CARMARTHEN delivered another remarkable display of spirited, high-energy football to secure a well-deserved victory in a tough encounter against big-spending Bangor who for most of this season have occupied a top three place in the Welsh Premier League.
Yet it was City who began the match more positively, building early pressure with a series of swift raids that tested, but significantly failed to seriously penetrate, the Old Gold defence.
In fact, rather against the run of play, Town managed the first notable scoring chance after 11 minutes when Mark Jones threaded a fine pass through to strike partner Liam Thomas who raced forward to the edge of the penalty area then skilfully curled the ball around ‘keeper Connor Roberts, as he advanced from his goal, only to see it slide narrowly past the post.
From that moment the visitors began showing greater urgency and conviction going forward as midfield trio Keiran Lewis, Ceri Morgan and Lewis Harling, with their energy and vision, created further opportunities for lively frontmen Jones, Thomas and Kyle Bassett to exploit.
On 22 minutes Morgan sent an astute pass forward to Jones and he instantly played the ball across to Lewis who from 25 yards dispatched a fierce drive that Roberts, with a smart full-length save, turned around the post.
Then in the 25th minute Lewis sent a searching free-kick into the packed goalmouth where Thomas saw his promising header deflected over the bar by a defender. But seconds later this partnership fared much better from the ensuing corner as Lewis delivered the ball perfectly for Thomas to head firmly past Roberts and into the net.
[Incredibly, Liam Thomas has now scored in every one of Town’s first-phase matches at Bangor over the past five seasons – and overall, in his eight matches (effectively seven in terms of minutes played due to substitutions) at Bangor he has scored seven times, representing roughly 60% of all Town’s goals!]
Spurred by that success the Old Gold continued to press forward with some freedom and on 27 minutes a slick exchange of passes through the midfield finished with the ball reaching Harling on the edge of the penalty area and he unleashed a rasping shot that flew marginally too high. And moments later another seamless move led to Jones, from a sharp angle just inside the penalty area, firing the ball across the face of the goal where Harling, with a deft touch, went close to diverting it into the net.
Yet towards the end of the first-half City regained the initiative, forcing Town back on defence – and on 40 minutes they managed their best chance so far when a poor clearance from Craig Hanford fell nicely for Danny Gossett just outside the penalty area and he released a smart strike that ‘keeper Lee Idzi claimed with an impressive diving save.
But in the 42nd minute Bangor restored parity – Brayden Shaw strode forward and hit a stunning long-range drive that pierced a crowd of players and went beyond Idzi’s reach before nestling in the back of the net.
After the interval the Old Gold began positively and really should have regained the lead within 90 seconds of the restart. From a swift attack down the right flank Lewis burst into the penalty area and neatly chipped the ball into the goalmouth where Thomas arrived with perfect timing only to direct his close-range header straight at Roberts for a simple save.
While the visitors continued to make progress, looking the more incisive of the two sides going forward, the play generally became quicker and more evenly balanced as Bangor brought on two substitute strikers to enliven their scoring options.
Yet Carmarthen fashioned the next notable chance in the 59th minute when Dan Sheehan finished a strong run along the right wing with a cross into the penalty area which Harling met with a spectacular 12 yard volley that Roberts resisted, diving full length to turn the ball aside.
Then at last on 66 minutes Town regained the lead – Lewis, so often the architect of scoring opportunities with searching free-kicks and corners and well-crafted crosses/passes from open play, sent a long free-kick deep into the goalmouth where Lee Surman rose highest amongst a pack of players and directed a fine glancing header into the roof of the net for his first goal in the Old Gold colours.
And he went close to repeating that success after 79 minutes – Bassett’s corner-kick was similarly met by Surman but while his close-range header again defeated Roberts, the ball skimmed the bar and landed on the roof of the net.
City too were creating chances during the later stages of this intriguing match. In the 82nd minute Shaw produced another fierce long-range drive that took a slight deflection which made Idzi’s flying save all the more remarkable. Then from the ensuing corner-kick Henry Jones fired a close-range angled shot marginally too high.
But generally they were largely repelled by some formidable Old Gold defending with the now familiar central partnership of Surman and Dave Vincent particularly influential, while they received sterling support from Sheehan and Hanford on the flanks. And even after Surman was sent-off by the referee in highly controversial circumstances on 86 minutes the defence simply re-grouped and continued to withstand Bangor’s late pressure with great resilience and composure.
But overall this was a highly commendable performance to which every player, demonstrating extreme fitness levels and an immense work ethic, contributed – and the three valuable points that it produced have, significantly, lifted Town up to sixth place in the WPL with the closing stages of the first-phase programme now fast approaching.
However they now take a break from League action to contest a Welsh Cup 3rd Round tie at Caernarfon next Saturday (December 3rd k/o 2.30pm).
Team: Lee Idzi, Dan Sheehan, Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Craig Hanford, Keiran Lewis, Ceri Morgan (Dwaine Bailey 79), Lewis Harling, Kyle Bassett, Mark Jones, Liam Thomas.
Unused Subs: Matthew Thomas, Danny Thomas, Neil Smothers, Rhodri Cole.
Cards: (R) Lee Surman (86), (Y) Liam Thomas (69).
Goals: Liam Thomas (25), Lee Surman (66).