Football

Is Luis Suarez irreplaceable?

Is Luis Suarez irreplaceable?

He has been celebrated and vilified in almost equal measure, but Luis Suarez’ seemingly imminent exit to Barcelona has the potential to cause a bigger headache for Brendan Rodgers than he experienced when trying to offload Stewart Downing. Replacing a star player is always difficult but is doable; just ask Arsene Wenger, he does it every year, but finding a way to survive without a talisman who scored 31 times in 33 games and scooped both of last season’s individual honours is a different ball game entirely. Indeed, Liverpool’s predicament is almost identical to that of Daniel Levy last summer, who had almost £100 million to replace Gareth Bale. Whether the Anfield outfit wisely reinvest the Suarez money or follow Spurs into squandering obscene amounts of cash on the likes of Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado is completely in their hands, but given their recent summer transfer dealings this is hardly reassuring.

 

 
Although suggestions that Suarez’ departure might actually be beneficial and help Liverpool ‘play like more of a team’ can be dismissed as simply delusional (would Real Madrid really be better off if Cristiano Ronaldo left the club?), his exit could provide Brendan Rodgers the opportunity to really put into place the 4-3-3 system he clearly favours. After wisely and pragmatically utilising both 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 diamond in order to accommodate the talents of both Suarez and £12 million revelation Daniel Sturridge, the former’s departure allows Rodgers to build his side around the latter and revert to packing the midfield with three passing players. It seems likely that the Liverpool side starting next season could see a midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen, particularly against the better sides, or perhaps Adam Lallana or Philippe Coutinho replacing Allen to maintain Liverpool’s attacking freedom from last season. Either way, it makes sense for Rodgers to continue with Sturridge as the only top class striker at the club, allowing the Suarez money to be spent in other areas. Given the England man’s injury record though, around £10-15 million does need to be spent on a player such as Loic Remy or Wilfried Bony, strikers who, along with Ricky Lambert, can serve as a credible alternative to Sturridge and enable Liverpool to fight on all fronts. The signing of youngster Divock Origi seems to be close, but the arrival of the 19-year-old doesn’t negate the need for a Remy-like player, as the Belgian will need time to adapt to the Premier League both on and off the pitch.

 

“It makes sense for Rodgers to continue with Sturridge as the only top class striker at the club, allowing the Suarez money to be spent in other area”

 

While the need to replace Suarez like-for-like may not be that pressing, a large chunk of his transfer fee does need to be spent on the marquee signing of someone who can play all across the front line and possesses a fair amount of pace and flair. Alexis Sanchez’ fluidity and goal threat would have been perfect, but he seems to have chosen the Manchester City development squad, also known as Arsenal,  instead of Rodgers’ side. Names such as Antoine Griezmann have been suggested and the Real Sociedad man would be a good and viable option, but it seems like the Reds have their sights fixed on 20-year-old Lazar Markovic from Benfica. An exceptionally pacey player with a huge amount of potential, should the Serbian international improve his attitude in training in a similar way to Raheem Sterling’s progression, a £20 million fee could seem a snip. In the short term however, Markovic is a major risk. The signing of an established creative player who can turn a game on its head is Liverpool’s most important of the summer; fail to find the right man and the attack that flourished so much last season could find itself looking slightly toothless.

 

 
Liverpool’s most clear weakness last season was their defence, and when you’re forced to play John Flanagan out of position for half a season it’s easy to see why. The 21-year-old coped admirably, but a lack of depth in the full back areas combined with error after error from experienced centre backs ultimately meant that Liverpool feel agonisingly short of a first league title in 24 years. A new left back is the priority in order to provide both cover and competition for Jose Enrique, but numerous links with Ryan Bertrand won’t exactly be a comfort to the Anfield faithful. Instead, Brendan Rodgers should emulate Manchester United’s big money capture of Luke Shaw and stump up the required £20 million for Seville’s Alberto Moreno, a highly promising talent who can provide a long-term solution in that area. Daniel Agger has been on the wane for a while and looks likely to depart, leaving the need for a purchase of a right-footed centre back to displace Martin Skrtel from the side and partner Mamadou Sakho. Dejan Lovren is the much mooted option, but at the obscene price of £20 million it is hard to see that he would actually be an improvement on Skrtel. Steven Caulker would also be such a backwards step, and it would be much more worthwhile for Fenway Sports Group to add another few million to the Lovren bid and use it to try and snare someone like Mats Hummels, who has proven Champions League quality. Another defensive-minded midfielder could also be beneficial if Lucas does leave the club.

 

“Liverpool’s most clear weakness last season was their defence. Error after error mean that Liverpool fell agonisingly short of a first league title in 24 years”

 

While identifying the type of players Liverpool need isn’t that difficult, there is a growing fear among supporters that the club might ‘do a Spurs’ with the Suarez money; buying overpriced and overrated talent that won’t have an immediate impact. Indeed, a particularly apt comment after the Spurs debacle was that you can’t replace an iPhone by buying a watch, a camera, a torch, a satnav and a Nokia. Replacing star players like Suarez and Bale like-for-like is impossible, but behaving like a child in a sweet shop when reinvesting their transfer fee will get you nowhere fast either. Buying players like Ricky Lambert and Adam Lallana signifies that Liverpool are keen to avoid an excessive influx of foreign talent, but the warning signs are there that they may end up with several young and overpriced players who won’t be able to make an immediate Champions League level contribution.

 

 
Brendan Rodgers’ record in the transfer market, particularly in the summer, is patchy. For every Philippe Coutinho there has been a Fabio Borini, and in recent years the wider club hierarchy have largely proved themselves average negotiators and talent-spotters at best. The Bale story remains a cautionary tale for Rodgers, and Liverpool fans do have a right to be concerned. At the end of the day though, who’s to say that the man who masterminded a second place finish with Victor Moses and Iago Aspas as the only viable options from the bench won’t achieve the same heroics again?

“A dream that became a reality” – Costa Rica’s team of heroes and the pride of a nation

“A dream that became a reality” – Costa Rica’s team of heroes and the pride of a nation

To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, blessed is the country that is not in need of heroes. Costa Rica is such a country. Without an army since 1948, this small Central American nation is an oasis of calm and a haven of transparent democracy and rule of law in a violent and tumultuous region. Where other nations’ national anthems speak of war, conquest, kings and queens, Costa Rica’s exalts ‘the simple farm hands’ and hails their nation as ‘gentle homeland! Mother of love!’. With unparalleled natural beauty, impressive human development and socioeconomic indicators which leave it as by far the happiest country in the world according to the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica seems to be perhaps the luckiest nation on earth. So maybe the heroic performance of the Costa Rican team at this World Cup is simply the cherry on the cake. A taste of glory on the world stage for this tiny nation, a smattering of heroes richly deserved, if barely needed.

 

There was no expectation on the team going into this tournament. Drawn in a group with three former world champions in England, Italy and Uruguay, Costa Rica were barely expected to make a ripple. Ranked 28th in the world and given odds of 2000/1 to win the tournament and a huge 15/1 to merely escape their group they were framed by the media less as whipping boys than as a piñata to be smashed by the powerhouses they were competing against. These predictions could not have been further from the truth. Costa Rica put in inspired performances to deservedly beat both Uruguay and put in a controlled performance to effortlessly hold off England in a 0-0 draw to advance to the last 16 as group winners. However it was last night’s performance against Greece that was perhaps the most impressive. A disciplined performance off the ball, with the team’s high pressing and defensive line restricting the traditionally dour and deep Greeks to sporadic attacks and crafting chances from set pieces, laid the foundations for the Ticos to take the lead with an excellent finish from captain Bryan Ruiz. However it was after Oscar Duarte was sent off in the 65th minute that they truly showed their mettle. Despite succumbing to a cruel equaliser in the 90th minute they continued, cramp ridden and outnumbered, to put up a Spartan-esque resistance against the resurgent Greeks. Forcing the game to penalties was victory in itself and having earned the opportunity to save the game they took it with aplomb, taking five penalties, scoring all of them with the Greeks being thwarted by an astonishing save from goalkeeper Keylor Navas, flying to his right to palm away a perfectly struck penalty from Gekas to earn a famous victory and a first ever World Cup quarter final for his nation. Drenched in sweat after the game and on the verge of tears, Navas told reporters that what he and his teammates had achieved “was only a dream for us, a dream that became a reality, a dream that was dreamt by an entire country”.

 

As the cliché goes, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but unlike the impressive form of the Dutch, explained by Van Gaal’s tactic nous and the exemplary performance of the Chileans, desperately unlucky not to knock out Brazil, it appears that no one has attempted to offer any explanations as to the form of the hugely overachieving Costa Ricans. The truth is that, on paper, there is very little to suggest that they are anywhere near capable of achieving what they have. In Keylor Navas of Levante and soon, perhaps, of Athletico Madrid, they have a genuinely world class goalkeeper. Other than him the promising Joel Campbell of Arsenal, PSV’s intelligent and elegant Bryan Ruiz and the tireless Christian Bolaños, plying his trade with F.C Copenhagen have excelled themselves at this tournament but can hardly be described as the kind of players you would expect to drag a team to the last 8 of the World Cup. Their manager Jorge Luís Pinto is widely renowned in his native Colombia and throughout South America as an innovative and inventive tactician but with the highlights of his trophy cabinet being a Costa Rican title with Alajuelense in 2003 and a Colombian title with Cucuta Deportivo in 2006 he can hardly be described as having the kind of pedigree you’d expect from a top level international manager, which is what he has proved himself to be. Neither is it the advantages of the Brazilian weather with their two victories over Greece and Italy coming in Recife, where the comfortable humidity and temperatures in the mid 20s are far more reminiscent of the Mediterranean than the tropical climes of Costa Rica.

 

So what then can we owe Costa Rica’s fine form to? Certainly the high intensity pressing game and astounding fitness of the players, shown by their ability to resist the Greek onslaught with 10 men throughout extra time, can be considered a factor. So too perhaps can Uruguayan complacency in the first game of the group as well as the lack of Italian and English attacking imagination when faced with this tightly organised Costa Rican team. However what is most evident in this team is a huge amount of team spirit and self-belief, spearheaded by their manager Jorge Luís Pinto. Asked about his side’s prospects against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, opponents who will certainly not make the mistake of underestimating them, he said that “we will continue fighting. We will go on. We will see beautiful things. Rest assured that we will not get eliminated in the quarter finals”. However this is not a question that will have been asked by any of the tens of thousands of Costa Ricans who flooded the streets of the capital San José following the final whistle. This football mad nation of just 5 million people had no expectation of miracles coming into this tournament and whatever happens against the Netherlands they will return to Costa Rica as heroes. But this is exactly the point. The simple fact that their team have defied all expectations and delivered results beyond anyone’s wildest expectations will be enough. Costa Rica is not a nation that needs heroes, but this World Cup has given a team and a story that they can be justly proud of, and richly deserve.

Women’s Football puts best foot forward with twin wins

Women’s Football puts best foot forward with twin wins

After a dismal season without a win, which former captain Kim Kilmartin described as a “rebuilding” year for OUWAFC, the Blues really needed to win their first match of the season against Derby last Wednesday. However, with only two preseason training sessions under their belts and a squad that was half made up of brand new players, the odds were very much against them.

The unfortunate Blues were 1-0 down within the first ten minutes due to a messy slip up in the penalty area. However they went on to redeem themselves in the first half thanks to start-of-the-season resilience and the unmistakeable enthusiasm of fresh players. Shiny new centre-midfielder Vail Miller furthered the Blues’ cause with some well-placed corners, one of which ended in a header from skipper Anna Green which bounced tantalising off the post. The Blues were setting up some promising chances and playing great football on the ground. In fact, throughout the first half they looked like scoring, especially Becca May on the right wing who made several great runs and was Derby’s biggest threat of the match.

A drop in pace at the start of the second half meant that Oxford’s defensive line was caught on its back foot and Derby managed to slip another, somewhat slicker, goal past keeper Alana Pain. Help was at hand in the form of Worcester College’s Sam More whose strike went soaring over Derby’s keeper from 25 yards to put the Blues back in the game. Frustratingly, just minutes later Derby extended their lead yet again leaving the Blues with only twenty minutes left to find the goals they needed in order to win their

Subs were made, Mandy Rojek came on for Oxford and soon enough the home side was awarded a penalty. Rojek stood up to take it and skilfully placed it bottom left corner to hit the back of the net. In the dying minutes Tina Gough came agonisingly close to equalising but in the end the Blues had to settle for a disappointing, but by no means tragic, 3-2 defeat.

The Furies had a similarly tough time of it last year and also ended the season without a single win. However, their first match of the new season, against Warwick seconds, had much to recommend it.

The weekend trials had uncovered some new talent in the form of Alice Hunnings, whose impressive performance at right back showed off some confident slide tackles and strong clearances, and Claudia Comberti, who was assertive up front for the Furies.

The inexperienced home side, who had never played together before, were first to score and went 1-0 up in the first half to the delight of the new Furies captain, Amy Trenter.

Disappointingly, some minor errors allowed Warwick to score a couple of sloppy goals which meant the Furies were chasing their opponents for the rest of the match. Even so, they never let Warwick relax and the real brilliance of the Furies’ game came from their former goalkeeper, Chloe Coates, who kept the home side in contention by scoring all three of their goals, including a magnificent long range shot that looped over Warwick’s keeper.

If we compare this showing to the Furies’ disastrous 21-0 defeat against Wolverhampton at the start of last season, it’s clear that this year’s squad is stronger, better organised and more determined than they once were.

Overall, despite the fact that neither OUWAFC side secured a victory in their opening matches, there are promising signs of growth already beginning to emerge in their camp. New talent coming in appears to have given veteran players a new lease of life and the future looks bright for Oxford Women’s Football.

Over Analysing the Under-21s

Over Analysing the Under-21s

U21s - jared192Steadfastly analysed yet rarely watched, youth football occupies a peculiar place within the English football psyche: on the one hand, a youngster born on these shores can, in the space of a few fleeting tricks or an unexpected goal glut, be touted as the saviour of the national game; on the other, any sign of failure brings out the calls for all manner of root-and-branch reforms of the state of youth coaching, or the position of foreigners in the Premier League.

The temptation is to watch the European Under-21 Championship with the staid question of ‘What can we learn about English football?’ in mind, though, must be resisted; Stuart Pearce’s side must be allowed to shine without hyperbolic derision or praise – after all, they’ll suffer enough cynicism when their cohort’s turn to feature in senior international tournaments comes around.

Unfortunately for those who insist on brandishing sweeping conclusions at every opportunity, the bearing of youth-level performances on the future results of senior squads is limited. While there are some correlations, with Spain having won five of the ten European Under-19 Championships over the past decade, their transition towards long-term success is exceptional. By contrast, Ghana won the World Under-17 Cup twice in the 1990s, but the Black Stars haven’t lifted an African Cup of Nations since.

Additionally, only a fraction of players from any single age group will go on to represent the full national side together. Just four members of the squad Pearce took to the Netherlands in 2007 travelled to Euro 2012, even though James Milner, Ashley Young et al. were, aged around 26,at the nominal peak of their powers.

In sum, the effect any given under-21 crop can have on the senior setup is so minimal that a good performance in Israel is not a panacea, nor a poor one a disaster.

Fans should instead look forward to the tournament as an opportunity for the continent to showcase its youth; some of the quality on display will be magnificent. England’s hottest prospect, Wilfried Zaha, will be looking to show David Moyes that he can transfer his dominance at Championship level onto the elite stage, and while the squad otherwise lacks star quality, the young Lions take on the hosts, Italy and Norway in group A having won their last nine games without conceding a goal.

Spain’s squad is replete with a stunning array of attacking talent, including Barcelona men Thiago Alcântara and Cristian Tello and highly-rated Malaga playmaker Isco. The Netherlands bring defender Daley Blind, son of former Dutch international Danny, and several players who have made inroads into the full national side, such as PSV midfielder Kevin Strootman and Borussia Mönchengladbach striker Luuk de Jong.

Israel, hosting its biggest tournament since the 1964 Asian Cup, will be the home of football’s must-watch action for the next couple of weeks, filling the otherwise barren gap between the league season and the Confederations Cup. Plus, Phil Neville is travelling with the England party. It should be a belter.

PHOTO/jared192

OxStu Sports’ round-up of the winter’s sporting action

OxStu Sports’ round-up of the winter’s sporting action

Miles Dilworth collates comments from around the university’s sports teams to review Michaelmas and Hilary

Men’s Rugby

Season Summary: The Blues ended the season with more defeats (9) than victories (6), but it is hard to judge their season based on results alone.

Season Highlight: A stirring second-half comeback to beat Cambridge in the Varsity game

[caption id="attachment_39219" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Samson Egerton scores against the Army Samson Egerton scores against the Army[/caption]

Star Player(s): Samson Egerton was the winner of Alastair Hignall medal at the Varsity match.

Rating/in three words: 8/10

by Miles Dilworth

Women’s Rugby

Season summary: Finished fourth in the BUCS Premiership South, helped by a combination of experienced girls and talented newcomers.

Season Highlight: The first double Varsity victory since 2004. In hard-fought matches the Blues and Panthers each came away from Grange Road with a win.

Rating/in 3 words: 7. Double shoe!

by Tatiana Cutts OUWRFC captain

Men’s Rugby League

Season summary: Blues finished 2nd in BUCS Premier South, with three good wins over Brookes.

Season highlight: Smashing Tabs 32-4

Rating/in 3 words: 8. On the shelf.

by James Baker OURLFC

Men’s Football

Season summary: Successful despite Varsity defeat. Blues won promotion, dominating their league to finish with more than double the points of their nearest rivals.

Season highlight: A fantastic 2-2 draw against Atletico Madrid U18.

[caption id="attachment_39220" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Captain Sam Donald celebrates victory over Brookes Captain Sam Donald celebrates victory over Brookes[/caption]

Star Player(s): Current captain Sam Donald, top-scorer Julian Austin and defensive stalwart Anthony
Beddows.

Rating/in three words: 7/10

by Alex Biggs OUAFC secretary

Women’s Football

Season summary: Can’t do much more of a summary other than relegated, no wins, two draws, lost Varsity.

Star player(s): Lucie Bowden, Hannah Griffiths and Alison Feder

Rating/in three words: New players, rebuilding.

by Kim Kilmartin OUWAFC captain

Men’s Hockey

Season summary: The Blues had a breakthrough season this year, finishing 2nd in the South Prem, narrowly missing out on promotion to the National League. We also finished 3rd in a very competitive BUCS league.

Star player(s): Thomas Stubbs and newly-acquired Rupert Allison

by Ollie Sugg, OUHC

Women’s Hockey

Season summary: We reached second in the BUCS league and fourth in the South Women’s Hockey League. Defeat to Cambridge is an unfair reflection of two previous victories over them during the season.

Season highlight: Beating the top of the league team 3-0, a team who had previously been undefeated.

Star player(s): Lorna Dunning for her commitment and great captaincy throughout the season.

Rating/in three words: 9. Tough, fun, successful.

Women’s Lacrosse

Season summary: Training hard each week earned an 8-5 Varsity victory. Semi-finals of BUCS.

Season highlight: beating the top of the league team 3-0, a team who had previously been undefeated.

Star player(s): Gina Allchorn, Becs Kalderon, Beth Denham and Mo Sykes

by Ellie Hinde OUWLC

Men’s Badminton

Season summary: Oxford men’s badminton had an excellent season, with the first team coming middle of the Premier League.

Season highlight: Varsity hammering of Tabs 14-1

[caption id="attachment_39112" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The Men's Badminton side enjoyed a successful season The Men’s Badminton side enjoyed a successful season[/caption]

Rating/in three words: 9. Fun, competitive, victorious.

by Michael Senior OUBaC captain

Women’s Badminton

Season summary: Top in the BUCS Midlands 2B league, earning promotion to the first division, in addition to finishing top of the local women’s doubles division two. Despite an unusually high number of injuries, the team have improved a great deal .

Season highlight: Varsity match with an impressive 15-0 victory thanks to brilliant individual performances and great team spirit.

Star player(s): Rachel Kenny and Charlie Cutler, each playing in their last Varsity match for Oxford, demonstrated especially gritty determination in their doubles against Cambridge.

Rating/in three words: 10. Confident, determined, successful.

by Kathryn Hunt, OUWBaC
Cross Country

Season Summary: OUCCC’s season didn’t get off to the best start. Despite some incredible individual performances and a spectacular victory for the Women’s Second Team, both Blues teams were unfortunately beaten at the Varsity match back in Michaelmas.

However, the Club headed to Leeds for a very muddy BUCS Cross Country Championships in Hilary. The main issue was keeping upright at times, but we showed them what OUCCC was made of with the Men’s A team coming 9th, the Men’s B team 7th and the Women 15th.

Season highlight: The relay events. At Hyde Park Relays, the men’s team came 2nd in tense race – beating the Tabs by 30 seconds! While the women, with only five girls to make up two four-(wo)man teams, finished in a solid 4th and 5th place. To round off the season, the club dominated our own event, the Teddy Hall Relays. Not only was it a great success and great fundraiser, but OUCCC won both the women’s and the mixed race, and the men’s team finished second.

Ratong/in 3 words: 7/10

by Naomi Webber OUCCC

Swimming

Season summary: We then qualified for the BUCS top division finals and came 5th; the highest placing we have ever achieved at BUCS.

Season highlight: Winning Varsity 117-63, the biggest winning margin ever.

Star player(s): Naomi Vides, a Hertford fresher, who has picked up an incredible 9 University records this year, and Cody Duncan at Balliol, who has claimed 5 University records.

Rating/in 3 words: 10/10, as we really couldn’t have been much more awesome.

by Jamie Jurkiewicz OUSC Captain

Men’s Basketball

Season summary: We had strong performances on the court, overwhelming team commitment and great participation at the college and seconds level. Both Men’s and Women’s Blues teams finished in the middle of the Premier South (and will play there again next year). Varsity was split: Wins by the women’s blues and men’s twos and losses by the men’s blues and women’s twos.

Season highlight: Women’s blues went to the BUCS Final 8s.

Rating/in 3 words: 8. Scrappy, fun, commitment.

by Tim Weil, Men’s Basketball Captain

Men’s Boxing

Season summary: OUABC had a great season this year with a narrow loss at Town vs Gown and a 6 -3 victory  in the 106th Varsity boxing match. With the match held in Cambridge for the first time in 10 years and strong home support OUABC had to win convincingly in every bout to get a decision.

[caption id="attachment_39221" align="aligncenter" width="300"]OUABC were defeated in the Town vs Gown contest OUABC were defeated in the Town vs Gown contest[/caption]

Star player(s): Notable Varsity performances came from seasoned veteran James Watson with a first round K.O. and newcomer Harry Miller to clinch victory with the score standing at 4 – 3.

Season Rating 10/10.

Summary from out head coach Dave Mace: Best Varsity victory I’ve had.

by Michael Davis, OUABC Captain

PHOTOS/Matt Handley; Jonny Beech

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.