English Literature student James Chittick writes a compelling report on Varsity's tense football match between Plymouth University and Marjon.
UPFC Goals: Kilgallon, Meadows
(UPFC win 4-3 on penalties)
UPFC Starting XI
Hiscox, Harris, Nibler, Higby, Belcher, Lovell, Ardal, Temi
With men’s 1st XI football marking the very last event of this year’s Varsity, the UPFC boys would no doubt have been keen to put on a strong performance and round off what had been a resounding overall victory for Plymouth University. After the previous year’s dramatic finish, many would have been hoping for an equally thrilling encounter between the two fierce city rivals. In 2016, a late equaliser took the game to penalties before Uni narrowly came out victorious over Marjon in a desperately tight match, and few would have bet against a similarly tense finale once again.
It was Marjon who first took control of the game, however. A goal early in the 1st half put them in front and left Uni somewhat rattled during the opening quarter, and though they created numerous scoring opportunities, they were unable to find a response for much of the first half. The pick of these chances came from a well-worked ball into the Marjon box from the right-hand side, which was met with a dangerous header that whistled narrowly over the top right corner, leaving a well-beaten keeper counting his blessings.
Despite Uni having the lions’ share of possession and chances in the first half, it was once again Marjon who found themselves on the scoresheet thanks to a well-worked counter-attack which doubled their lead and left Uni with a mountain to climb if they were to fight their way back into the match. With half-time looming and the pressure mounting, Uni needed some inspiration and found it in the form of captain Conor Kilgallon, the midfielder finding the back of the net on the stroke of half-time to reduce the deficit and give his team a lifeline.
With the Half-time score 2-1 to Marjon, the game suddenly had a different feel to it, and as the teams emerged after the break it was visible that getting a goal back had galvanised the Uni side, who began the second half dangerously as they searched for another score to level the tie. For much of the second half Uni looked the more dangerous side, and eventually the sustained pressure led to the reward they had been battling for, with Kilgallon providing the assist for fellow midfielder Meadows to turn in the equaliser from close range. The Marjon keeper did in fact do well enough to prevent the ball hitting the back of the net, but after a brief pause, the referee confirmed it had crossed the line and awarded the goal.
With the scores level once more and the prospect of a third successive penalty shootout looming, both sides went in search of a late winner to settle the tie. But, with neither team managing to break the deadlock the game finished 2-2, this meant once again the football Varsity would be decided from the spot. With the noise around the stadium building and tensions rising, the pressure on the opening kick takers was immense, but both stepped up and calmly slotted their penalties to make it 1-1. Uni then took the advantage, with Isaac Sulyman converting his penalty before a superb save from Silcox prevented Marjon from leveling the scores. Both sides then succeeded with their third attempts, with Oddne Ardal scoring for Uni to bring the score to 3-2 as Kilgallon lined up to take his penalty. Despite being involved in both goals earlier in the game, the Uni captain was unable to convert from the spot and handed Marjon a crucial lifeline and a chance to bring the scores level, which they duly did. With the scores at 3-3 and one penalty remaining before the shootout went to sudden death, composure was needed more than ever, and with Tayler delivering the goods for Uni, it all came down to the final Marjon penalty taker. Under the immense pressure of knowing he needed to score to keep his side in the shootout, the Marjon player went for too much power and blasted the ball well over the bar, meaning UPFC had won the shootout 4-3, and with it the match. It’s often said that penalties are a cruel way to decide a football match, and as the ball whistled high over the woodwork it was difficult not to feel sorry for the Marjon player who missed the final kick. As so often happens in sport, the finest of margins can decide the biggest of occasions, and once again UPFC had come out on top in a desperately close tie.
After the match, I caught up with UPFC Chairman and starting left-back Matthew Hammerstone, who reflected on his team’s memorable performance with the following words:
“After knocking Marjon out of the BUCS cup earlier in the season with a convincing 3-1 win in their garden, we knew they would be extremely up for it, especially on such a big occasion. It didn't really click for us to start; we were constantly threatening but just were lacking the killer instinct. As soon as Kilgallon scored the first goal to spark the comeback, you could see the relief on our player's faces. We knew we were capable and at half time there was no negativity in the dressing room, the team knew if we played our football that we would come out on top. It was an incredible night for everyone involved in the club and a great send off for many of our players. With immense support from the university and to come from 2-0 down to beat your rivals on penalties at Home Park, there's no feeling like it.”
All in all, a fantastic result for UPFC to cap off another convincing victory for Plymouth University in the overall Varsity standings, and once more establishing bragging rights over the city for another year to come.