Words: Liam Kent
For the first time in a decade, Sheffield Hallam ended Varsity without becoming champions although they did secure a 1-0 win in the Men’s First’s at Hillsborough. The final day of Varsity had been highly anticipated after being postponed on the 13th March due to the snow and rearranged for today and with the sun shining over Sheffield, there was a large crowd at Hillsborough to watch Hallam secure the win. The showpiece event of Varsity had been ended a day that saw Hallam fight valiantly to reduce the seven and a half point gap which existed at the start of the day but fall just short as the day ended with University of Sheffield holding a 36.5-34.5 lead. Hallam had been undefeated in the day’s football action so far, winning both the Women’s First’s and Second’s events whilst they drew and won the Men’s Third’s and Fourth’s respectively so going into the final men’s event, this would’ve helped the sides’ confidence. In the end, it took a solitary Matt Moores in the second half to separate the two sides though the score could have been different with both sides missing good chances.
It was University of that had the game’s opening chance. Tim Kitgrave did well on the right before passing to Will Doyle on the left of the box who smashed his shot way over the bar. Hallam did threaten from a corner moments later but it was punched away by Adam Seymour in the University of goal whilst shortly afterwards, good link up play released Billy Law who charged into the University of area before being tackled at the pivotal moment. With the first ten minutes over, the best chance of the opening exchanges fell to Hallam as Ryan Williams ran towards goal and with his left hit a shot which had Seymour well beaten, but unfortunately for Hallam, not the frame of the goal. This spurred the already vocal Hallam support on even more and with University of students celebrating their Varsity success, there was a great atmosphere.
After a lively few minutes, the game had died down but a defence splitting ball by Craig Ashby for University of released Bird on the left but, from a position similar to Doyle previously, his shot was too high to test Liam Flynn in the Hallam goal. University of continued to press and had the next chance as well; a free-kick from around twenty yards out was whipped over the bar by Doyle. University of had another chance to test Flynn from a set piece as Hallam’s Jonny Davies gave away a foul on the right of the area. The ball was whipped in by Moules though it failed to really test Hallam, first the ball was headed away before it was struck over the bar. In between these, Hallam were awarded a free-kick of their own though from around thirty yards and from a central position, they tested Seymour as the ball went just over the bar.
Both sides kept searching for the crucial opening goal and it was Hallam who would come close towards the end of the half. They had three great chances to take the lead but sloppy finishing meant the two sides went into the interval with the score at nil-nil. Firstly, Captain Callum Reid was found in the box from a corner and, to the relief of those in black and gold, he headed wide from a great position. Afterwards, good play saw the ball flicked on to Mike Bamber who fires wide of the post before Bamber spurned another good chance, cutting in and firing wide once more.
At half-time, the Hallam Sports Officers defeated their University of counter parts in a penalty shootout and they as well as Hallam faithful were hoping that was a sign of things to come. As he did in the first half, Billy Law threatened the University of defence early on in the second period. He skipped past a defender before being tackled just before he pulled the trigger and then later, his pressuring made life uncomfortable for the University of centre half who was forced to boot the ball to safety.
University of started to grow into the half and came close to taking the lead. A ball was curled in towards Kitgrave whose backward header tested Flynn, forcing the Hallam stopper into making a superb save down to his right. Alex Brookes replaced Craig Ashby for University of and the substitute tried a speculative effort but saw the ball fly well over the bar whilst Flynn tipped a Kitgrave effort over before the resulting corner lead to nothing.
Despite the pressure, when the opening goal came, it was Hallam who grabbed it on sixty-five minutes. A free-kick from the right was swung in and University of failed to clear it, allowing substitute Matt Moores to stab home and run off towards the Hallam crowd as they both erupted in celebration together. It looked like Hallam would be celebrating again as Williams ran through on goal and finished but he was beaten by the linesman’s flag though it did seem a very tight call. University of upped their efforts to find a goal and came close when a counter-attacking move down the left saw the ball whipped across the box by Moules towards James Shields who was beaten to the ball by Jonny Davies whose sliding intervention cleared the ball for Hallam. Not comfortable with their one-nil lead, Hallam were also looking for a goal and came close to doubling the deficit when Matt Moores had the ball inside the area but fired straight at Seymour.
With the clocking ticking down, tension was growing as Hallam looked to cope with the University of pressure and see out the game. Despite this, the support for both sides meant the atmosphere was still buzzing. Hallam was dealing with the University of counter-attacks and nearly grabbed a second goal to secure the win. A free-kick was whipped to the front post but nobody was on hand to score the rebound once University of headed away and then the goal scorer Moores, nearly netted again clattering Seymour as he looked to capitalise on a defensive error, poking the ball just wide.
The awarding of five minutes added time divided the crowd, being met with Hallam moans and cheers by the University of fans and when Hallam conceded a corner at the start of added time, there was a lot of nervous people donning the Hallam maroon. This was intensified when the University of goalkeeper strode forward for the corner yet Hallam dealt with the threat and nearly scored again, firing wide when trying to beat the back tracking Seymour.
Hallam could have been awarded a late penalty for handball though the officials deemed the situation different to the Hallam management who were furious with the referee yet their anger quickly turned to joy when the referee blew the final whistle to seal the win. Points wise, the final day of Varsity belonged to Hallam who will be proud off their efforts though when University of Sheffield’s Sports Officer Luke MacWilliam picked up the trophy, Hallam were left to reflect on what might have been.