CARMARTHEN secured a valuable point in their pursuit of a coveted top-six finish at close of the Welsh Premier League first-phase programme in this attractive festive fixture against a strong Cardiff Met side that currently sit just four points and one place above them.
But after an impressive, spirited performance, in which they dominated play for significant spells either side of half-time with fast attacking football, the Old Gold were ultimately denied victory due to a combination of their failure to capitalise on several promising scoring chances and some accomplished Met defending.
In the early stages this game was fairly open and flowing as the play switched briskly from end to end – but with neither of these evenly-matched sides initially looking capable of unsettling the opposition defence no realistic scoring opportunities emerged.
Yet eventually, after 11 minutes, Town created the first notable chance with Declan Carroll sliding a short pass through to Mark Jones who moved forward into the penalty area then struck a smart angled drive only for ‘keeper Will Fuller to dive quickly down and claim the ball at the near post.
However that was an isolated moment of goalmouth excitement as the early pattern of play continued with plenty of midfield progress from both sides but no significant end product until the 24th minute when Met defender Joel Letori, from the left touchline, over-hit a deep cross that needed a late adjustment by ‘keeper Lee Idzi to stretch high and claw the ball safely away.
From that moment the Old Gold began a spell of more determined and sustained attacking play putting the visitors’ defence under increasing pressure. And on 30 minutes they went close to taking the lead. Lewis Harling made a strong run down the right flank then fired a searching cross into the goalmouth where Fuller punched the ball away but it fell nicely for Keiran Lewis who from 20 yards dispatched a rasping strike that Liam Thomas, with a deft touch, diverted beyond Fuller’s reach, only to see defender Bradley Woolridge block the ball in front of goal.
But generally the Met’s well-drilled defence dealt resolutely and efficiently with that pressure, demonstrating why they stand behind only TNS in terms of conceding the fewest goals in the WPL this season.
The visitors finally managed a decent scoring effort after 39 minutes when Charlie Corsby raced along the right touchline then sent a low cross into the penalty area – the ball was cleared but only as far as Ben Bowler who instantly struck a long-range shot that Idzi carefully watched sail over the bar. Then deep into added time Bowler, again from some distance, hit a free-kick that Idzi comfortably gathered.
After the interval the Old Gold once more took the initiative with a series of penetrative raids, usually with Bassett at the focal point, which often stretched the Met defence. On 49 minutes Town’s flying winger burst forward along the left-wing then cut inside before playing the ball across to Lewis who set up a fine chance for Carroll yet from a sharp angle he fired just over the bar.
Moments later Thomas, with an astute pass that split open the visitors’ defence, put Bassett speeding clear and into the penalty area but sadly, from 15 yards, he sent his drive wide of the post. Maintaining the pressure, the hosts again went close in the 56th minute – Carroll’s trademark long throw into a packed goalmouth led to the ball reaching substitute Ceri Morgan on the edge of the penalty area but his crisp volley went too high.
Then shortly afterwards a slick exchange of passes between Lewis, Dan Sheehan and Jones on the fringe of the penalty area created another opening for Bassett who turned sharply and from 10 yards hooked the ball narrowly over the bar.
During this further spell of Town pressure Cardiff’s lively forwards occasionally looked a threat on the counter-attack – but they failed to unsettle the home defence in any meaningful way and while Idzi had a few saves to make, he was never seriously tested.
Notably, on 75 minutes following a long throw-in from Dan Spencer into the penalty area the ball was cleared but it was pounced on by Will Evans who saw his 20 yard strike claimed quite effortlessly by Carmarthen’s experienced ‘keeper.
Yet the momentum was still with the Old Gold and they finished the game with a late flurry of chances. In the 85th minute Jones took the ball to the by-line then rolled it back to Thomas who from 15 yards released a promising angled drive that Fuller was well placed to claim. Moments later Lewis, from the half-way line delivered a huge free-kick into the congested penalty area where Thomas struck a fierce drive that flew marginally wide of the post.
Then on 89 minutes Jones made the last of several important contributions when he slid a fine pass through to Bassett who raced forward to the edge of the penalty area but, under significant pressure from Jon Littlemore, he sliced the ball wide.
Having played so well and created a number of decent scoring opportunities, Town will be disappointed not to have claimed three points from this tough encounter – but this single point gained has, at least, stretched the gap between them and seventh-placed Llandudno which, at this critical stage of the season, is very welcome. Carmarthen will be now hoping for better fortune in the reverse fixture in Cardiff on New Year’s Eve (k/o 2.30pm).
Team: Lee Idzi, Craig Hanford, Dwaine Bailey, Dave Vincent, Dan Sheehan, Lewis Harling (Ceri Morgan 50), Keiran Lewis, Declan Carroll, Kyle Bassett, Mark Jones, Liam Thomas.
Unused subs: Danny Thomas, Neil Smothers; Rhodri Cole.
Cards: (Y) Dave Vincent (20).
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