CARMARTHEN continued their promising opening to their Welsh Premier League second-phase programme with a valuable 3-2 victory over Newtown on Saturday (Feb 10) in a match that genuinely was the proverbial ‘game of two halves’.
With the accumulation of League points an essential requirement at this stage of the season the Old Gold, under the guidance of new interim Manager Neil Smothers for the first time, made a positive start with several incisive attacks that tested the visitors’ defence.
The only notable scoring chance in a fairly uneventful opening spell arose at the other end of the pitch – on 9 minutes, following a Ryan Kershaw free-kick, the ball rebounded off Town’s defensive ‘wall’ and fell nicely for Alex Fletcher who struck a 25 yard effort just wide of the far post.
However that heralded a thrilling and productive period of attacking football from the Old Gold which, as in last week’s Prestatyn match, heavily featured their recently-assembled triple strike-force.
In the 16th minute Luke Cummings, from the right flank, delivered a searching cross into the crowded goalmouth where Mark Jones set up the chance for Town’s all-time top goalscorer Liam Thomas to fire the ball home from close-range.
Then on 23 minutes a Cummings’ corner-kick was claimed by Jones who released a crisp drive that was blocked by ‘keeper Jack Perry – the loose ball was quickly played back to Aidan O’Kelly who from 20 yards struck a stunning volley that flew through a pack of defenders and into the back of the net.
Moments later, following a swift break out of defence the ball was sent upfield to Jones who took it forward to the edge of the penalty area then released a fierce drive that went just narrowly wide of the post.
During this spell Newtown had their fair share of possession but, with the Old Gold defence performing soundly, they were unable to create any serious goal threat from open play – their best opportunity arose after 33 minutes when Jay Denny hit a 30 yard free-kick that ‘keeper Lewis Thomas was forced to block before the ball was cleared safely away.
Then in the 39th minute Carmarthen’s refreshing attacking play was further rewarded – Cummings sent a fine pass through to Luke Bowen who, from close to the by-line, sent an inviting cross into the goalmouth where Liam Thomas, rising high above his marker, produced a firm header that went beyond Perry’s reach and into the roof of the net.
This concluded what had undoubtedly been Town’s best 45 minutes of football this season.
After the interval Newtown, unsurprisingly, were straightaway totally committed to attack as they monopolised possession and kept the home defence under sustained pressure. As before, the Old Gold were defending with composure and discipline and it was not until the 61st minute that any meaningful scoring opportunity arose – Kershaw moved forward to the edge of the penalty area before releasing a fierce strike that Lewis Thomas denied, turning the ball aside with an impressive full-length save.
Shortly afterwards Kershaw again suffered as he watched his long-range drive defeated by another spectacular flying save from Town’s on-loan ‘keeper.
Eventually on 68 minutes Carmarthen’s resistance was broken when Ethan Jones broke into the penalty area and fired a sharp cross into the goalmouth where Nick Rushton stabbed the ball home from close-range.
This inspired the visitors to swarm forward with even greater intensity and after 79 minutes Rushton, from the by-line, fired a dangerous in-swinging free-kick into the goalmouth where Thomas, surrounded by a number of players, managed to punch the ball safely away.
That was just one of several instances, with the Old Gold under serious pressure in their own penalty area, where the young ‘keeper bravely dived down amongst opponents’ feet to claim or clear the ball.
Ahead of him Town were fully committed to defending their lead, often with only Jones operating upfield as an isolated attacking force – and they were successful up until the 90th minute when Kieran Mills-Evans, with a close-range header, converted Rushton’s right-wing cross.
Even more anxious moments followed for Carmarthen supporters as they endured several minutes of added time before the referee blew the final whistle to confirm that three precious League points were secure and another step towards WPL survival had been achieved.
The Old Gold must now make the long journey up to Llandudno for their next League fixture on Saturday, February 17, (k/o 2.30pm).
With the Seasiders having gained just two points from their last four matches, Town have reason to hope that another decent performance will further boost those survival prospects.
Hendy hit back in second half
HENDY secured their fourth win of the season on Saturday (Oct 13) as they beat second placed Gowerton 26-15 after a fine second half.
The win moves Hendy up to third and they now sit just a point behind Gowerton.
Hendy’s Rhydian Morris got the home side on the board with a try but he couldn’t add the conversion.
Morris did add a penalty but Gowerton hit back with a converted try and a penalty to lead 10-8 at the break.
Hendy stepped up in the second half and Jake Newman put Hendy back in front with a good try.
Steffan Howells then grabbed Hendy’s third while Morris was successful with one of his three conversion attempts.
Morris also added two further penalties to all but seal the win for the home side.
Gowerton hit back with a late try but it wasn’t enough to affect the outcome of the game and Hendy saw it out.
On Saturday (Oct 20), Hendy are away as they take on fourth placed Llanelli Wanderers in what promises to be an exciting game.
Scarlets beaten at the death
A LAST gasp penalty try for last season’s Heineken Champions Cup finalists Racing 92 condemned Scarlets to a single point defeat in their opening game of this season’s competition.
Storm Callum played his part in the pre-match preparations with rain and gale force winds keeping people away from the Parc.
The Scarlets, unaffected by the storm, prepared for an opening titanic clash against the French side.
The home side got the first points on the board after Racing were penalised on a couple of occasions leading to a penalty for Leigh Halfpenny to send through the posts.
Racing then began to put pressure on the Scarlets and Finn Russell thought he had scored but play had been called back for a knock on.
Scarlets then came close to scoring a try but a knock on gave possession back to the visitors who then went back on the attack.
The home side lost concentration and that allowed flanker Baptiste Chouzenoux to run in for a try under the posts and Russell then added the extras.
That gave the French side a 3-7 lead at the break but the Scarlets came out for the second half determined to get back into the lead.
Ten minutes in they had a scrum close to the line and it was Gareth Davies who picked the ball before spotting a gap and going through to score. Halfpenny’s conversion was only inches away but Scarlets led 8-7.
Moments later Scarlets were back on the attack and after working through the phases the ball came to Jonathan Davies who kicked ahead for Johnny McNicholl to run onto and touch down. Again the conversion was missed.
The French side looked to respond but some good defending from saw them clear the ball downfield which Steff Evans did his best to retrieve.
Racing were penalised for not rolling away but Scarlets conceded possession with a knock on and the visitors came forward once more.
Scarlets defended well initially but referee Matthew Carley spotted an infringement and went under the posts for a penalty try and also sending Gareth Davies to the sin bin.
The home side had little time to respond and although they went upfield they were unable to add to the score.
Scarlets will be disappointed to have suffered defeat and will need to pick themselves up for Friday’s (Oct 19) game, also in the Heineken Cup, this time away to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
Reds made to pay for missed chances
A WET and windy evening (Fri, Oct 12) at Stebonheath ended in yet another loss for the Reds who have now accumulated just a measly point from their five home games to date.
But yet again, as has been the case in earlier matches, they could and should have wrapped up matters prior to the break, but failure to convert a number of gilt-edged chances cost them dearly in the long run.
James Loveridge was the main culprit by failing to finish off a number of moves when through on goal, and these misses were to prove crucial when the visitors struck twice in the second half after being comprehensively outplayed in the first.
Manager Andy Hill has also the additional worry of even more injuries to contend with, with Jordan Davies having to be replaced by Lenny Evans six minutes after the restart following a challenge on halfway, while Chris Thomas also came off with Anton Nelson taking his place.
Just to add to the overall dispiriting picture, the Reds were again reduced to ten men just before the final whistle when Scott Tancock was red-carded – their third dismissal in as many games, and Tancock`s second in just five weeks, following his sending-off at Bala Town.
With resources already stretched to breaking-point, more and more reliance is being placed on academy players to fill the gaps, and to their credit they are shaping up well against far more experienced and physical opponents.
Jamie Owen, Nelson, Evans and Tristan Jenkins were all involved at some stage against the Met. and certainly did not let the occasion get to them, and at least the future of the club seems to be moving in the right direction with these talents available.
The first half was dominated by the home side, with Loveridge having an early chance which was just wide of the near post.
Daniel Alfei, making his home debut, then set up another chance for the striker, but this time goalkeeper Alex Lang brought off a great save to divert Loveridge`s finish around the upright.
Constantly on the front foot, and playing some decent attractive football in atrocious conditions, the Reds had their opponents pinned back for long periods, and they were lucky to survive another attempt from Loveridge which beat Lang and was heading for the net before Dylan Rees somehow contrived a clearance off the line.
The Met keeper was being kept fully occupied, and again brought off another important save from Loveridge when he got clear on goal, but with the number of chances which had come his way, the home striker would know he should have converted at least a couple.
Another Reds` chance came from a Chris Jones corner which was met by Carlos Indja at the far post, but he steered his finish just off target.
Despite their overall dominance, the hosts had still failed to break the deadlock at the interval, and it was still all to play for in the second half.
It was then that the tide began to turn in favour of the visitors who were far more involved than in the opening forty-five minutes, and Oliver Davies in the home goal, who had been a virtual spectator, was at last called into some meaningful action.
A run down the left by Adam Roscrow culminated in a ball across the face of the home goal which failed to pick out a colleague, while Sam Snaith narrowly failed to connect with his header from a Elliot Evans delivery.
When the Reds countered, another Loveridge effort was hacked out of the goalmouth, before almost inevitably the Met opened the scoring on 79 minutes when Harry Owen met a ball into the box close to goal, and despite Davies managing to parry his shot, he could not prevent it squirming from his grasp into the net
He then pulled off a fine save from Roscrow when he was set up by Ben Bowler, but with the final whistle approaching, Tancock was dismissed by referee David Morgan for a foul on the same player just outside the box when homing in on goal.
The subsequent free kick was taken by Evans, who rifled an unstoppable strike into the top corner leaving Davies helpless in the 88th minute to effectively put the contest out of the Reds` reach.
In stoppage time, Davies was again in action, this time turning around another attempt on target by Roscrow.
More heartache for the Reds, who have another difficult game awaiting them at Jenner Park on Friday evening (Oct 19) when they take on Barry Town United. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.
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