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By Alex Tyndall and Charles Walmsley
Worcester’s firsts made it three successive Cuppers titles at Iffley Road with a dominant 3-0 win against Wadham. Worcester came out with the same attacking intent as they had in their semi-final match against New College and their fluid, precise passing and flowing offensive play proved to be too much for the underdogs on the night.
Wadham began the match brightly, demonstrating a pacey attack headed by winger Chris Nicholls and centre-forward Chris Wright. In the opening minutes, Nicholls took the ball down the right wing, trying to take on the entire Worcester defence all on his own, and nearly getting through. Worcester’s normally avaricious defence looked shaky, particularly left-back Mark Isaacs who was tasked with trying to keep Nicholls quiet.
Worcester’s attack began to settle down after ten minutes and they began their familiar regime of dominant midfield possession and patient building play. Attacking midfielder Julian Austin had Worcester’s first strike of the match on ten minutes, driving a shot wide of the left post from just outside the penalty area. Wadham’s fans taunted Austin, chanting: “How wide do you want the goal?”
Worcester engineered a scrappy breakthrough in the 25th minute. A long throw-in was launched into the heart of Wadham’s penalty area and, after Wadham faffed about trying to clear it, lumbering midfielder Tom Phelan blasted the ball into the roof of the net from six yards out. It wasn’t the prettiest goal ever, but it was no less than Worcester deserved for ten minutes of complete supremacy. Worcester’s fans celebrated with a hauntingly tuneful rendition of, “We’ve scored one, you’ve scored none, Wadham takes it up the bum.”
Worcester were in control and very nearly doubled their lead on the half hour as an inch-perfect cross from winger Nick Murray landed at Julian Austin’s feet on the Wadham penalty spot, but Austin couldn’t get it under control. Wadham were reduced to making opportunistic counterattacks into Worcester’s half but with 40 minutes gone, they very nearly clawed their way back into the game. Striker Chris Wright scrambled onto a loose ball in the Worcester six yard box and prodded it home, only to see the effort ruled out for offside. Just before the break, Worcester once again nearly doubled their lead. Captain Andrea Caio lofted a cross from left to right, and winger Nick Murray put his laces through it with a stinging volley that forced an acrobatic save from Ben Szreter. At half time it was definitely the Worcester fans who had the most to smile about. They deserved their lead but the fact that their normally bulletproof defence was showing chinks was undoubtedly a cause for concern.
As the second half began, Wadham made it clear that they weren’t willing to sit down and be beaten just yet. Attacking midfielder Sam Hurst missed a golden chance for the blue and whites as he got his feet tangled up receiving a cross on fifty minutes. Worcester weren’t happy with this display of defiance by Wadham, and ten minutes into the second half they struck again to double their lead. Andrea Caio delivered a corner from the left-hand side, which Austin blasted towards the goal. As Szreter sprawled from the save, striker Adam Healy stepped up to bundle the ball home and make the score 2-0 to Worcester.
Wadham had their backs against the wall but they still displayed flashes of danger. On the hour, Nicholls, having swapped from the right wing to the left, found himself clean through on goal but dallied too long about taking his shot to give defender Jamie Potter time to get his body in the way of the strike.
The chance kicked new life into Wadham and they spent ten minutes attacking hard. Jeremy Stothart drilled the ball at the Worcester goal from just outside the penalty area only to see it gobbled up by Adam Titchen and Nicholls kept on harassing Worcester’s back four.
Worcester, however, had other ideas than to let Wadham get back into the game and with twenty minutes left, Julian Austin put it beyond doubt. Chesting down a cross on the left-hand side of the Wadham penalty area, he turned and blasted the ball unstoppably into the top corner of the net. It was a truly sublime effort and the Worcester fans were rocking.
Whilst Wadham could have felt aggrieved at the messy nature of Worcester’s first two goals, 3-0 was a fair reflection of Worcester’s swashbuckling form throughout the match. As talented as Chris Nicholls was for Wadham, his obscene pace more often than not left him isolated up front and he lacked conviction in front of goal. The midfield pairing of Luke Devereux and Tom Phelan ruled the middle of the pitch and the attacking duo of Austin and Healy were all but unplayable. Worcester finally kicked into top gear in this match, demonstrating for the full 90 minutes the quality of which we had seen flashes in the quarter- and semi-finals.
View From the Terraces
Worcester fan Charles Walmsley on his college’s historic success:
The great Hungarian coach Bela Guttman never stayed at a successful club for more than three years, claiming, “The third year is fatal!” This Worcester side showed no signs of giving into this prophecy, and in the end their all-Blue front six made the difference.
Yet there was also a sense of the fin de siècle as Andrea Caio lifted the oldest competitive football trophy still in existence. Nine of the starters could have left by this time next year. Second-year Luke Devereux dictated the pace of the game and will be key next season.
Austin’s goal was something of beauty. Chesting down a long ball as though he had all the time in the world, Austin took three touches, swivelled, and hammered the ball into the top corner. The keeper was rooted to the spot, helpless, and Austin ran away in delight, evoking images of Marco Tardelli scoring in the 1982 World Cup final.
We wait to see if anyone can take on Worcester’s mantle, or whether they can push on and emulate the St John’s team of 1981-84, which took home four successive Cuppers trophies.