JUST over three weeks ago Carmarthen’s interest in the League Cup was extinguished by Welsh League title-chasers Barry Town United and now, after a keenly contested Welsh Cup tie, they suffered the same fate against another lower league side, high-flying Caernarfon Town from the Cymru Alliance.
But the visitors faced serious problems even before the start as their small squad had been further depleted due to injuries and suspension, as well as the recent departure of Matthew Thomas, meaning that manager Mark Aizlewood had only two substitutes on the bench.
And after just five minutes of play they suffered another significant setback when, worryingly, influential defender Dave Vincent had to be helped off the field with a foot injury. So, with Lee Surman suspended, the Old Gold had to compete most of the match without the two centre-backs who have been the cornerstone of their defence all season.
Replacing them was Dwaine Bailey, only recently returned after injury having had barely 10 minutes game-time in the past six weeks, while midfielder Ceri Morgan undertook the formidable task of covering for Vincent.
Caernarfon started brightly and demonstrated their sharp, direct approach when Danny Brookwell burst down the left-wing, outpacing Dan Sheehan, then crossed the ball into the penalty area where Kevin Lloyd sent his 12 yard strike just over the bar. While the game soon developed into an open end-to-end affair, the Canaries again threatened on 13 minutes as Darren Thomas split the Carmarthen defence with a fine pass for Lloyd to pursue but ‘keeper Lee Idzi was quickly out of his goal to dive bravely down to claim the ball at the striker’s feet.
Moments later the Old Gold fashioned their first notable chance when Lewis Harling, after a smart exchange of passes with midfield partner Keiran Lewis, saw his crisp 15 yard shot slide narrowly wide of the post.
The play remained evenly-balanced for a while but the Alliance side looked more of a threat with their incisive probing and on 35 minutes they went close to opening the scoring when Nathan Craig’s deep corner-kick was met by Gareth Edwards only for his promising close-range header to be denied by Idzi, expertly turning the ball over the bar.
The visitors too had chances as half-time approached. After 40 minutes Sheehan made ground along the right-wing before delivering an inviting cross into the goalmouth only for Mark Jones, from a good position, to send his weak touch just wide of the post.
The hosts responded on 43 minutes with Lloyd playing the ball across the edge of the penalty area to find Brookwell who dispatched a fierce drive that Idzi resisted with another stylish reaction save.
Yet deep into added time the Old Gold carved through the home defence with a slick passing movement that led to Declan Carroll drifting into the penalty area and firing the ball across the face of the goal only to see Kyle Bassett, racing towards the goalmouth, narrowly fail to reach it for a simple close-range tap-in.
After the interval Carmarthen again went close as Bassett’s fine through ball sent Sheehan surging forward down the right touchline before driving a low cross into the goalmouth where Jones’ close-range effort slid marginally outside the post.
However at last, in the 54th minute, Caernarfon were rewarded for their positive attacking play – Thomas produced a stunning long-range drive that crashed against the post but the lively Jamie Breese was quickest to react and pounced on the loose ball then fired it past Idzi and into the net.
Yet the visitors were soon back on level terms – on 62 minutes the Bassett/Sheehan combination once more led to the adventurous full-back charging deep into the Canaries’ half and sending a right-wing cross into the penalty area where Harling, arriving with perfect timing, drilled the ball from 12 yards beyond the reach of ‘keeper Alex Ramsay and into the corner of the net.
The Alliance side were quick to respond with a series of swift raids that increasingly stretched the Old Gold’s rather makeshift defence. And after 69 minutes they restored their lead when Thomas, with a well-judged pass, put Breese in clear space and, as Idzi advanced from his goal, he finished the move clinically by chipping the ball over the stranded ‘keeper and into the empty net.
The hosts, encouraged by that success, continued to press forward but Carmarthen’s defence demonstrated commendable determination and spirit to resist that pressure, none more so than Morgan who despite playing in such unfamiliar territory was producing a highly effective defensive display. In fact the only drawback of his enforced move to central defence was the significant loss of his tenacity and drive in midfield.
Yet, almost inevitably, Caernarfon secured the goal that made victory certain - in the 77th minute from a swift break out of defence the ball was played forward to Thomas who reached the edge of the penalty area then crowned a superb personal performance by confidently firing past Idzi and into the back of the net.
The Old Gold, to their credit, continued to swarm forward in the hope of late goals but the nearest they got was on 85 minutes when Ramsay handled a back-pass to concede an indirect free-kick just a yard or so from his goal-line. With the almost surreal sight of virtually the entire home team standing along the goal-line, Lewis rolled the (very) short free-kick to Jones whose shot was unsurprisingly blocked.
So, with no remaining Cup interest Carmarthen now have the rest of the season to concentrate on the Welsh Premier League and in particular, in the short term, capturing a top six place by the fast-approaching end of the first-phase programme. Their next fixture is on Saturday (10th December k/o 5.15pm) when they travel to Llandudno for a match that will be televised live on S4C.
Team: Lee Idzi, Dan Sheehan; Dwaine Bailey, Dave Vincent (Declan Carroll 5), Craig Hanford, Lewis Harling, Ceri Morgan, Keiran Lewis, Kyle Bassett (Danny Thomas 78), Mark Jones, Liam Thomas.
Unused Subs: None.
Cards: (Y) Craig Hanford (61), Ceri Morgan (88).
Goal: Lewis Harling (62).