Football

Worcester swagger to terrific hat-trick

Worcester swagger to terrific hat-trick

Alex Tyndall

WIMG_6441orcester’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.

PHOTOS/Alex Tyndall

Battling Blues silence noisy neighbours

Battling Blues silence noisy neighbours

IMG_5251Blues 5 – 2 Brookes

The Oxford Blues thrashed rivals Brookes in the second annual Xchanging Varsity football match, with a streaker stealing the headlines once again.

For the second year running a naked fan emerged from the away end and ran around the pitch before disappearing towards the Iffley Road and freedom. Unfortunately for Brookes their defence was as limp and lifeless as exhibitionist’s display with countless errors punished by their victorious hosts.

This fixture may not command the tradition and authority of the more celebrated Varsity but the 5-2 scoreline served as the perfect warm-up for a trip to the other place.

“Both teams are desperate to win,” asserted Blues and Oxford United coach Micky Lewis ahead of the game. “This is great preparation for Cambridge.”

As for the Blues’ noisy neighbours, coach Dan Bond simply stated, “This game means a lot to me, and probably more to the players. It’s the biggest game they will play in their lives”.

Behind the two benches the ground was packed out by “Dan Bond’s Barmy Army”, the vocal and impressive away support, who immediately began singing “Keep the Brookes flag flying high” to the tune of ‘The Red Flag’.

“It’s like West Ham-Millwall,” one of the self-styled Brookes Ultras eagerly claimed before kick-off.

However, the hilarity did not stop with the ‘Ultras’ of Headington and Harcourt Hill. The officials, who came out to warm up did so with a small child joining in. “Looks like the ref can’t get a babysitter,” grumbled one Blues fan. This proved not to be the case, as Tom Haddrell, 11 years old, proceeded to run the line for the whole 90 minutes with the youngster claiming to be in his third year of officiating. If Haddrell appears in the Premier League, you heard it here first.

When the game eventually got underway it began with a bang. Barely two minutes in, a catastrophically poor touch by the Brookes left back gifted wing-man Ed Grimer with an early goal. Iffley erupted, temporarily drowning out the Brookes fans.

The Oxford crowd was subjected to prolonged class-based chanting, including such gems as, “Does your butler know you’re here?” and “Will your chauffeur pick you up?” but the Blues kept the home faithful happy by keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

Mark Jamison, in only his second outing for the Blues, met an Alex Biggs corner powerfully to score. This was followed up by more defensive errors from Brookes, with a misguided header back to the goalkeeper rewarding the hard running of Peder Beck-Friis with an opportunity to increase the lead.

The Swedish striker had to work hard for his debut Varsity goal, bravely stooping amongst the flying boots to head home his fourth of the season.

The Blues seemed content to let their pressing game in the midfield provide them with chances from Brookes errors and cede much of the possession to the men in the green and white kit. Brookes’ misery was further compounded when Julian Austin coolly side-footed another past the hapless Brookes custodian on 30 minutes. This finally brought the Blues fans to life, with the ball shepherded back to the centre spot amid chants of “your team’s embarrassing”.

The first half was typified by a competent Blues team which took their chances, kept their shape and defended well.

Brookes, on the other hand, imploded under the Iffley Road lights. Perhaps Dan Bond’s comments said it all. Such terrible errors and poor marking from corners belie a team which is otherwise doing fairly comfortably in division two of the BUCS league. Maybe the noisy neighbours wanted it too much. Whatever the explanation, the game was effectively over after half an hour.

This did nothing to deter the Brookes fans. On 40 minutes, after some time spent abusing Blues’ right back Michael Moneke, the chant went up: “Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal”, followed immediately by the sight of the Poznan on the Iffley terraces.

Brookes responded immediately, scoring from a soft free kick from the edge of the Blues box. The men from Brookes went crazy as the consolation went in. This did nothing to prevent the Bond from ordering the whole Brookes bench to warm up at the break.

The second half by contrast was something of a let down. Whilst no one expected another five goals, both teams seemed to be content to let the game play out, with neither Brookes nor the Blues really pushing on for glory.

This was until the referee decided to award Brookes perhaps the softest penalty Iffley has ever seen. Dispatched, the game still refused to sparkle, with Brookes unable, seemingly, to chase the game. Any possibility of a miracle was killed when Adam Healy glanced home another Biggs free-kick.

However, the game got progressively nastier, with the referee refusing to book a Brookes midfielder after kicking a prostrate Blues player. Moneke was also repeatedly the subject of late challenges, which were the only contribution from the Brookes left winger throughout the game.

In reality, the second half went to the fans. Brookes gave us the surreal gem that is “Shoes up, if you love the Brookes”, brandishing their footwear at Blues fans, to be met with “You’ve only got one pair”. As the game descended into crash and bang football, the fans’ antagonism increased. “I’d rather be in Baghdad than in Brookes,” was roared by a small group of Blues fans towards the away end.

So ended an entertaining night. The noisy neighbours routed, the streaker eventually apprehended by the constabulary in the bushes behind the pitch, and OUAFC taking another step towards success.

PHOTO/Matt Handley

Furious response for OUWAFC seconds against ravenous Wolves

Furious response for OUWAFC seconds against ravenous Wolves

OUAFC-crest-300x266It is perhaps an understatement to say that OUWAFC seconds, the Furies, were a little uneasy when they travelled to Wolverhampton last week to take on the team who dealt them a crushing 21-1 defeat last term. The challenge must have seemed especially daunting to the three St John’s players making their university debut.

After conceding two goals in the first five minutes, it seemed initially that the Furies were in for another thrashing from top-of-the-league Wolves. However, it soon became clear that the seconds had acquired both experience and an improved playing structure since their last meeting and were not going down without a fight. Determined tackles and confident clearances from the back four kept further goals at bay for half an hour, enabling Wen Hoe, Julia Skisaker and Chloe Coates to drive the ball forward, testing the Wolverhampton defenders and on several occasions threatening to score. As a result, Wolverhampton were left looking slightly ill at ease, a scenario which would have seemed unfeasible when the two teams met in Michaelmas term.

Unfortunately, the Furies were contending with what seemed like gale-force winds which swept the pitch, making long-range shots and passes problematic. The first half ended 4-0 after some impressive footwork from the Wolves’ centre-forwards enabled them to score two more goals, despite the efforts of first-year biologist Sophie Smith, who gave a spectacular performance in goal for the Furies.

Clearly unnerved by the their opponents’ noticeable improvement, Wolverhampton increased their tempo in the second half, scoring further goals thanks to impressive set pieces and demonstrating the undeniable class that earned them their spot at the top of the table.

They were clearly feeling the pressure, however, because when a throw-in from Sam Moore to captain Katherine Coyte deflected off a Wolverhampton defender, it sailed over the opposition’s keeper and into the net, giving the Furies a much-needed boost.  Not long afterwards, however, a decisive tackle just inside the Oxford box resulted in a Wolverhampton penalty which Smith narrowly failed to keep out.

Despite the match resulting in a 10-1 win to Wolverhampton, it was obvious to both sides that the Furies have stepped up their game since their last meeting, as shown by the fact that they conceded half the number of goals this time round, thus denying their opponents the hefty goal difference they need to fulfil their ambitions of promotion.

Windmill’s energy sees cool Catz cruise past Hugh’s

Windmill’s energy sees cool Catz cruise past Hugh’s

IMG_5113A Chris Lambert hat-trick helped St Catherine’s to a comfortable victory over St Hugh’s in the only JCR Premier League match of 3rd week. Despite plenty of rustiness from both sides, given that neither had played a competitive match since November, Catz had enough guile to see off their opponents, and fully deserved their 4-0 win.

With unbeaten Exeter out of action, Catz closed the gap on the league leaders to three points, and captain Harry Whittle is optimistic that the Marston Road outfit can mount a title challenge. “It was a solid all-round performance,” Whittle noted diplomatically. “And with a full-strength team I’m confident we can win the league.”

Even without top scorer Joe Davies, the hosts’ forward line threatened throughout, with persistent movement from Whittle – “not a natural centre-forward” – testing the Hugh’s centre-backs’ post-Christmas fitness. The pacey Jamie Windmill threatened early on to break the deadlock, and when he nipped past Steve Cross and saw his shot parried by Hugh’s keeper Paul Kim, Lambert was on hand to lash the loose ball into the top of the net.

Although hat-trick hero Lambert grabbed the limelight, Whittle was quick to praise central midfielder Ed Steele, whose interplay with Chris Lighton and Alonso-like passing range were central to Catz’s impressive ball retention. It was Steele’s through ball which freed Whittle to cross for Windmill to tap home and take Catz into a deserved half-time lead.

Hugh’s’ difficulties were compounded by an injury to captain Jose Waterton shortly before the break. Bemoaning the absence of “four or five first team players”, including Blues man Mark Jamison, who was later to score in the Xchanging Brookes Varsity fixture, Waterton drew encouragement from the contributions of the Hugh’s second string. “There was a definite improvement in the second half,” said the centre-back, “and we’re hoping to continue improving, with several big games coming up.”

The second half was a scrappier affair, presumably due to both sides’ lack of match sharpness. Catz persisted, though, in a bid to improve their goal difference, and Lambert doubled his tally, dinking the ball over Kim, after a jinking run and pass from Windmill had bisected the Hugh’s defence.

The more the game went on, the more Hugh’s looked like troubling the scorers, but Percy Preston and Sam Byrne were denied by a combination of wayward finishing, smart saves from Catz keeper Joe Kidd, and the excellent anticipation of Dan O’Connor, a defender alleged to have once been on Arsenal’s books. Lambert’s third, a penalty awarded after Kim felled the same player, was ample reward for Catz’s greater incision in the opposition box.

Whittle was entitled to feel better about Catz’s title credentials after a “stupid” 4-3 loss to Worcester in their last game in November. Hugh’s remain on course for a mid-table finish, but must first tighten up a defence which is now the leakiest in the division.

PHOTO/Ben Crome

Blues streak past lacklustre Brookes

Blues streak past lacklustre Brookes

The Oxford Blues thrashed rivals Brookes in the second annual Xchanging Varsity football match, with a streaker stealing the headlines once again.

A Brookes fan, believed to be the same streaker from last year’s Varsity encounter, vaulted the security barrier with minutes remaining in the match before slipping past the stewards onto the pitch. After high-fiving Brookes ‘keeper Sam Cole, the exhibitionist made for the trees but was later seen being escorted off the Iffley Road premises by police.

IMG_5218

“Sit down shut up!” The streaker defiantly evades capture.

On the field, four first half goals were enough to sink the Blues’ near neighbours in a pulsating first half encounter. A shaky Brookes back line was guilty of letting a ruthless Oxford attack punish four sloppy errors, the first coming after just two minutes when Ed Grimer raced clear to open the scoring.

Mark Jamison, Peder Beck-Friis and Julian Austin fired the Blues into a 4-0 lead with a Brookes consolation reducing the arrears before the break.

A soft penalty set up a nervy second half but substitute Adam Healy put the result beyond doubt with a late header from an Alex Biggs corner.

streaker

Why always me? A streaker with “F**k off Oxford Uni” emblazoned makes the back pages at last year’s match.

Pick up next week’s Oxford Student for all the reaction from tonight’s match.

PHOTOS/ Dan Fox & Matt Handley

 

Adkins sacking proves football’s gone mad

Adkins sacking proves football’s gone mad

It is nothing new to suggest that the business of football management has become more and more precarious in recent years. A rant on some of the ludicrous sackings over the past few years would provide enough material for an entire book. But the sacking of Southampton boss Nigel Adkins is quite simply on another level.

The decision is just wrong in so many ways. I heard a discussion on talkSport about a week or so ago discussing the disappearance of loyalty in the game, but conversation was mainly focused on players and managers having no loyalty to their clubs. Perhaps the discussion needs to be flipped on its head. How can we expect managers to stay loyal to their clubs when they can be dismissed from their position despite back-to-back promotions and a run of just 2 losses in 12 games?

The club’s fans forums have been inundated with irate fans, including one resident Saints supporter raging, We’ve had some seriously dark points such as administration, however this one tops the lot. With Adkins gone we will not only lose him, but all he has given us over the past 3 years.’ This must be the greatest concern for the fans and players alike. Adkins will have built a strong team spirit that now may well be pulled apart by his departure as the core of the current team will have been with him since their days in League One.

When Adkins faced the press he always brought with him a smile and an admirable positivity. Mauricio Pochettino will bring with him a translator, for in his infinite wisdom Nicola Cortese has appointed a manager who does not speak a word of English. Cortese said that he believed that Pochettino would get the best out of the players, so it should be interesting to see how the South American communicates his ideas to Rickie Lambert…the scouser.

In fairness to Pochettino what he does say is incisive and to the point. At his first press conference he dropped the revelation that ‘our biggest challenge is to win the games ahead of us.’ At least he seems to have grasped the basic principle behind competitive sport.

Why do chairmen always seem to be the only ones who can’t recognise the absurdity of their decisions? It is quite clear that the rest of the footballing world can see how nonsensical this decision is and it has got to the point where it is painful and embarrassing to read the news of yet another chopped manager who was simply unable to work miracles. Unfortunately it is just a sad fact that too many of our clubs are not run by football men, but profiteers like Cortese who know nothing of what is involved in building a successful side and creating a team ethic.

Saturday night’s alright for football

Saturday night’s alright for football

This Saturday saw Iffley Road Sports Centre play host to OUWAFC’s inaugural 5-a-side tournament, which proved to be a great success with players of all abilities turning out to flex their footballing muscles ahead of Cuppers quarter finals, blow off some post-collections steam and generally ease themselves back into the game after the Christmas vacation.

The tournament, which took place between 5.30 and 7pm on Iffley’s floodlit astro pitches, was open to both college and university players.

With the option of individual entries and impromptu teams forming on the night, there was really no excuse not to get involved and a total of seven teams with a maximum of eight players took part. Participants included Merton-Mansfield, St Anne’s and Jesus college and a team made up of Blues and Furies players.

Although the abilities of the teams varied greatly, the format of the tournament helped to even out the field. Each game was just five minutes long, with rush goalkeeping, meaning that capitalising on every scoring opportunity was crucial and keeping your wits about you advisable. The result was intense fast-paced play with all the fluidity and movement you would expect from 5-a-side but with an added element of urgency.

The teams were divided into two groups and the top two teams of each group progressed to the semifinals. With both semifinals ending goalless after five minutes they descended into a tense sudden death situation where the first goal was to win.

Teams from OUWAFC and Mansfield Road, a local ladies team who also play in the first division of the women’s college league, emerged victorious and went head to head in the final where a goal from OUWAFC’s Vanessa Butz claimed victory for the University team.

Overall, the tournament was highly enjoyable for everyone involved thanks to its casual and accommodating ethos and the enthusiasm of all its participants, regardless of ability. Credit goes to OUWAFC President, Julia Skisaker, and Blues captain, Kim Kilmartin, for organising and running the event. Kilmartin later commented on the promising turnout:

“It was really good to get so many girls out playing. Hopefully we can continue to increase participation through events like this.”

The hope is that by holding similar events in the future they can encourage college players to try out for the Blues and Furies teams and generally raise the profile of women’s football within the University in the longer term.

Blues impressive in Reading FC defeat

Blues impressive in Reading FC defeat

A goal with just minutes remaining denied the Blues a famous draw away at Reading FC U18s on Wednesday. Having fought back from the disappointment of conceding two early goals, Oxford could have nicked it themselves in the second-half, and were unfortunate to concede when Reading’s left-winger cut inside and curled a delightful shot from the edge of the area past the helpless Tom Haigh. With a few senior players missing too it was a performance that higlighted the squad’s strength of character.

As the Blues turned up at Premier League side Reading’s training ground, they were greeted by U18 head coach David Dodds, a former Blues coach just over a decade ago. Justifiably nervous ahead of the game, Oxford were facing one of the best academy sides in the country: Reading U18s have lost just once all season and were ten games unbeaten, including a 3-0 demolition of Arsenal. Yet the Blues had their own unbeaten record to uphold in this fixture and were certainly not going to relinquish it without a battle.

Despite starting the game well and putting together some dangerous counter-attacking moves, two long-range efforts all of a sudden saw the Blues 2-0 down. First a snap-shot from the edge of the D beat the unsighted Haigh in goal, before an effort from 25 yards left Haigh grasping at thin air as the ball looped over him and into the net.

It would have been easy for the Blues to let their heads drop and capitulate, but they yet again showed the kind of grit and determination that has proved a vital part of their success this season. Not to be disheartened by the early scoreline, they defended diligently and doggedly, whilst looking to use the pace of Ed Grimer and Ezra Rubenstein on the wings to hit Reading on the counter. And after 34 minutes they were justly rewarded when high pressing led to Grimer intercepting a ball on the edge of the Reading box, racing clear and incisively finishing low into the far corner. Almost straight from the restart, however, a rash challenge from Mark Jamison – who peformed superbly in his first game for 11 months – gave Reading the chance to restore their two-advantage from the spot, but their striker saw his effort rebound off the post.

As Oxford grew into the game after the break, they began to create more chances and exert concerted pressure on the Reading defence. The home side found it more and more difficult to carve any clear-cut chances out of their superior possession, and the Blues’ equaliser after 53 minutes was exactly what the away team deserved – and what a way to score! Grimer received the ball around twenty years out on the right edge of the area, shifted the ball out of his feet and made a yard of space past his man, before hitting a rasping shot that soared into the top corner and gave the keeper no chance. It was to be Grimer’s last action as he was forced off with injury, but what an impact he had made.

Substitute Kieron Gilfoy made his debut for the Blues and added renewed bite to the Oxford midfield, and in truth the match could have swung either way in the final fifteen minutes, with Julian Austin having several shots blocked or saved, whilst centre-backs Jamison and  Bassett made some vital last-ditch challenges. Reading’s winner was galling to take after such a sterling performance by the Blues, who can at least take some consolation from the fact that all three goals they conceded were long-range strikes of high quality. Some of these players may well be playing in the Prewmier League some time soon, and the Blues can take heart from the fact they pushed the stars of tomorrow as hard as anybody this season.

Academy director Eamonn Dolan introduced himself to the Blues post-match and praised the lads for their attitude and performance, particularly singling out left-back Adam Fellows, who was in imperious form and rarely beaten all day. Dolan’s warm words were gratefully received by the Oxford side and will hopefully inspire the Blues to maintain their unbeaten run in competitive fixtures this term, as they look to clinch a league and cup double and maintain their Brookes Varsity trophy.

PHOTO/tombaaaa