Words by Joshua Tait

 

With this year’s Derby Day theme of Spartans Vs Athenians heavily promoted all over the University of Essex campus, it seemed inevitable that both Derby Day’s hosts and UEA would be out for blood, particularly after Essex’s men’s football firsts were handed a comprehensive defeat in last years encounter at the University of East Anglia.

 

Although Derby Day had already been decided in Essex’s favour by the time of the match’s 7.15pm kick off, there was still much to play for, a point proved by a tempestuous opening that saw UEA giving away two free kicks in the early minutes. Essex found it difficult to control the opening exchanges, and at times found themselves penned into their own half by an aggressive UEA side. Despite some resolute defending, the Blades found themselves on the back foot for most of the first half hour, and struggled to contain a rampant UEA midfield, with the pace of their rangy number 11 causing problems up front. Although the visitors were able to enjoy clear dominance, they created few clear cut chances, and Sam Little in the Essex goal had only routine saves to make in the early stages. It took a moment of magic on the half hour mark to break the deadlock, UEA’s busy number 11 winning the ball on the left wing and scoring with a superb curled finish from thirty yards out. Following the opener, the away side took their foot off the gas and allowed the hosts back into the match, Essex enjoying their strongest spell so far and threatening through a dangerous floated ball in from the left hand side shortly before half time. The opening goal had hardly come as a surprise, but Essex would no doubt have been disappointed to go in behind at the interval after a solid defensive showing.

 

The opening moments of the second half saw a second UEA goal rightly ruled out for offside after a corner was sloppily defended, although this certainly did not set the tone for the following 45 minutes. UEA looked happy to sit on their lead, allowing Essex to dictate the tempo of the game and though the Blades struggled to create clear cut chances Essex’s midfield were beginning to control the match. It was certainly not against the run of play when the hosts equalised through a Shaun Brown header, the second half substitute rising high to open their derby day account fifteen minutes into the second half. The Blades were hardly done celebrating when, almost directly from kick off they found themselves in front, Tom Green converting after a blunder from the UEA goalkeeper left him with the goal at his mercy. It was backs to the wall stuff for Essex for the remainder of the second half, and despite keeping UEA at bay they began looking increasingly tired as the game edged towards its conclusion. Just when it was beginning to seem as though they had done enough to see of the visitors, UEA pounced, scoring the equalising goal with a low finish on the right hand side of the penalty area, with just five minutes left to play. It was a blow for a Blades side that had generally kept UEA at arms length despite struggling to create any clear cut chances of their own. With the tie seemingly heading for a 2-2 stalemate, it came as something of a surprise to even the most ardent of Essex’s supporters to see the hosts bursting forward in search of a dramatic winner with minutes remaining. UEA once again looked sloppy following kick off and were punished minutes later when Mark Maher pounced, converting from close range following a flick on from the substitute Shaun Brown, who had once again looked threatening in the opposition penalty area. There was pandemonium throughout the sizeable home crowd, Essex having killed off a match that had at times looked out of their reach. Two minutes remained, but there was a growing sense of inevitability about the result, albeit one that did nothing to quell the rapturous celebrations at the final whistle. Despite their dearth of chances Essex had been clinical in front of goal throughout, punishing a UEA side that switched off too often at key moments of the game. Derby day may have already been decided, but Wednesday evening’s triumph seems sure be remembered as a famous victory for the Essex firsts.

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