CARMARTHEN finished 2016 with a stunning performance to deservedly claim three valuable points from this entertaining encounter with a Cardiff Met side that has impressed in their first season back in the Welsh Premier League after a lengthy absence from the top flight.
But while the first-half was fairly evenly balanced with the home side holding on to a narrow lead, after the interval the Old Gold took over and produced arguably their best 45 minutes of football this season – with spells of irresistible attacking play they turned the game around with two early goals and comfortably held on to that advantage before settling the result with a third late success.
The match began at a frantic pace on the accommodating 3G surface with the play switching quickly from end to end as both sides sought to make an early impression. But with neither defence looking particularly troubled under intermittent pressure there was no significant early goalmouth action.
However after 10 minutes the Met went ahead – Bradley Woolridge made a strong run down the right-wing before lifting a high cross into the penalty area where Charlie Corsby headed the ball forward to Adam Roscrow, who had found an alarming amount of space in the goalmouth, and from close-range he stabbed it past ‘keeper Lee Idzi and into the net.
While the hosts, at this stage, were clearly enjoying the greater share of possession and territorial advantage, Town were looking lively on the counter-attack with Kyle Bassett a particular threat along the flanks with his blistering pace and strength on the ball. And they went close to snatching an equaliser on 15 minutes when from Bassett’s searching corner into a packed goalmouth the ball eventually reached Dwaine Bailey who from 10 yards hit a smart volley that was blocked on the goal-line by defender Emlyn Lewis.
The Met continued to press forward at every opportunity but they were repelled time and again by some formidable Old Gold defending with the experienced central partnership of Dave Vincent and Lee Surman particularly influential – and they received impressive support from Bailey, patrolling just in front of them, as well as Dan Sheehan and Craig Hanford on the flanks. Directly ahead of them, industrious midfielders Kieran Lewis and Ceri Morgan eagerly provided a further valuable layer of defensive support whenever necessary. And behind those defenders Idzi once more looked comfortable and secure, demonstrating his customary assured and safe handling in dealing with a number of crosses and corners.
Indeed it was Town that went closest to scoring during a late spell of first-half pressure – on 45 minutes Lewis sent a long free-kick deep into the crowded penalty area where Vincent produced a firm close-range header but saw ‘keeper Will Fuller claim the ball under the bar.
After the interval Cardiff again began brightly. In the 56th minute Jordan Lam cut inside from the left-wing and struck a rasping 20 yard angled drive that Idzi resisted with a smart reflex save.
But that only served to herald an astonishing spell of fast attacking football from the Old Gold that brought them two goals in as many minutes. On 58 minutes Liam Thomas burst dangerously into the penalty area only to be brought down by Emlyn Lewis – Mark Jones stepped forward for the resultant spot-kick and confidently drilled the ball past Fuller and into the corner of the net.
Then moments later Town broke away from their own penalty area and in a seamless move the ball was played out wide to Bassett near the half-way line who produced a remarkable sprint along the right flank, outpacing his marker with embarrassing ease, and finished by firing the ball invitingly across the face of the goal where Thomas arrived, similarly at speed and with immaculate timing, to clinically sweep it home from close range.
The Old Gold, spurred by that success, continued to dominate the next phase of play regularly unleashing the lightning pace of strikers Bassett (enjoying his most influential display for a long time), Thomas and Jones to torment and stretch the Met defence. In the 64th minute, having won a corner, Bassett’s delivery found Vincent, rising high above a crowd of players, but he saw his well-directed header cleared off the goal-line by Lam.
Yet gradually the hosts began to fight back with several threatening counter-attacks. On 75 minutes Lam raced forward along the left flank to the corner of the penalty area then struck a crisp drive that defeated Idzi but slid just beyond the far post. But that was their best, and last, decent effort during this spell.
After 83 minutes Bassett launched another dazzling run down the right touchline that once more led to a corner which he lifted into the goalmouth – a poor defensive clearance went straight to Morgan who dispatched a fierce 20 yard volley that Fuller, with a superb reflex save, turned over the bar. And following the ensuing corner, yet another well-flighted effort from Bassett, Jones emerged from the packed goalmouth to execute a skilful glancing header that flew into the roof of the net to secure this vital victory.
These three points reinforce Town’s hold on sixth place in the WPL as they are now only one point behind Cardiff Met, each with just one game left to play in the first-phase programme. They also stand two points above Llandudno (one to play) and four above Aberystwyth (two to play) but usefully both of those clubs have a far inferior goal difference by comparison with the Old Gold which conceivably may be the deciding factor between the eventual sixth and seventh places.
Carmarthen’s final match is on Saturday 14th January (k/o 5.15pm) when they travel to Cefn Druids – all the final round of first-phase fixtures are scheduled for the same date and time. Happily, Town have won all three of their previous WPL matches at the Druids new ground – twice against them in 2014/15 and once in a rearranged fixture against Airbus UK near the end of the previous season. A fourth successive victory there would be very welcome!
Team: Lee Idzi, Craig Hanford, Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Dwaine Bailey (Lewis Harling 59), Dan Sheehan, Ceri Morgan, Keiran Lewis, Kyle Bassett, Mark Jones, Liam Thomas.
Unused subs: Danny Thomas, Neil Smothers, Rhodri Cole.
Cards: (Y) Dave Vincent (72), Kyle Bassett (86), Liam Thomas (87).
Goals: Mark Jones (58 pen, 83), Liam Thomas (60).