UoN Futsal Complete Heroic Comeback To Triumph On Penalties

UON Futsal celebrate their penalty shootout win
Rhys Thomas

University of Nottingham made a miraculous recovery from 5-1 down to edge Nottingham Trent on penalties for the second consecutive year in Varsity. Notts took the lead early on, but conceded five without reply before half time to find themselves staring down the barrel at the interval. As they did 12 months ago, the boys regrouped and dug deep to find the extra quality and desire to claw themselves all the way back level pegging to set up a dramatic penalty shootout. Rhys Thomas was amongst the raucous David Ross crowd for Impact

After a lengthy and Fosters-fuelled Sheaves trips, UoN’s Futsal club ultras arrived at David Ross ahead of kick off in a confident state of mind, with chants belting out the speaker and voices already hoarse. As they lined the home stand, the atmosphere grew stronger and stronger in anticipation of another Varsity epic for this sport. Last year, UoN battled back from 5-2 down to record a classic victory on penalties – expectations were high for another sporting treat. 

UoN had made the perfect start and the home crowd were letting the Trent faithful know it

Eventually, after 20 minutes of delays and endless shots in the warmup, the teams were ready to go to battle, as were both sets of fans, who exchanged numerous chants (but all in good faith). Despite the boos ringing out as soon as Trent kicked off, the pink side started admirably, knocking the ball about with confidence and creating a dangerous opening with their first passage of play.

From there though, UoN shook off their early match nerves and put some neat moves together, flipping the pressure back on to NTU. It was indeed the Green and Gold who broke the deadlock through talisman Mosope Oguntuga who finished off a classy move with a tidy finish. Having lost out to Trent only a couple of weeks ago in the league, UoN had made the perfect start and the home crowd were letting the Trent faithful know it. 

NTU are a strong futsal team though, and remembered this themselves as they launched a series of offensives in retaliation. Not long had passed since the opener before Trent pulled themselves level, and from there it was a first-half capitulation from UoN, who sank to a nightmare 5-1 scoreline by half-time. Nevertheless, inspired by last year’s scarcely believable comeback, the players and crowd would still give it everything in favour of the Green and Gold in the second half.

Their ambition was rewarded early in the second period when skipper Ewan James tucked home a well-worked set piece to reduce the deficit. Just minutes later Caplin flicked a delicate ball through to Lennox who volleyed home with the fire of a man ready to ignite a UoN comeback. Despite still having a mountain to climb at 5-3 down, Notts felt right back in the game.

If Notts were to fall to a four goal deficit at this stage it would surely be curtains

The Green and Gold were piling on the pressure and winning back possession dangerously. One such instance almost proved costly for Trent, who lost the ball upfield without a keeper in goal. UoN’s effort from inside their own half rebounded agonisingly off the post before the recovering Trent defender threw himself on the line to make a ridiculous goal-saving block.

Against the run of play, it was NTU who broke through next. A momentary lapse of concentration at the back left the opposition striker with a little too much space and he punished the UoN defence. You felt now that the next goal was most crucial – if Notts were to fall to a four goal deficit at this stage it would surely be curtains.

Never losing belief, UoN continued to push for a vital fourth goal. They pressed smartly and kept shape well in an attempt to force NTU errors, and were successful when Oguntuga intercepted a pass at the back. The Uni of frontman outmuscled the sheepish Trent defender and managed to lay the ball into the path for James to smash home his second of the day.

With the score a 6-4, tensions were high, and boiled over when a flying late challenge came in from a Trent player on a UoN ankle. With the player already on a yellow, the referee was forced to (finally) make a decision in UoN’s favour and brandish the red card. This meant NTU would be a man down until they conceded. With seven minutes left to play, it was poised beautifully.

UoN fans rose in anticipation of seeing the net bulge, but the ball yet again was stopped by the upright

Uni of pushed and pushed against the deeply set four-man NTU team, but it seemed as if the pink team were able to repel each attack. Shots were flying in, one bouncing up for Ruben Wapnick to improvise a smart header towards goal… UoN fans rose in anticipation of seeing the net bulge, but the ball yet again was stopped by the upright. Wapnick was first to react though, and poked the ball into the path of James who again swept up to complete a timely hat-trick, and ensure the Notts disappointment lasted just milliseconds.

NTU were back to full strength, but now only one in the lead, with all the momentum pushing UoN forward. With just under two minutes left on the clock, Notts ramped up the pressure, and were rewarded with another dreadful error in possession from their bitter rivals. Right in front of the goal, Oguntuga pounced on a lazy pass and slid the ball home to send the UoN fans into raptures. Yet again UoN Futsal had completed an outrageous Varsity comeback!

Handed the game on a silver platter after doing their best to bottle it, Trent surely would take advantage

When the Trent keeper handled the ball outside of his area just a few plays later it seemed as though NTU had presented UoN with a golden opportunity to take the game in the most dramatic of circumstances. The referee, however, had other ideas, instead giving the decision against UoN for a foul in the scuffle. As this was UoN’s sixth ‘foul’ of the half, NTU were awarded a direct free kick without a wall in a prime shooting position.

Handed the game on a silver platter after doing their best to bottle it, Trent surely would take advantage of this act of kindness from the officials? NO!!! Notts keeper Andy Allen dived the right way and pulled off a wondersave to keep things level at 6-6!

Oguntuga, perhaps slightly carried away with the adrenaline of the final minutes, did cause his own team a slight problem with just seconds left as he picked up a second yellow for an altercation with a NTU player after a late challenge on him. But with just eight seconds left, Kuczynski was clever to loft the ball towards the Trent end to kill a few precious seconds, and UoN got over the line to take the game to penalties.

this was another fantastic, dramatic, and unbelievable Varsity match

It was déjà vu for both teams, who reconvened for a penalty shootout to decide Varsity, a year on from identical circumstances in the last series. UoN went 1-0 down as straight away as James, despite his heroic hat-trick, could not convert from the spot. However, consecutive misses from Trent thanks to some Allen heroics meant it was down to Joel Daft, who had been having an excellent game, to deliver UoN to the promised land.

After a sharp intake of breath, the number 10 stepped up and smashed the ball home to secure a 4-3 win on penalties for a jubilant University of Nottingham side.

It was pure joy for the players, and for some this match was the last time they will have worn the Green and Gold shirt in a competitive futsal environment. All in all, this was another fantastic, dramatic, and unbelievable Varsity match in this truly epic 2023 series. 

Rhys Thomas

Featured image courtesy of Alex Adler Photography. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image. 

In article image courtesy of @uonfutsal via Instagram. No changes were made to this image.

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