Josh Brown & René Bahar, Exeposé Sports Editors, report on EULC's Women's 1s defeat to Oxford
The women in green arrived into their varsity fixture in good form, with a strong BUCS campaign up to this point – six wins from a possible seven; a solitary defeat to and undefeated Cambridge side the only blight on an otherwise faultless season.
Hopes of a play-off position are thus understandably high, and this set the tone in the opening period of the varsity fixture. Exeter took the lead inside a minute – with their very first attack, Freya Hopkisson made a phenomenal individual run before hammering past the Oxford goalkeeper in what was a dream start for the hope side.
The dynamic nature of the sport meant that the lead didn’t last long however: a loss of possession in Exeter’s own defensive third gave Oxford’s #66 a chance too good to waste; she slammed home to level the score after six minutes.
A messy couple of minutes followed, with the game transitioning back and forth, but the home side would retake the lead when the influential Hopkisson picked out Eliza White, whose shot bear the Oxford goalkeeper from close range. But again, Oxford would come back to level the scores, as their #40 broke around the back of the goal and was left unmarked and in enough space to pick out the corner of goalkeeper Katie Jackson’s goal.
Exeter dominated the first period and were unlucky not to go ahead; the heroics of the Oxford goalkeeper often proved undoing for Exeter. She frustrated Hopkisson on a couple of occasion, saving low and keeping the ball out.
The home side were not to be denied however, and Hopkisson again was involved – combining with Lissy Garland, whose shot proved too powerful for the Oxford keeper.
Again, the resilience of the visitors was tested, but again they found a response. The pressure built and built until the women in blue forced through; Jackson was forced into spectacular saves seconds after the first time-out was called but was helpless moments later, as the Oxford #20 crossed to #12, who finished clinically into the bottom corner.
There was an immediate response from Exeter; the two teams seemed to be playing off each other, waiting for momentum to swing their way. A drive down the right wing resulted in a pass to Emily Elmitt, whose precise finish gave Exeter a 4-3 lead. Exeter had the best of what remained of the first half; but some lousy attacking made Oxford’s goalkeeper look spectacular as the first half drew to a close, and when the whistle blew, they went into the interval with a 4-3 lead.
Into the second half, however and that lead proved to be short-lived. A direct shot on goal from the impressive #15 saw the visitors equalise, though again Exeter responded. Hopkisson’s initial shot was saved, but Live Thomas capitalised on the loose ball and fired it into the top corner. Exeter did then establish a two-goal lead – Garland and Isobel Woods combined to fashion an opportunity for the latter, and Woods made no mistake from close range.
But again, Oxford found an extra gear. The visitors were back within a point after Exeter lost possession and then the visiting #15 scored another. They were then level moments late; the response shocked Exeter and Oxford took full advantage, going on to take a 7-6 lead as #15 – constantly involved – won, and converted, a penalty.
With the game agonisingly escaping away from Exeter, there was a last hope of salvation when Hopkisson and Garland combined, and Hopkisson then found Thomas, who converted after a manic attack.
The composure was then lost, however, and Oxford’s #15 would break the deadlock one final time – smashing home a penalty late in the game to make the final score 8-7.
It was a devastating result for the women, especially from such a strong position at 6-4 up, and speaking after the game, Hopkisson cited complacency as a potential reason for the slip-up: “We weren’t at our best today. We beat them 9-7 last term, and maybe we were expecting an easier game. We have an intense two-week training period coming up, which will be a good chance to move on from the defeat and focus on the rest of the season”.
The team have two more games left of their BUCS season – they’re away to second-bottom Cardiff on Wednesday (30/01), before finishing the season at home to the undefeated Cambridge side, knowing that goal difference may well be the difference between second and third place; they currently sit three points above Oxford, but last Wednesday’s visitor’s arguably have an easier final two games.