CARMARTHEN went into this match knowing that taking three points off Rhyl would represent a big step towards securing a coveted top six finish at the fast-approaching end of the Welsh Premier League first-phase programme.
And they achieved exactly that with arguably their best performance so far this season, overwhelming their opponents with virtually irresistible attacking football.
Town’s intentions were clear from the outset as they swarmed forward, probing the visitors’ defence in search of an early goal. While Rhyl’s defenders initially coped well under pressure, the Old Gold eventually created an opening on 7 minutes when Keiran Lewis, after good work down the left flank, played a fine pass across to Declan Carroll who from the corner of the penalty area hit a crisp drive that went wide of the post.
Moments later Lewis Harling headed the ball through to Carroll and he took it forward before releasing a fierce strike that ‘keeper Rory Crowther resisted with an impressive flying save. But Town were soon rewarded for their initiative when in the 10th minute Mark Jones chased a loose ball to the by-line then rolled it towards Harling who fired it into the goalmouth where Kyle Bassett reacted quicker than any defender to stab the ball home from close-range.
Rhyl managed a brief response with Rob Hughes, after 16 minutes, striking a powerful long-range free-kick that ‘keeper Lee Idzi denied with a smart full-length save. And soon afterwards Porya Ahmadi, from the corner of the penalty area, dispatched a rasping angled shot that Idzi carefully watched sail just over the bar.
Yet that was simply a brief interruption to Town’s attacking momentum and on 19 minutes they increased their lead – Bassett produced a typically determined, dazzling burst that took him effortlessly past two bewildered defenders then from the by-line drove the ball across the face of the goal where Jones calmly executed a simple close-range conversion.
In the 25th minute Bassett sent an inviting corner into the packed goalmouth where Dwaine Bailey leapt highest and planted his firm header only narrowly over the bar. And on 32 minutes Harling cut inside from the right-wing and slid the ball across to Carroll on the edge of the penalty area but his well-struck effort flew just wide of the post.
Then twice in quick succession the Old Gold went close to extending their lead. Liam Thomas moved in from the left-wing and eased past a defender before hitting an angled drive that defeated Crowther but crashed against the inside of the far post and was cleared safely away – then Lewis floated a searching free-kick deep into the penalty area where Bailey saw his close-range shot blocked by Crowther and though the ball rebounded nicely for Harling his instant strike was claimed by the increasingly busy ‘keeper with another excellent save.
After the interval Rhyl showed some early intent when Ahmadi broke forward then sent a deep cross to the corner of the penalty area where half-time substitute Chris Durkin fired an angled shot just over the bar.
However Town were quickly back in control of the game – on 55 minutes Bassett embarked on another surging run down the left-wing before driving a low cross into the goalmouth only for Jones to hit his close-range effort straight at Crowther. Moments later Lewis, with a sublime through ball, sent Bassett racing clear but from the edge of the penalty area he struck his fierce drive marginally wide of the post.
Yet in the 59th minute they deservedly went further ahead when Jones rescued an over-hit cross on the by-line then fired the ball back towards the goalmouth where Liam Thomas, with a deft touch, redirected it into the far corner of the net.
Then after 61 minutes the visitors suffered another setback, of their own making, when Durkin was sent-off for a dangerously reckless tackle on Harling.
And soon afterwards, on 69 minutes the Old Gold extended their lead once more. Crowther decided to come well out of his penalty area to reach a loose ball played forward from the home defence – but he sent a woeful clearance straight to Carroll who, from the left touchline, audaciously launched the ball over 40 yards with remarkable skill and precision and saw it nestle in the far corner of the unguarded net.
Town enthusiastically kept up the pressure on the visitors’ beleaguered defence and in the 71st minute Liam Thomas, with a fine pass down the right-wing, set Bassett charging forward to the by-line before cutting the ball back to the edge of the penalty area only for Carroll to direct his instant strike narrowly too high.
Then on 73 minutes, as if Rhyl had not already damaged their own prospects enough, Michael Sharples was shown his second yellow card of the match leading to his automatic dismissal leaving just nine players to withstand a rampant Old Gold attacking force.
Manager Mark Aizlewood, perhaps satisfied that the game was now safe and wanting to protect and rest certain players for upcoming matches, soon brought on two substitutes from different generations – coach and long-serving ‘veteran’ Neil Smothers came on for his first competitive appearance since March 2013, while youth player Rhodri Cole left the subs bench for the fifth time this season.
Both contributed as Town continued to pressure the weakened Rhyl defence After 82 minutes Bassett raced clear to reach a long through ball but Crowther was quickly out of his goal and managed to divert the winger’s sharp 20 yard strike wide of the post. Moments later a similar chance, orchestrated by Jones with an astute pass, finished with Crowther smartly saving Bassett’s promising drive.
But the Old Gold were not to be denied a much-deserved fifth goal – in the 89th minute Bassett, who constantly tormented the Rhyl defenders throughout the game with his lightning pace and strength on the ball, sent an inviting corner into the packed goalmouth where Liam Thomas arrived with perfect timing to head the ball firmly past Crowther and into the net.
[This represents Town’s biggest margin of victory in the WPL, matched only by the 6-1 defeat of Newtown in March 2014, since the memorable record-equalling 8-0 demolition of Connah's Quay in December 2007 which featured Danny Thomas and Neil Smothers in the starting XI with then coach Mark Aizlewood in the dug-out.]
This victory, which lifts Carmarthen back into sixth place in the League, is the perfect start to their quest for enough points to keep them in the top half of the table before the ‘split’ in mid-January. But with two tough games against Cardiff Met on Boxing Day at Richmond Park and on New Year’s Eve at Cardiff Metropolitan University (k/o 2.30pm for both games) further strong performances will be vital.
Team: Lee Idzi, Dan Sheehan, Dwaine Bailey, Dave Vincent, Craig Hanford, Lewis Harling (Neil Smothers 73), Keiran Lewis (Danny Thomas 67), Declan Carroll (Rhodri Cole 83), Kyle Bassett, Mark Jones, Liam Thomas.
Unused Sub: Iwan Roberts.
Cards: (Y) Dwaine Bailey (85).
Goals: Kyle Bassett (10), Mark Jones (19), Liam Thomas (59, 89), Declan Carroll (69).
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