CARMARTHEN produced another commendable display of determined, high-energy football to secure a well-deserved victory in a tough encounter against Rhyl, one of the tight-knit pack of clubs fighting for a top-six place by the end of the Welsh Premier League first-phase programme.
But once more Town had to do this fielding a much depleted squad with injuries claiming Kyle Bassett, Jordan Knott and Dwaine Bailey from the team selected for the Bala match last week-end. However the hardy group of fans that made the long trip to North Wales were delighted to see key midfielder Lewis Harling on the pitch, returning from injury after an absence of eight matches.
After a brief initial spell of probing end-to-end play the Old Gold began to take the initiative and they fashioned the first significant scoring chance on 4 minutes when a Keiran Lewis corner was met by Lee Surman who headed the ball further into the packed goalmouth where Liam Thomas produced a promising close-range header that was cleared off the goal-line by a defender.
While the tempo of the game continued to increase, the play was mainly confined to the midfield with both defences looking comfortable in the face of intermittent pressure – goalmouth action was a rarity. But gradually Town were creating more of a threat as the pace and mobility of strikers Liam and Matthew Thomas, coupled with the strength of Mark Jones, were beginning to stretch and unsettle the Rhyl defence.
And after 19 minutes they went close to taking the lead – following a lightning break through the middle Matthew Thomas slid a sublime pass forward to namesake Liam who outpaced defenders to reach the edge of the penalty area only to be denied by ‘keeper Owen Evans who raced out of his goal and blocked the striker’s hurried shot. Then on 30 minutes Lewis sent an inviting free-kick into the crowded goalmouth where Matthew Thomas directed a smart diving header only narrowly wide of the post.
By this stage the Old Gold were dominating the game with a series of rapid attacks that stemmed, almost inevitably, from the industry and artistry of midfield trio Lewis, Ceri Morgan and Declan Carroll.
And in the 34th minute they went closer still to breaking the deadlock when Carroll’s huge throw into the penalty area reached Matthew Thomas who from 15 yards struck a fierce volley that a defender deflected marginally over the bar. Moments later, following another Lewis corner, Jones emerged from the packed goalmouth to send his close-range header just outside the post.
After the interval the match continued in a similar fashion, plenty of midfield attrition but this time without the occasional excitement of genuine goalmouth activity. Town’s defence remained admirably composed and resilient, with the central pairing of Surman and Dave Vincent in particularly commanding form, giving ‘keeper Lee Idzi such solid protection that there was barely a shot or header that required his urgent attention.
In fact Idzi’s only real moment of anxiety arose midway through the second-half during a goalmouth skirmish when the ball rebounded off the legs of a group of forwards and defenders before the experienced ‘keeper bravely dived down to claim it – but only at the second attempt.
Additionally, patrolling the space ahead of the back four Morgan was producing a masterful defensive midfield display – with boundless energy and commitment he was continually chasing and confronting the opposition and dismantling their attacks with well-judged tackling, aerial challenges and timely interceptions And with surging runs and astute distribution he was also pivotal to so much of the visitors’ forward progress.
But the Old Gold had to wait until late in the game to make the breakthrough which, on the balance of play, they fully deserved. In the 83rd minute substitute Harling gained possession near the centre-circle then shrugged off defenders and raced forward before sending a fine pass out to Carroll who quickly slid the ball into the penalty area where Harling, having continued his run with timely perfection, swept it past Evans and into the far corner of the net.
Rhyl’s only serious response came on 88 minutes when they won a free-kick just outside the penalty area yet Rob Hughes struck it just wide of the post, after which Town comfortably played out the remainder of the game without further incident.
This victory lifts Carmarthen up to 7th place in the WPL and they now have the chance to improve on that position in their next fixture on Sunday (13th November k/o 4.30pm) when they entertain strugglers Cefn Druids at Richmond Park.
Team: Lee Idzi, Dan Sheehan, Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Craig Hanford, Keiran Lewis, Ceri Morgan, Declan Carroll, Matthew Thomas (Lewis Harling 67), Mark Jones, Liam Thomas.
Unused Subs: Danny Thomas, Rhodri Cole.
Cards: Declan Carroll (25), Mark Jones (60).
Goal: Lewis Harling (83).