efforts of captain Mia Baize.
As the first half went on, both sides traded equal blows. The SJC centre-back partnership of Sophie Louth and Robin Litt dealt was put under occasional but manageable pressure, while, at the other end, Cressida O’Donoghue and Ashley White carved out chances of their own. It seemed the half-time score would be 0-0 as Keble embarked on their final attack on the half.
Scenes as ugly as Liddon Quad followed as White, providing a defensive stopgap, was struck in the face by a Keble thunderbolt. With the St John’s players in shock, Baize stole in to poach the opener as the referee ended the half.
Although White returned to the fray, Keble began to assert their authority. It wasn’t long before Emma Recknell’s goal was breached again, with Emily Allen-Mersh stealing a goal from a corner. The pressing throughout the pitch did not let up, though, with O’Donogue unsettling the Keble defence by closing them down at every opportunity.
After some near misses, though, Keble extended their advantage with a goal from Imola Atkins. John’s threatened intermittently on the counter, taking advantage of the low-hanging Keble defensive line – “I’m more used to rugby” – with direct attacking. But it was not to be; Sophie Cooper put the gloss on Keble’s victory, sending her side through to the semi-finals. A win for Keble, but a very encouraging first half from the Freshers of St John’s. Expect a much closer game if the two sides meet in the top division next season.
Elsewhere, Teddy Hall compounded New College’s footballing agony by thrashing their women 6-0. Hall will face the winner of St Catherine’s delayed quarter-final against Somerville for a place in the final.
PHOTOS/Tatania Cutts, Amanda White