A long range strike gave Nottingham Trent University a hard-earned 2-1 win over an unfancied University of Nottingham XI whose endeavours ensured the match was far closer than many had anticipated.
Perhaps aware of the offensive talent in the Trent ranks, Nottingham opted for a 3-4-3 system that was capable of morphing into a 5-4-1 system when on the back foot. Credit must go to the players and the coaching staff who, in difficult circumstances, forged a team of Intra-Mural Sport (IMS) players into a polished and organised unit.
Trent appeared to be fully aware of their tag as pre match favourites and were extremely offensive in their approach. It was a genuine 4-3-3, with the three forwards playing right up against Nottingham’s three centre backs. This left the three central midfielders with a hefty workload and as such, Nottingham’s wing backs were able to pick up good space. They pushed their full backs on as well which left room for Nottingham to counter attack into which they did do in the early stages. Oliver Sutcliffe got in behind Trent’s high line in the 20th minute but the goalkeeper smothered his effort.
Despite an encouraging start, there were also signs of Trent’s quality as Curtis’ splendid left footed effort from distance brushed the roof of the net on its way over. That was one of the few occasions where Nottingham were slow to close down.
Following an even first quarter, Nottingham broke the deadlock in the 24th minute with a well-worked goal. Schembri and the centre forward Sutcliffe were involved in some good combination play, with the latter’s chip releasing the former into the box. Schembri cut back onto his right foot and finished well into the bottom left hand corner. Nottingham brought with them a smaller contingent of supporters than Trent, but the few hundred situated in the Jimmy Sirrel stand were given hope that their IMS ‘All Stars’ could pull off an upset.
Their lead only lasted 12 minutes, as Trent equalised with a goal of genuine quality. O’Malley’s in to out run off the right flank, a feature of Trent’s attacking play, was found by a supreme 40 yard pass from the left foot of Curtis. O’Malley finished first time across the goalkeeper via the inside of the post. That assist was the highlight of the day; a moment of real class.
Trent, who were beginning to gain more levels of possession in the game, could have taken the lead before half time. Some good football down their left hand side resulted in a low pass across the box to that man O’Malley. Only six yards from goal, he prodded straight at the goalkeeper with what was a far simpler opportunity than his goal.
The second half was rather tense as both teams realised that conceding a second could be a terminal blow. Dante-Hart came on for Nottingham at half time and played in one of the two positions behind the centre forward Sutcliffe. He gave the men in Green and Gold some added pace; a particularly purposeful run down the left channel resulted in a well crafted and dangerous cross with the outside of his right foot which was headed clear.
The first goalmouth action of the second period came in the 61st minute. A Trent corner resulted in an almighty scramble in the box involving a goal line clearance and a vociferous penalty appeal for handball. The referee was unmoved.
Just as it looked like we might be heading for extra time, in the 80th minute, Trent no.4 Nash strode forward from midfield with the ball and from some 25 or 30 yards, drilled a well struck shot into the bottom left hand corner. It was the type of goal you would want to be the winner in a showpiece game; though the fact it went through some bodies may have unsighted the Nottingham ‘keeper Scotland.
Naturally, the game changed pattern in the final ten minutes, with Nottingham pressing for the equaliser. They didn’t quite manage to create a clear cut chance, the closet they came was when Dante Hart pounced on a Trent centre back who was ponderous in possession. From a tight angle, he made the right decision to try square the ball for a team mate but it was intercepted.
Trent hung on for the win, which leaves the Varsity Series at 7-5 to UoN. University of Nottingham’s amalgamation of IMS ‘All-Stars’ can feel justifiably pleased with their performance level. It was a high-quality match with very few errors on either side which meant that it was tight and chances hard-earned. A long range goal proved the difference on the day.
The final whistle sparked a pitch invasion from the sizeable Trent contingent, which as a football reporter I am obliged to tell you are scenes we definitely don’t like to see and a reminder of the dark days of the 1970s. (They’re actually scenes everyone loves to see.)
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