CARMARTHEN went into this final game of the Welsh Premier League first-phase programme knowing that a draw against Cefn would secure a much coveted top six finish, thereby guaranteeing both participation in the end of season play-offs for a UEFA place and safety from any prospect of relegation.
And they achieved exactly that result, deservedly, with an outstanding display of competitive, high-energy football to which every player, demonstrating extreme fitness levels and an immense work ethic, contributed.
The Old Gold made their intentions clear from the start as they repeatedly swarmed forward with a series of piercing raids that kept the home defence under intense pressure but, with the Druids managing to survive several goalmouth skirmishes, no clear scoring chances emerged.
It was only after 5 minutes that the hosts were able to release that pressure when Steve Blenkinsop broke quickly forward to reach Town’s penalty area where he squared the ball to Stuart Cook but Kieran Lewis, with a crucial goalmouth clearance, promptly eliminated any goal threat.
From that point the game became more open and flowing as the play switched briskly from end to end – yet neither of the defences appeared particularly troubled and scoring opportunities remained a rarity. However on 11 minutes Cefn went close when Cook won the ball on the edge of the penalty area and struck a crisp shot which took a deflection, forcing ‘keeper Lee Idzi to react smartly to turn the ball around the post with a diving save.
But generally the Old Gold’s defence, even though missing key regular centre-back Dave Vincent through suspension, performed impressively with commitment and discipline – and this continued throughout the game. A key feature of their resistance was the uncompromising central pairing of Lee Surman and Dwaine Bailey, both formidable in the tackle and dominant in the air, while alongside them Dan Sheehan and Craig Hanford offered invaluable support. And behind that back-four the highly experienced Idzi, as ever, looked generally untroubled and secure.
Also, significantly, patrolling the space ahead of them Ceri Morgan was producing a masterful defensive midfield display – with boundless energy and spirit he was continually chasing and confronting the opposition and dismantling their attacks with well-judged tackling, strong aerial challenges and timely interceptions.
Yet still the Druids posed an occasional threat and in the 28th minute a corner from Corey Roper into the packed goalmouth found Blenkinsop who saw his close-range header deflected just over the bar. And moments later Nathan Peate released a long-range strike that Idzi punched clear with a superb flying save.
Town however were continuing to enjoy a decent amount of possession and, often through the industry and vision of midfielders Lewis and Declan Carroll, they were increasingly stretching the Cefn defence utilising the pace and movement of frontmen Kyle Bassett, Liam Thomas and Mark Jones each of whom worked tirelessly to keep their opponents fully engaged up until the final whistle.
On 35 minutes Thomas played a short pass through to Jones who moved forward to the edge of the penalty area then released a smart angled drive that clipped a defender, defeated ‘keeper Michael Jones and slid just beyond the post. From the resultant corner Lewis sent the ball deep to the far post where Mark Jones saw his close-range header resisted by the ‘keeper to concede another corner-kick. This time, Bassett’s delivery found Thomas as he emerged from the packed goalmouth only to direct his glancing header wide of the target.
Carmarthen then went close to scoring twice in the closing stages of the first-half. On 45 minutes Bassett’s right-wing cross into the penalty area was cleared but the ball went straight to Sheehan who produced a rasping 30 yard effort that flew narrowly outside the post. And moments later Bassett, from the right touchline lifted an inviting cross into the goalmouth only for Jones, under pressure from a defender, to direct his header marginally too high.
After the interval the earlier end-to-end pattern of play continued yet far fewer notable chances arose as the defences again performed with increasing resilience. On 53 minutes Cook surged forward to the corner of the penalty area then fired the ball across the face of the goal but beyond the far post.
An immediate counter-attack by the Old Gold finished with Carroll, from the left wing, sending a neat pass across to Jones who turned sharply past his marker and hit a promising close-range drive that was diverted just outside the post by another defender.
Then after 62 minutes Naim Arsan, from the right touchline lifted an intended cross deep to the far post where Idzi, alert to the danger of the ball drifting into the net, adjusted quickly and stretched high to palm it over the bar.
From then on the game slipped, fairly uneventfully, towards a goal-less draw which the Druids seemed unable to prevent but with which Town were ecstatically content as the immediate post-match celebrations amongst squad members and team management staff on the field clearly demonstrated.
Team: Lee Idzi, Craig Hanford, Dwaine Bailey, Lee Surman, Dan Sheehan, Declan Carroll, Ceri Morgan, Kieran Lewis, Kyle Bassett, Mark Jones (Liam Griffiths 90+5), Liam Thomas (Matthew Thomas 88).
Unused subs: Jordan Knott, Lewis Harling, Danny Thomas.
Cards: (Y) Declan Carroll (32), Kyle Bassett (71).