JUST eight days after a narrow defeat at runaway Welsh Premier League leaders The New Saints, Carmarthen faced second-placed Connah’s Quay, the only other unbeaten team in the League. And while the margin of defeat was the same, the Old Gold’s performance was distinctly different – sadly, less impressive and tarnished by the dismissal of Lee Surman midway through the second-half.
The hosts began positively and put early pressure on Town’s defence with a series of quick raids but without managing a scoring effort or to test ‘keeper Lee Idzi in any meaningful way.
During this spell the Old Gold were able to retaliate with a few lively counter-attacks and on 6 minutes they forged the first significant goal threat when Idzi’s long goal-kick went beyond the half-way line and reached Matthew Thomas who headed the ball on Kyle Bassett – he instantly slotted it through to Liam Thomas who raced clear into the penalty area but saw his sharp 15 yard drive beaten away by ‘keeper John Danby.
Then after 11 minutes Liam Thomas played a fine pass across to Declan Carroll who took the ball forward before releasing a crisp strike from 30 yards that Danby was well-placed to claim.
Yet the Nomads were still enjoying the greater share of possession and territorial advantage and though the visitors were defending resolutely they were looking increasingly stretched at times. And in the 27th minute the hosts fashioned their best chance so far when Wes Baynes sent a free-kick deep into the crowded penalty area where Les Davies headed the ball dangerously back across the goalmouth only for Surman to react quickest and clear the danger.
They went close again on 32 minutes as Nick Rushton threaded an astute pass through the Old Gold back-line to send Matty Williams clear into the penalty area but Idzi sprinted from his goal and dived bravely down at the striker’s feet to smother the ball.
This pattern of play continued for the remainder of the first-half with Connah’s Quay more dominant but unable to seriously threaten Town’s goal in which the experienced Idzi was once more in commanding form, demonstrating assured and safe handling whenever necessary.
After the interval nothing much changed – the Nomads applied pressure but without any tangible reward as the visitors defended soundly. And again it was the Old Gold that managed the first notable scoring chance when on 51 minutes a long ball upfield was headed forwards by the lively Matthew Thomas to Bassett who from the edge of the penalty area hit a fierce volley that was resisted by Danby with an impressive flying save.
However at last in the 57th minute the home side made the breakthrough they had craved – Nathan Woolfe made a strong run down the left-wing before delivering an inviting cross into the packed goalmouth where Nick Rushton arrived with perfect timing to head the ball past Idzi and into the back of the net.
Town responded well to that setback as only moments later Carroll produced a rasping 20 yard free-kick that flew just over the bar.
But on 63 minutes their prospects were significantly damaged when Surman, Carmarthen’s captain and the cornerstone of their defence, was sent-off by the referee following a challenge on Davies despite it seeming clear that he had cleanly won the ball.
Substitute Dan Sheehan soon came on as manager Mark Aizlewood sought to reorganise his defensive formation and this proved successful as Connah's Quay never again posed a realistic threat to the visitors’ goal.
Indeed, despite their numerical disadvantage a late surge by the Old Gold almost secured for them the reward of an equaliser. After 79 minutes Bassett’s corner-kick was met by Mark Jones but he directed his close-range header too close to Danby who comfortably claimed the ball. Shortly afterwards Sheehan launched a right-wing cross into the crowded goalmouth where Danby punched the ball away – yet it went straight to Kieran Lewis who instantly released a crisp 15 yard shot that was blocked by defenders in front of goal.
Then on 86 minutes Jordan Knott, from the left touchline sent the ball deep into the goalmouth where Danby again attempted to punch clear but succeeded only in presenting Ceri Morgan with a promising scoring opportunity from the edge of the penalty area – sadly, last week’s scorer at TNS sent his volley sailing over the bar.
Successive single-goal away defeats against arguably the two current best teams in the WPL should, perhaps, be viewed positively – but only if Town are able to take major points off the rest, most of which are at present within a few points of each other. With several such games now immediately ahead, a decent points return from those is essential if a comfortable distance from the relegation zone (possibly even a top-six finish) is to be achieved by the end of the first-phase League programme.
CARMARTHEN TEAM Lee Idzi, Lee Surman, Dwaine Bailey, Jordan Knott, Dave Vincent, Liam Thomas (Mark Jones 60), Kieran Lewis, Ceri Morgan, Declan Carroll (Daniel Sheehan 65), Kyle Bassett, Matthew Thomas.
Unused subs Craig Hanford, Danny Thomas.
Cards (Y) Kieran Lewis (64), Dwaine Bailey (73), Dave Vincent (74) (R) Lee Surman (63).
John Collyer | Nik Mesney/NCM Media