IN an absorbing cup-tie Carmarthen twice came back from being a goal down before securing a narrow victory over Newtown with a scrambled third goal late in extra-time, a fitting reward after a highly commendable performance to which every player, demonstrating extreme fitness levels and an immense work ethic, contributed.
The match began at a frantic pace with the play quickly switching from end to end – and this would remain the pattern of this entertaining open game throughout. Initially both defences coped well when under pressure, although each survived an early scare as crosses flew through the crowded goalmouths with the ball just evading both forwards and defenders.
Then on 13 minutes Newtown managed the first serious chance when Jamie Price sent a free-kick into the penalty area where Shane Sutton directed his close-range glancing header too high. Moments later Ross Stephens released a long-range drive that ‘keeper Lee Idzi carefully watched sail just over the bar.
The Old Gold soon responded as Liam Thomas, in the 17th minute, raced down the left-wing before playing the ball across to Declan Carroll who struck a fierce 20 yard shot which, sadly, went too straight and ‘keeper Dave Jones was well placed to claim it.
For a spell the Robins enjoyed the greater share of possession and territorial advantage but Town’s defence, and in particular the formidable central partnership of Dave Vincent and Lee Surman, remained composed and resilient and Idzi was never noticeably tested.
Meanwhile the visitors were still looking a threat with a series of counter-attacks and on 46 minutes they forged their best chance so far. Midfielder Keiran Lewis, who with his energy and vision was so often the architect of Carmarthen’s best moments, produced a sublime pass that set Thomas racing beyond the home defence and into the penalty area – from a sharp angle he hit a crisp drive that Jones, advancing from his goal, did well to block and Lewis, with the empty net ahead of him and covering defenders close-by, only just failed to reach the loose ball for an inviting scoring chance.
Throughout the first-half Thomas, operating as a lone striker, had looked rather isolated at the forefront of Town’s attacking movements but after the interval manager Mark Aizlewood added substitute Mark Jones and together these two joint top scorers would prove to be a more potent spearhead.
The Old Gold took the early initiative and after 55 minutes a slick exchange of passes between Jones and Lewis led to an opening for Carroll who, from 12 yards, dispatched a promising angled volley that was turned aside by a defender.
Yet after 58 minutes Newtown went ahead when Stephens’ corner-kick into a packed goalmouth found Jason Oswell whose glancing header from close-range flew into the net.
But their lead lasted barely 60 seconds – Town burst forward from the re-start with Ceri Morgan feeding the ball through to Lewis just inside the penalty area and he swiftly played it across to Thomas who turned sharply to create space then fired home leaving the ‘keeper well beaten. Moments later they forged another chance when Dan Sheehan’s quick throw-in released Carroll who moved across the edge of the penalty area before releasing a smart strike that Jones safely held.
However, as the pace of the game increased the Robins regained the lead on 66 minutes in somewhat controversial circumstances when, after Luke Boundford fell under a challenge from Jordan Knott near the goalmouth, the referee awarded a penalty despite the visitors’ protestations – Stephens comfortably converted the spot-kick.
The Old Gold renewed their efforts in search of another equaliser and found success in the 76th minute – after good work by Carroll inside the penalty area the ball was played back to Craig Hanford who sent a deep cross towards the far post where Lewis produced a stunning volley that flew into the net.
Then on 79 minutes Newtown went close with a swift counter-attack that finished with Oswell, inside the penalty area, hitting an angled drive that Idzi resisted with a marvellous full-length save. And in the last action of normal time Town were denied a winning goal when substitute Danny Thomas slid a fine pass through to Sheehan who from the right touchline floated a searching cross into the goalmouth where Mark Jones managed a close-range header that was diverted narrowly around the post by a defender.
As the match went into extra-time, both teams had early chances. In the 96th minute Danny Thomas played the ball forward to Carrroll just outside the penalty area but he saw his rasping 20 yard shot denied by Dave Jones with a smart low save. Moments later Thomas pounced on a poor defensive clearance and struck a fierce 25 yard effort narrowly over the bar.
Then on 103 minutes Thomas became the visitors’ saviour at the other end of the pitch when from a corner the ball reached Oswell who hit a sharp close-range strike which Town’s player-coach blocked on the goal-line and cleared to safety. And on 110 minutes Idzi rescued his side when he produced another stylish save to turn an impressive long-range volley from Price over the bar.
But only two minutes from the end of extra-time, just as the prospect of a penalty shoot-out was looking increasingly likely, the Old Gold captured a third goal – from the right touchline Lewis sent a dangerous cross into the heavily congested goalmouth where Mark Jones managed to get a vital touch on the ball and stab it into the net.
So, Carmarthen’s ‘love affair’ with the League Cup continues with this victory which secures a semi-final place for the fourth time in the past five seasons – and of course on those first two occasions they went on to win the trophy.
Team: Lee Idzi; Jordan Knott (sub Danny Thomas 82); Lee Surman; Dave Vincent; Dan Sheehan; Craig Hanford; Kyle Bassett (sub Mark Jones 46); Kieran Lewis; Ceri Morgan; Declan Carroll; Liam Thomas.
Unused Sub: Neil Smothers.Cards: None
Goals: Liam Thomas (59); Kieran Lewis (76); Mark Jones (118).