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By Charley Turton
At a time when sports fixtures across the board have been decimated by the weather, one of the few games that went ahead last weekend was a David and Goliath encounter between the first division ‘Foxes’ from Wolfson and St Anthony’s colleges and 3rd division leaders Merton/Mansfield in the Xchanging Cuppers quarter final.
The M&Ms from Merton/Mansfield are currently enjoying an undefeated league season and, despite being the noticeable underdogs of Cuppers, never having reached the quarter-finals before, were full of confidence playing off the back of a 5-2 victory over first division Worcester in the group stages.
Foxes piled on the pressure in the first half, but M&Ms responded with strong attacking play down the wings. Foxes proved to be well organised going forward, managing to exploit gaps in the defence and make assured challenges on goal. Not long into the first half, a shot from Foxes striker Kyle Edwards slipped through the fingers of goalkeeper Sophie Smith and bobbled over the line, to groans from the crowd of enthusiastic M&Ms supporters on the touchline. The home side’s confidence was clearly shaken by this early goal because they momentarily lost their structure and their concentration meaning that a second goal quickly followed putting Foxes 2-0 up inside the first fifteen minutes.
Foxes then did well to maintain their tempo, for the most part confining M&Ms to their own half. However, there were moments when the home side managed to break through their opponents’ midfield and drive the play down the pitch. On these occasions Merton/Mansfield looked dangerous with attackers Leah Grint and Kayli Johnson linking up well with each other and proving to have the pace on their opponents.
The M&Ms fought valiantly in the second half to draw level with Foxes, whose attempts to widen their lead were thwarted by resolute defending from Eleanor Saunders and Jess Odone and more accomplished goalkeeping from Smith.
There were some nail-biting moments for the home crowd in the later stages of the half when the M&Ms looked certain to score, but a combination of strong clearances from the Foxes and overcrowding in the goal area meant that several shots went wide and that elusive goal never came. With ten minutes to go Foxes’ captain, Katelyn Leader, rounded off a standout performance with a brilliant strike and scored her team’s third and final goal, meaning that Foxes will go on to face top-of-the-league Keble in the semi-finals. Despite being knocked out of Cuppers, Merton-Mansfield can console themselves with the knowledge that they are yet to concede a goal in a league game this season and as such they are tipped to finish top of the table.