CARMARTHEN opened their Welsh Premier League season with a tough fixture against big-spending Connah's Quay but they finished with a well-earned point after a commendable performance full of energy and commitment.
The Old Gold went close to making a dream start to this game when they created a good scoring chance within 60 seconds of the kick-off. Kieran Lewis collected the ball from ‘keeper Lee Idzi’s clearance and lofted it forward for Liam Thomas to race clear down the right flank only to be brought down by a defender, winning a free-kick. From this, Lewis floated the ball into the crowded penalty area where Matthew Thomas rose above his marker to direct a smart glancing header just narrowly wide of the far post.
But the visitors soon responded when after 6 minutes a long throw-in by Lewis Short landed in the packed goalmouth where Michael Wilde connected with a fierce strike from close range but saw Idzi beat the ball safely away with a marvellous reflex save.
Spurred by that opportunity Connah's Quay, who were by now enjoying the greater share of possession and territorial advantage, increasingly ramped up the pressure on the home defence which simply raised its level of defiance correspondingly.
The key feature of Town’s resistance was the performance of central pairing Lee Surman and Dwaine Bailey who were clearly under instructions to constrain and frustrate Wilde and Les Davies, two of the WPL’s most experienced and prolific goal-scorers – and so successful were they that these burly strikers never again managed a serious effort on target. And behind them Idzi once more looked comfortable and secure, demonstrating his customary assured and safe handling whenever under pressure.
Alongside Surman and Bailey, on the flanks Dave Vincent and Dan Sheehan coupled their notable defensive contribution with an enthusiastic willingness to surge forward and support counter-attacks. And in front of them, industrious midfielders Lewis Harling, Ceri Morgan, Lewis and Declan Carroll provided another valuable protective shield, while through their boundless energy and vision this quartet were responsible for Town’s most promising forward progress which frontmen Liam and Matthew Thomas exploited using their pace and mobility to good effect.
The Nomads had to wait until the 19th minute before they again went close to scoring – Matthew Williams pounced on a weak defensive clearance and from the edge of the penalty area struck a crisp drive that flew just wide of the post. And while the Old Gold managed to survive several goalmouth skirmishes, the visitors fashioned only one further notable opportunity when on 37 minutes defender Wes Baynes strode forward and released a 30 yard shot that Idzi carefully watched sail past the post.
After the interval Carmarthen, with a rare counter-attack, threatened on 54 minutes when Morgan sent a fine pass through to Carroll who moved across the edge of the penalty area then produced a sharp strike that ‘keeper John Danby confidently gathered. But immediately Connah's Quay surged forward again and from a long clearance out of defence the ball reached Williams who saw his 20 yard volley slide narrowly beyond the near post.
Gradually Town were pressing forward with greater confidence and effect and in the 66th minute, in pursuit of a huge clearance from Idzi, Liam Thomas burst clear beyond two defenders to the edge of the penalty area where he was brought down from behind by Ian Kearney who was promptly sent-off by the referee. Lewis curled the ensuing free-kick around the defensive ‘wall’ but was denied by a smart full-length save from Danby.
With this numerical disparity between the two teams the match now became more evenly balanced than at any earlier stage. But while the sides alternated with short spells of pressure, neither managed to produce any significant scoring opportunities until at last, in the 90th minute, Harling threaded the ball through to substitute Mark Jones who cut inside from the left flank to the corner of the penalty area then cleverly weaved towards the goalmouth, evading several challenges, before firing an angled drive that flew marginally too high.
With that encouraging opening performance of the season against one of the undoubtedly stronger WPL sides, the Old Gold now face a trip to Newtown on Saturday (20th August k/o 2.30pm) for their next fixture.
CARMARTHEN TEAM Lee Idzi, Dave Vincent (Jordan Knott 89), Lee Surman, Dwaine Bailey, Dan Sheehan, Kieran Lewis, Ceri Morgan, Lewis Harling, Declan Carroll (Kyle Bassett 79), Liam Thomas, Matthew Thomas (Mark Jones 68).
Unused subs Danny Thomas, Neil Smothers, Luke James-Raymond, Rhodri Cole.
Cards (Y) Lee Surman (22), Dan Sheehan (55).
John Collyer | Allen Fitzpatrick.