Despite the miserable, cold conditions, a sizeable crowd surrounded the perimeter of the Basford United ground on Wednesday afternoon, anticipating a feisty clash between Nottingham’s two (student) footballing giants. Stu Lamont led his UoN side out, hoping to keep Nottingham football Green and Gold, as it has been since the last Varsity series in 2019. It would be a tough ask against the 2022 BUCS runners-up as Rhys Thomas explains.
Buoyed on by a loud ‘home’ crowd, Trent started fast and won a corner within the opening thirty seconds, much to the delight of their supporters. UoN were not overly rattled, though, and cleared before any real danger was apparent.
Inches of woodwork denied the prolific striker his 23rd goal of the season
Soon after it was Uni Of’s turn to attack the opposing box. A delightful delivery from stand-in right back Joel Valentin set up Ed Lee, whose well directed header bounced agonisingly off the post. Inches of woodwork denied the prolific striker his 23rd goal of the season.
The fervent Trent crowd were focussing their hostilities on UoN keeper Reuben Rabstein, though he remained undeterred throughout. The Trent team, however, were affected by the crowd and continued to push forward. In the 12th minute the side in pink were almost through on goal but for a vital lunging tackle in the Green and Gold back line.
The number twos on both sides both found themselves in the book within the first 25 minutes. After a frantic opening few minutes, the game had settled into a steady pattern with both teams looking to find their way into the match. The Trent crowd continued their attempts to inspire their team, without much success, at least in a footballing sense.
A second Trent yellow card should have followed, but Keto wasn’t shown his marching orders
UoN’s Ben Harding took a vicious blow to the head from a fired-up Trent player, the referee opting not to take any action despite the evidence in the form of Harding’s sizeable bruise. Living up to his name, though, he soldiered on and continued to keep the Trent forwards at bay.
Another debatable decision came in the form of a second UoN yellow card following a tangle of legs, the officials perhaps subconsciously affected by the loud Trent crowd on that side of the pitch. The lack of open play chance creation so far meant this was a relatively good opportunity for Trent to threaten the UoN goal, but they failed to do so. A second Trent yellow card should have followed, but Keto wasn’t shown his marching orders despite doing his best to register a second bookable offence.
The second half began disastrously for UoN when Trent were awarded a contentious penalty
Harding eventually couldn’t continue and was replaced just before the break. On the stroke of half-time, nearly 45 minutes since UoN’s last real sight of goal they created a decent opening but fired just wide of the post. That was the last action of a half which started brightly but became cagier as the pressure of Varsity quelled both teams’ sense of adventure.
The second half began disastrously for UON when Trent were awarded a contentious penalty less than two minutes after the resumption. Keeper Rabstein had kept out a spot kick in his man of the match performance in the Headliner against Birmingham, but this time he couldn’t save his side as Gibson dispatched into the bottom left corner. Trent led 1-0 with their first shot on target.
UoN responded well and played some of their best football of the game after this, keeping possession on the floor well as they looked for an opening. Trent were not to be kept quiet though, and made it 2-0 against the run of play. Another heroic UoN tackle saw a fortuitous rebound that left Trent’s Tom Jones with the simple task of rolling the ball into the net just before the hour mark.
With 30 minutes remaining, UoN spirits remained admirably high, and they pushed forward with great attacking intent. Just minutes after Trent doubled their lead, the Green and Gold went down the other end and had a strong penalty appeal denied. Considering the one awarded to Trent, they were rightfully unhappy.
Though UoN were still in the game they were struggling to create the chance that could revive the match
Time ebbed away without much attacking action after this, with both teams resorting to longer passes to hit the front men that weren’t working out. Both back lines remained resolute to repel the aerial assaults, and though UoN were still in the game, they were struggling to create the chance that could revive the match.
Another decision went against Uni Of when Trent were given a free kick for a tangle in their own box which, on another day, could easily have been given the other way for a UoN penalty. NTU were content with managing the game and frustrated their opposition with some textbook timewasting – a special shoutout to their keeper for that.
As the game went into its last 10 minutes, UoN were stretched and becoming understandably sloppy in their desperation to produce a moment of magic. Consequently, despite their best efforts, it was the side in pink who looked most likely to score. Trent very nearly did just that as a mix-up between the UoN backline and keeper gave a chance for a lob over Rabstein. The NTU striker’s attempt was almost perfect, but it came off the same post UoN had hit in the opening minutes, reminding us all of how different the game could have been.
As the game faded, UoN possession in the attacking third was limited, and although they fought until the end, they ultimately fell short, and the Varsity title went to Trent. Despite the scrappy nature of their goals, credit must be given to their side and supporters, as they probably did deserve to win the match.
Whilst this will be a tough defeat to take for UoN, they do at least have the chance to bounce back in playoff games next week. There is also some consolation in the fact that UoN are still dominating the 2022 Varsity Series, results of which you can find here.
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