Varsity 2013: Men’s Football Postmatch Report

10th May 2013

This year’s edition of men’s Varsity football was always going to be an intriguing affair. Both Uni and Trent have made names for themselves this season as hard-nosed, defensively minded sides who concentrated first and foremost on keeping clean sheets, there was little evidence that this would be a classic. The key question was which team would come out of their comfort zone and try to attack, and take the game. The answer was Uni, and their decision to twist rather than stick proved to be their undoing.

It was always going to be a brave move for Uni to attempt a more aggressive style of play, but even more so considering they were without regular captain Tom Giddings, who was absent through injury. As things stood, fullback Ben Johnson stepped up to take the armband and performed manfully. From the outset it was clear that Uni’s hopes were placed squarely on the interplay between their fluid front 3, whilst the Popovic brothers were their usual ruthless selves, marshalling the midfield and defence respectively.

Trent, probably on account of their inferior league status, adopted a more conservative approach, namely a defensive 4-4-2. Their gameplan relied more on physicality than technique or guile, as they sought to make full use of powerful centre forward Nshindano as an attacking outlet, whilst putting in some crunching tackles to boss the midfield.

The first half was a scrappy, uninspiring affair which consistently followed the same pattern. Uni would take a spell of possession but be unable to capitalise on it due to Trent’s physical presence in the midfield, which forced Uni’s wingers (usually Sikuade and Timotheou) to drop back in support. Any probing balls through to Uni’s now-isolated striker (almost always Plummer, but Uni’s front 3 showed a tendency to switch positions) were then easily swept up by Trent’s defenders, who would then initiate a counter-attack. Uni were occasionally able to unlock Timotheou as he made advances down the left, but without support he was forced to make speculative efforts on goal from very far out, none of which went in the net. Trent showed some particular threat through the attacking runs of Nshindano, and especially left winger Jamie Brown. This was a warning to Uni which ultimately went unheeded, with dire consequences.

The second half began in the same pattern, but Uni failed to learn the lessons of the previous 45 minutes. This was particularly demonstrated by the decision to replace Hugo Sikuade with the much smaller Charles Gerson – although Gerson’s technical ability is beyond reproach, the issue facing Uni was a lack of physical presence, and his introduction did nothing to remedy this. Trent continued to overload Uni’s left flank with attacking runs, and although Ben Johnson performed admirably under the circumstances, covering every inch of turf and always looking for chances to get forward, he couldn’t be expected to hold off the onslaught forever. Thus it came as no real surprise when Trent action man Jamie Brown bagged his first goal; in fact, it was entirely within the run of play.

From here on in things only looked worse for Uni, as the goal seemed to inspire Trent with new confidence, and it certainly got their fans making noise. It took some desperate defending from Uni to prevent the deficit from worsening, with last-ditch efforts from Marko Popovic and Amos Teshuva respectively preventing certain goals. However, when it finally seemed like Teshuva and the Uni defence at last tamed Trent’s Jamie Brown, he showed that he has more in his locker than just pace and power. He made it 2-0 to Trent with a superbly placed chip after a bursting run that left his marker for dead – there was little Uni could say or do in response to a goal of that quality. The Uni fans did respond, however, by going home.

Seeing the fans pour out of the Jimmy Sirrell stand was an unfortunate end to an unfortunate game for Uni. A change of emphasis, if not of style, but them out of their comfort zone and allowed them to be taken advantage of by a Trent side who were on paper the worse of the two teams. But Trent followed their gameplan through to the tee and fully deserved their win.

Men’s Varsity Football at Meadow Lane
9/5/13
UoN 0-2 NTU

Michael Gaffney

Team formations credit to footballformation.co.uk