Football Varsity: Men’s 1st beat CCCU on penalties

An inspired University of Kent Men’s 1st football team won a penalty shootout (7-6) on a night of high drama at the Pavilion, overcoming Canterbury Christ Church University to increase their lead in this year’s Varsity.

Kent came into the game in good form, with six wins and two draws in their last eight matches, whilst Canterbury Christ were hoping to take revenge after last year’s 4-1 capitulation. The last time these two sides met was back in November when Kent trashed CCCU 4-0, adding further misery to the CCCU’s tough run of form during the Autumn period.

The match was set to kick-off at 7:30pm but was delayed because of the Women’s 1st Team Match that was played beforehand – which saw CCCU grab a last-minute screamer to win 3-2 and close the gap in the standings – and the cheerleading display. Kent, playing in white, tested Christ Church, burgundy, early on with some decent opportunities. They blasted a shot over the bar and the overlapping runs of the full-backs Siya Ndebele and Ade Oluwo tested the CCCU goalkeeper on more than one occasion.

UKC made the brighter start and should have gone ahead when a Christ Church defender cleared the ball of the line from header that came from a corner.

Remi Awosanya was Kent’s best player who supplied multiple chances, holding up the ball well and making some darting runs into the Christ Church box. CCCU enjoyed decent spells of possession and territory in the first half but barely threatened. The score remained level just before the interval when CCCU powered their first shot of the match from outside the box, testing Kent Goalkeeper Stefano Said.

At one point, the home side thought they had profited from a horror error by the Christ Church goalkeeper in yellow, who accidentally passed it to a Kent player from a goal kick. Soon after, Kent were awarded a penalty when their attacker was clipped by a CCCU defender, but the spot kick taker had his shot saved, with Kent dragging the follow up.

A CCCU player with Said in goal halted the game for a few minutes for concussion checks. As the whistle for halftime blew, the teams were able to have a team talk with their coaches and regroup for what was to be a dramatic second half.

Kent tested the reflexes of away goalkeeper just after the break, forcing a brilliant save in the penalty box, but it was to be Christ Church that had the upper hand in the second half with their pristine fitness and determination in order to break the deadlock.

The visitors, who absorbed a fair amount of pressure from the home side in the first half, were clinical going forward in the second. They scuffed a half-volley over the bar, fizzed a shot wide of the left post and tested Said at the set pieces who was struggling to retrieve the ball in the air. InQuire sport writer, Joe Ackam, described the Kent GK as having “butter fingers”.

Tempers boiled over between the two locals when a UKC player and CCCU player had to be pulled apart by their teammates, resulting in a CCCU yellow card. CCCU continued to probe for the first goal of the match and almost got it just after the 60-minute mark as their attacker was unmarked in the box. Unfortunately, the delicious cross from Christ Church on the right-hand side was met by a disappointing abraded header which failed to reach the target.

The Kent side were still able to dominate possession in the second half but were limited to long-range efforts, but the introduction of new players from the substitute bench with half an hour to go gave UKC some added attacking threat.

CCCU dominated the later exchanges and looked comfortable on the ball, and it was the visitors who broke the deadlock in the 85th minute. Their attacker chipped the UKC goalkeeper with a half volley who was off his line after a sweeping move, latching on to a delivery from the centre of the field.

Kent looked to be heading towards a defeat in front of the packed crowd. However, the men in white came back with a swift reply, equalising in the 90th minute after some poor defending from Christ Church at their near post, leaving the Kent player to tap it in the net, take his shirt off and send the crowd into hysteria.

After the provisional 90 minutes was played out and the score at 1-1, the game went into a penalty shootout. After 5 of the 6 penalties were slotted away, CCCUs seventh taker’s effort was saved by Said and the home side made no mistake with the chance to win it, sending the Christ Church player the wrong way and winning it for Kent.

The players were ecstatic, and so were the fans who invaded the pitch to celebrate with the winning side. Talking to InQuire’s Newspaper Sport Editor Kiro Evans after the encounter, the Kent team said it was “wonderful” and “nothing better” for them to snatch the late leveller in what was an “interesting game”.

Kent walked off with the Varsity win and bragging rights for at least a year.

The two sides will now face each other in their next BUCS match at CCCU in what is set to be an important tie, with only two points separating the teams at the top of the South Eastern 2B League.