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Dominant Reds beaten

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THE opening month of the Reds` return to the Welsh Premier League could be summed up as akin to the curate`s egg – good in parts.

After being crushed at home 7-0 on the opening day by Connahs`s Quay Nomads, they then produced a great comeback at Cefn Druids, clawing back a 2-0 half-time deficit to eventually win 3-2, before a creditable 1-1 draw with visitors Barry Town United.

But this latest loss at Park Avenue must be the one that sticks in the craw, as having dominated matters in the opening forty five minutes, they only had a solitary James Loveridge goal to show for their efforts, and would eventually pay the penalty for missed chances, which if taken, would probably have sealed the win.

Not having done so, their opponents were a far different proposition in the second half, and the tactical changes made by them certainly paid off, as the visitors were a pale shadow of the team which had begun the contest, and were run ragged by the Seasiders who, at the close, fully deserved the three points.

There are no easy games in this league, and hopefully the Reds have taken something positive away with them from Park Avenue to ensure they do not capitulate quite so badly as the season progresses.

They began brightly enough with the first chance falling to Loveridge when a long kick out by Oliver Davies fell to home player, Lee Jenkins, who attempted to find goalkeeper Terry McCormick but underhit his pass, allowing the Reds` striker to close him down, and he was forced to keep out his effort with his legs.

As the half progressed, the visitors continued to stroke the ball around to good effect, keeping the home side quiet, and deservedly took the lead on 17 minutes after Kurtis March picked out Loveridge wide on the right, and he made inroads into the box before firing low past McCormick into the far corner.

This pattern of play continued throughout the first half, with the Reds well in control and limiting the hosts to the occasional breakaway, without any real threat to their goal.

Despite their dominance, they just could not find a second success to establish something of a cushion, with Mark Jones having the best chance when Jordan Davies sent him clear, and despite rounding the oncoming goalkeeper and getting into a scoring position in front of the net, he took too long, and McCormick was able to make back his ground and smother the ball on the line.

The home keeper was being kept fully occupied, just beating Loveridge to the ball on the edge of the box and kicking it clear, while about the only chance for the Seasiders` came from Alan Goodall whose strike from distance was touched over by Davies.

A Chris Thomas run down the left culminated in some desperate defending in the home area before the danger was hacked over for a corner, but despite all their pressure, the visitors were still only the solitary goal to the good at the break.

This factor was to prove to be crucial as the second period got underway, and the major cause of the home revival was the introduction at half time of Porya Ahmadi for Paulo Mendes, as he proved to be a thorn in the side of the visitors from the off, forcing Thomas to concede a corner from his dangerous cross early on.

An injury to Anthony Finselbach forced the Reds into a change, with Jordan Follows coming on in his place, but by this stage the game had changed dramatically with the Seasiders` now in the box seat and their opponents being forced back to defend their slender advantage.

But two goals in as many minutes changed the whole complexion of the contest, with Ahmadi meeting a deep cross from Wes Baynes to find the top corner with a great header in the 62nd minute, before Geoff Kellaway controlled a ball on 64 minutes to volley it past Davies and put the hosts ahead.

Now well in control of their own destiny, the Seasiders` kept up the pressure, not allowing the Reds many opportunities in an attacking sense, although Loveridge did force McCormick into to a good save to keep out his fiercely struck shot on target.

However, any faint hopes of a comeback were well and truly put to bed when the home side struck again on 77 minutes, when a ball played into the goalmouth led to a melee before being forced home by Joe Phillips.

When Loveridge was fouled just outside the box, Follows could only drive the free kick into the wall, before Davies did well to deny Ahmadi by keeping out his finish with an outstretched leg, before being called into action again, this time pushing clear an Ashley Ruane effort when he was played through the middle.

A chastening experience for the Reds, who must have thought they were favourites for the three points following their first half display, but the game is not over until it`s over, and hopefully some valuable lessons will have been learned from the defeat.

The Reds make the long journey to Bala Town on Saturday (Sept 8), with a coach leaving Stebonheath at 8am.

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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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Llangennech hold off Crymych charge

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LLANGENNECH secured their seventh victory of the season on Saturday (Dec 8) but only after they withstood a late Crymych fightback to win 27-24.

Llangennech started the game well and held a 17-5 lead at half time with Brandon Wood getting himself on the score sheet again.

Richard Thomas and Rhys Davies also went over for the home side while Wood was successful with one conversion.

Nick Bevan replied for Crymych to keep his side in the game going into the break.

In the second half Wood added his second try of the game which he converted and he later added a penalty to seemingly put the game out of Crymych’s reach.

Photo by Darren Harries

Crymych had other ideas though as Iwan Mullin and Guto Davies both went over for tries while Ifan Phillips added two conversions.

Llywellyn Rees also scored for the visitors but the conversion was missed and Crymych were only three points down with some time left to play.

Try as they might they were unable to find a winning score as Llangennech held on for the win.

Crymych’s late surge ensured they would earn a bonus point for their four tries and another point for being within a score of their opponents, all of which could prove crucial come the end of the season.

On Saturday (Dec 15), Llangennech will go in search of another win as they make the long journey up to Aberystwyth. Crymych will look to bounce back as they take on Tenby United at Heywood Lane.

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