CARMARTHEN, faced with the daunting task of trying to restrain multiple Welsh Premier League champions and current runaway League leaders The New Saints, produced a remarkably spirited and disciplined performance which, despite having taken a surprise early lead, eventually finished in honourable defeat - and so TNS continue with their unblemished winning run this season and take another step towards their inevitable sixth successive League championship.
From the outset TNS quickly settled into their customary game of monopolising possession and confidently passing the ball around before breaking quickly forward in search of scoring opportunities.Initially the Old Gold successfully resisted this pressure and in response managed occasional counter-attacks that sadly failed to unsettle the visitors’ well-drilled defence.
But then in the 11th minute they delighted the sizeable home crowd by making an unexpected breakthrough – Kyle Bassett sent a dangerous corner into the crowded goalmouth where Saints defender John Routledge, with Dave Vincent in close attendance, appeared to knock the ball into his own net.
The visitors responded immediately with a wave of attacks that forced Town to defend in depth.And on 16 minutes that pressure secured an equaliser when Christian Seargeant fired a low cross towards the goalmouth where defender Lee Surman, in attempting to deny Saints striker Greg Draper a simple tap-in chance at the near post, had the misfortune to divert the ball into the corner of the net.
The game continued with TNS enjoying easily the greater share of possession and territorial advantage but Town’s defence, and in particular the formidable central partnership of Surman and Vincent, offered such stubborn resistance that ‘keeper Lee Idzi was hardly seriously tested – his primary involvement during this spell was dealing with a series of crosses and corners, which he accomplished with his customary assurance and safe handling, and carefully watching several scoring attempts fly comfortably off-target.
The Old Gold’s opportunities were more limited.But, notably, in the 44th minute Vincent demonstrated impressive skill and a sense of adventure when, having broken up a Saints attack on the edge of his own penalty area, he embarked on a determined charge upfield beyond the half-way line – he then slid the ball out to Matthew Thomas who raced further forward along the left-wing before crossing it into the Saints’ goalmouth where Vincent, having continued his excursion, arrived with perfect timing only to be denied a good scoring opportunity by the late intervention of Steve Saunders who cleared the ball to safety.
After the interval the same pattern of play emerged with the League champions generally dominating proceedings, yet noticeably not creating any significant early scoring chances.
However their fortunes changed on 57 minutes largely through the benevolence of the referee who awarded them a penalty, despite the strong protestations of Carmarthen’s players, when Alex Darlington managed to fall over after a challenge by Vincent – Seargeant stepped up and confidently drilled home the spot-kick.
Spurred by that success TNS pressed forward once more and after 60 minutes they extended their lead with an incisive move orchestrated by Routledge who finished a strong run down the left-wing with a searching low cross into the penalty area – the ball reached Robbie Parry who from 15 yards dispatched a crisp angled shot that went beyond Idzi’s reach and into the far corner of the net.
By this stage the Saints were rampant and they threatened again in the 72nd minute when substitute Scott Quigley burst forward through the middle then released a fierce long-range drive that Idzi managed to punch away.But moments later they further increased their advantage – the ball was played through to Draper on the edge of the penalty area and he turned sharply before firing past Idzi and into the back of the net.
Yet despite having slipped into what seemed to be a hopeless position the Old Gold proceeded to show commendable character and determination as they fought their way back into the game with a series of counter-attacks most of which featured Bassett who used his lightning pace and strength on the ball to stretch the visitors’ defence.
On 80 minutes he burst forward down the right-wing then sent a dangerous cross into the goalmouth where Matthew Thomas, under pressure from a defender, saw his diving header slide just narrowly off-target.
But in the 86th minute the Old Gold were rewarded for their enthusiastic persistence – Declan Carroll, on the edge of the penalty area, produced a piece of dazzling footwork to drift effortlessly past a couple of bewildered defenders before unleashing a stunning drive that left ‘keeper Paul Harrison floundering and the net bulging.
But that was too little, too late and the Saints played out the closing minutes without further drama to finish deserving winners.Yet Town can claim some modest achievements – they are the first team to score twice in a League game against TNS this season, while their three goals from the home and away fixtures between these clubs represent, remarkably, a third of all the goals that their illustrious opponents’ miserly defence has now conceded after 15 matches.
Carmarthen now face a long trip to North Wales next Saturday (26th November k/o 2.30pm) when they visit Bangor City, a side that have spent most of this season in the top four of the WPL.
Team: Lee Idzi, Dan Sheehan, Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Craig Hanford, Kyle Bassett, Keiran Lewis (Lewis Harling 64), Declan Carroll, Liam Thomas (Rhodri Cole 76), Mark Jones (Danny Thomas 78), Matthew Thomas.
Unused Subs: Dwaine Bailey, Neil Smothers, Iwan Roberts.
Cards: (Y) Declan Carroll (68).
Goals: John Routledge (OG) (11), Declan Carroll (86).
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