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Swans still sweet on Premier League survival

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By Jonathan Twigg

SWANSEA’s clamber through the trials and tribulations of the Premier League can be compared to that of a child running amok in a sweet shop, so many tantalising favourites to devour, with the occasional reminder that not all sweets are sweet.

A retro walk down the Bridge Meadow Lane would have taken a child past the shop run by Connie Clarke, renowned for her welcome on the bell clanging. Supporters of Haverfordwest County and their opponents on match day, welcomed with few words but with the knowledge her confectionary delights never failed to deliver.

Following Saturday’s (Apr 14) 1-1 draw with Everton, who arrived without former Swans stars Ashley Williams and Gylfi Sigurdsson in their line-up, supporters left knowing the sweet taste of success held by the Premier League is still within their grasp.

With two of the bottom three to visit the Liberty in the final week of the season this point is one gained in search of extending their Premier League status to an eighth season, although manager Carlos Carvalhal nearly led his side to five consecutive home wins, something no other manager has done since the heady days of John Toshack in 1981.

Swansea welcomed Jordan Ayew back from a three game suspension to partner elder brother Andre as Bolton based referee Lee Mason began the game in front of 20,933, the returning brother setting the tone alongside Andy King at a sun drenched Liberty Stadium.

Carvalhal has worked some magic since his arrival on the cusp of Christmas, tactically leaving opposite number former England supremo Sam Allerdyce to venture to the touchline with his pocket ball side kick Sammy Lee to stem the tide; the blues were overrun in midfield, Jordan Ayew having a wonderful chance cleared off the line as was captain Frederico Fernadez header from the resultant corner, before Andre’s sight of goal was saved by England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Alfie Mawson has grown to be imperial at the back for the Swans, attracting the interest of Manchester United, one of those mints that the longer you savour, the better it lingers. Luciano Narsingh however can be likened more to a quickly dissolving peppermint cream, releasing the taste with speed, rousing the Jack Army with an immediate hit, succulent whilst it lasts, inspiring the Swans to drive forward.

Former England captain Wayne Rooney had one of those games, like an aniseed ball, many unable to relish his taste as he left his mark, literally with some raking tackles; his class, undoubted, when it finally came to the fore.

An opening goal came with the aid of goal line technology, just before half time, Lucas Fabianski brilliantly making a double save from Bolasie, before a ricochet off Kyle Naughton and a half time lead, Fabianski thankfully however saving from Cenk Tosun a minute later.

Jordan became the first recipient of a yellow card in the second half, substitute Nathan Dyer creating a stir as the game went up by a level with a sugar surge, the vocal chords tingled with honey from a locket, in the form of striker Tammy Abraham’s arrival.

Full backs McNaughton and Martin Olsson created chances, Tom Carroll serving buckets of sweet balls, to no avail; Dyer driving forward over from twenty yards, Abraham and the Ayews creating half chances, Mawson’s header cleared off the line before the full quarter was served, Jordan levelling the game with a right foot half volley.

The final fifteen minutes rocked the stadium once more, after dinner mints were all Swansea’s, although Seamus Coleman thundered a shot against the woodwork, Abraham missed a gilt edged opportunity at the other end, whilst a tall and well positioned defensive wall directed Rooney’s set piece opportunity over the bar.

Extra strong mints were needed, alas unavailable as the toffees held firm, not fudging their lines with Beni Baningime taking a yellow card for the team, the games conclusion seeing a share of the spoils.

Carvalhal’s magic stars will have to be at their best to out fox and unwrap three points on Sunday (Apr 22) when opponents Manchester City will have champagne liquor chocolates on hand, having been crowned Premier League champions.

Swansea then have the opportunity to welcome Chelsea to ‘fortress’ Liberty the week after; wispa it quietly, as many have their eyes on the final weeks’ trio of games, starting with a trip to the South Coast in search of the bounty available at Dean Park, Bournemouth, before a starburst performance at home to Southampton on the Tuesday and Stoke City for a final day picnic. There can be no wine gums on show, just the everlasting gobstopper which is Premier League football.

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Bont up to third

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PONTYBEREM travelled to Burry Port on Saturday (Dec 15), and came away with an excellent 33-5 victory in difficult conditions.

The Bont were looking to bounce back after a disappointing reverse at Fishguard last weekend, in an attempt to keep in touch at the top end of the league, while opponents Burry Port were also looking to get back to winning ways.

Despite the conditions, with credit, the pitch was in surprisingly good nick, but the weather was remarkably bad with both heavy rain, freezing temperatures and high winds throughout the 80.

Pontyberem put in an excellent performance on the day, one which has been described as possibly their best of the season so far.

Photo by Darren Harries

They scored five tries in their 33-5 victory and showed good determination, strength, discipline and no lacking in skill and great handling.

Burry Port suffered an injury midway through the first half and they opted for uncontested scrums from then on.

The try scorers for Pontyberem were Centre Aled Rees (2), wing Tom Lloyd, no8 Wayne WIlliams and Centre Mike Jenkins with one apiece. Mike Sauro amazingly kicked the other eight points.

Burry Port battled hard and crossed over in the final play for a deserved try that was unconverted.

It was a great win for Pontyberem and that now sets up an exciting fixture with local rivals Tumble on Saturday (Dec 29).

Burry Port will now look for a return to winning ways in their next fixture, away to Loughor.

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Scarlets edged out by Ulster

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SCARLETS were narrowly beaten by Ulster in their Heineken Champions Cup game at Parc Y Scarlets on Friday (Dec 7).

A late try had brought them to within a point but they were unable to find a winning score and Ulster held on for a 25-24 win.

Scarlets got the game underway through Rhys Patchell and Ulster knocked the ball on handing possession straight back to the home side. The Scarlets were given a penalty which Patchell sent through the post to give them a 3-0 lead inside the first minute.

On the five-minute mark Ulster found themselves in Scarlets territory with advantage after Scarlets are penalised for offside. The Ulstermen decided to kick for the posts and scrum half John Cooney brought them level.

Ulster winger Jacob Stockdale then ran through Scarlets defence scoring the first try of the evening in the corner. Cooney’s conversion attempt was wide of the mark but Ulster go ahead for the first time.

Lewis Rawlins is taken for a HIA assessment after a big tackle from Sean Reidy. He catches him high and both go off for an assessment. Steve Cummins is on for Rawlins.

Photo by Darren Harries

Scarlets stepped up the pace a little after that tackle pushed in to Ulster’s 22. An attacking phase sees Steff Evans cross the line. Patchell added the conversion putting the Scarlets back in front.

With only six minutes of the first half remaining Ulster got a second try through winger Henry Speight after a period of pressure in the home side’s 22. He crossed in the far corner making it too difficult a conversion for Cooney.

The Scarlets got a foothold late in the first half but couldn’t turn the pressure in to points, kicking the ball in to touch. Ulster kicked themselves out of the pressure position and the score finishes 10-13 at half time.

Scarlets returned to the field in advance of Ulster looking to get a strong start to the second half. Some positive play returns in the form of pressure for Scarlets but unusual handling errors meant that Ulster keep themselves in Scarlets territory.

Ulster were then awarded a scrum penalty on Scarlets’ 10 metre line despite their tighthead pulling the scrum down. They kicked to the corner and set up an attacking phase with a line out on the 22. Centre Will Addison crossed under the posts and scrum half Cooney adds the conversion, 10-20.

As the game passed the 50-minute mark the Scarlets began to find their mojo. Jonathan Davies got them moving in to opposition territory.

The Scarlets ran it from the base of the scrum. There was great work from the forwards to win important territorial gains but they were then penalised for holding on and Ulster won a penalty under the posts which they kicked to touch.

Johnny McNicholl got  the Scarlets moving once again in the right direction. He had great support from his backline and winger Steff Evans gathers and spotted a gap on the touchline to go over the whitewash for his second of the evening. Patchell added the conversion to make it 17-20.

Just as soon as Scarlets get back within three points Ulster hit back with a third try. They got down in to Scarlets territory and ran strongly in midfield and despite what looks like a knock on play continues. Number eight Marcell Coetzee crossed the whitewash. Captain Ken Owens protests that there was a potential knock on and the referee consults the TMO for confirmation. He’s happy that the ball goes back and try is awarded. The wind pulled the conversion attempt across the posts.

Scarlets got back down in to Ulster territory. Johnny McNicholl gets the ball out to Steff Evans who ran along the touchline. He looked like he may make it a hat-trick but he was bundled in to touch.

Scarlets kept building and a try came from replacement flanker Dan Davis. Dan Jones added the conversion but the Scarlets were still a point behind.

The clock turned 80 but the Scarlets managed to keep the game alive. They won a penalty in the shadow of Ulster’s uprights, a kick to touch handed them a line out on the 10-metre line. Scarlets made territorial gains but they were unable to get the penalty required and Ulster saw the game out.

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Old Gold made to work for win

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CARMARTHEN progressed to the Fourth Round of the Welsh Cup with an ultimately comfortable victory over Goytre United on Saturday (Dec 8) – but they were made to work hard for that achievement by the competitive Welsh League side and only secured success thanks to three moments of clinical finishing by experienced strikers Luke Bowen and Liam Thomas.

United almost took an early lead when after only 4 minutes Joe Hopkins produced a speculative long-range shot that skidded unpredictably off the saturated turf, catching Lee Idzi by surprise and forcing the experienced ‘keeper to bundle the ball clumsily around the post.

From thereon the match quickly developed into a fast-paced, end-to-end affair although, with both defences looking quite secure, no further early scoring chances arose until the 16th minute when the Old Gold went ahead after a brief spell of pressure.  Luke Cummings fired a searching corner-kick into the crowded goalmouth where Bowen arrived with perfect timing to plant his close-range header past ‘keeper Luke Martin and into the back of the net.

Goytre immediately responded with a series of spirited counter-attacks but Town’s experienced and well-established back-line of Lee Surman, Dave Vincent and Jordan Knott were, as so often in recent games, in commanding form and capably resisted any serious threat to their goal – and directly ahead of them, industrious midfielders Mael Davies, Greg Walters, Cummings and Declan Carroll eagerly provided a further valuable layer of defensive support whenever necessary.  Consequently, Idzi was never really tested again during this period.

Meanwhile Carmarthen’s strikers were always an available outlet, willingly using their pace and mobility to keep the home defenders fully occupied – and on 35 minutes they went close to extending their lead when, after a slick interchange of passes with Bowen on the edge of the penalty area, Sean Hanbury released a rasping strike that Martin, diving swiftly down at full length, resisted.

In the 41st minute the Old Gold were successful.  Cummings, an increasingly influential figure in midfield, surged forward from the centre-circle before producing a sublime pass that set Thomas racing towards the penalty area and Town’s all-time top scorer completed this incisive move with his customary composure, smartly driving the ball beyond Martin’s reach and into the corner of the net.

After the interval the same pattern of end-to-end football soon emerged but the pace of the game had noticeably quickened with United pouring forward at every opportunity, clearly intent on reducing the deficit.  However the Old Gold defence again comfortably withstood that early pressure – moreover, from those positions, deep inside their own half, they were frequently able to launch rapid counter-attacks.

On 74 minutes Carmarthen further increased their lead in just that fashion.  The ball was played out of defence to Hanbury who moved forward along the left flank before firing a long cross deep into the penalty area where Bowen, with impressive anticipation of the scoring opportunity,  created the time and space to power another close-range header into the net leaving Martin well beaten.

Goytre, stung by that further setback, immediately swarmed upfield and soon went close to reducing the deficit when Hopkins, from 25 yards, struck a promising drive that drew a fine save from Idzi, diving low at full stretch to turn the ball around the post.

Then on 77 minutes Rhodri Cole, from near the left touchline, delivered an inviting free-kick into the packed goalmouth but saw Adam Jenkins direct his close-range header just wide of the goal.

The Old Gold, with some rapid counter-attacking, were still posing a serious threat at the other end of the pitch.  After 81 minutes Walters moved in from the left-wing and, from the corner of the penalty area, released a stunning angled volley that Martin, with a spectacular flying save, turned past the far post.

The exhilarating end-to-end pattern of play continued to the end of the match.  In the 89th minute Hanbury, enjoying possibly his best performance for Town since he joined the club at the start of this season, made ground along the left touchline then lifted a huge cross-field pass that reached Bowen on the right-wing – he, in turn, fired the ball across the goalmouth where Hanbury, having enthusiastically continued his run, sadly managed only a weak shot that Martin easily gathered.

Then in added time at the end of 90 minutes a corner from United substitute Zac Brown reached Thomas Doidge in the goalmouth but from a good position he wastefully sent his looping header over the bar.

This was a highly satisfactory performance by Carmarthen playing away from home against a very capable Welsh League side (that included several former WPL players in its squad), and on a pitch made increasingly difficult by poor weather conditions which was in complete contrast to the 3G surfaces which they have regularly encountered so far this season – all the ingredients for a typical Cup upset were there but, thankfully, overcome by the Old Gold.

For their next fixture Town return to League action when they entertain Barry Town United at Richmond Park on Friday, December 14, k/o 7.30pm.

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