CARMARTHEN began their Welsh Premier League second-phase programme with a tough encounter at second-placed Connah’s Quay who have lost at home only once this season, unsurprisingly to runaway leaders TNS.
Yet the Old Gold, clearly relishing the challenge, produced an outstanding highly-determined and disciplined performance which earned them a welcome victory thanks to a stunning late goal from influential midfielder Ceri Morgan.
The early stages of this game were fairly uneventful as the play switched from end to end with both sides creating moments of pressure but, with neither initially looking capable of unsettling the opposition defence, no realistic scoring opportunities emerged.
Yet eventually, after 15 minutes, Town created the first notable chance when Morgan burst into the penalty area and struck a crisp drive that was blocked in front of goal by defender George Horan.
The Nomads responded positively with a series of attacks spearheaded by Les Davies and Michael Wilde, two of the WPL’s most experienced and prolific goal-scorers. But the Old Gold defence, featuring the now well-established central partnership of Lee Surman and Dave Vincent with Dwaine Bailey and Jordan Knott alongside them, displayed impressive strength and commitment to frustrate and contain the hosts.
Efforts from Lewis Short and Matty Owen were blocked, while Horan saw his close-range shot drift wide of the goal. During this spell, and throughout the game, ‘keeper Lee Idzi was rarely tested other than needing to deal with a series of crosses, corners and free-kicks, all of which he accomplished with his customary assured and safe handling.
Although the home side were enjoying the greater share of possession by this stage, Town were still a threat on the counter-attack and in the 26th minute, from a Kieran Lewis corner-kick, Bailey rose highest in the packed goalmouth only for his close-range header to be claimed by ‘keeper John Danby with a smart save on the goal-line.
After the interval these two evenly-matched sides continued their fiercely competitive approach to this contest. The Nomads managed an early chance on 53 minutes when Nathan Woolfe made a strong run into the penalty area then hit a promising strike that Idzi resisted with a fine reflex save.
But increasingly the Old Gold were looking a greater threat with their more penetrative attacking play which stretched the home defence on several occasions and only some desperate defending and excellent work by Danby ensured the match remained goal-less.
Yet eventually, in the 78th minute, Town were justly rewarded for their intense effort and commitment when a fine touch on the ball from substitute Matthew Thomas set up Morgan on the edge of the penalty area and he finished in spectacular fashion, fiercely driving the ball beyond Danby’s reach and into the corner of the net.
In the closing minutes the Nomads launched a series of attacks in an attempt to restore parity but the visitors’ defence remained resilient and disciplined – and their goal undisturbed.
The Old Gold, having achieved their initial objective this season of securing a top-six finish at the break, are clearly not content to rest in sixth place. With this outstanding display of competitive, high-energy football to which every player, demonstrating extreme fitness levels and an immense work ethic, fully contributed, Town are evidently intent on enthusiastically competing with the high-spending clubs, like Connah's Quay, above them and climbing further up the League table. On the evidence of this performance that is not beyond their reach.
However Carmarthen now face their biggest test of all in their next fixture when they entertain TNS at Richmond Park on Saturday 11th February (k/o 2.30pm).
Team: Lee Idzi, Dwaine Bailey, Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Jordan Knott (sub Dan Sheehan 58), Declan Carroll, Ceri Morgan, Kieran Lewis (sub Craig Hanford 78), Liam Griffiths, Mark Jones, Liam Thomas (sub Matthew Thomas 71).
Unused subs: Danny Thomas, Rhodri Cole.
Cards: (Y) Ceri Morgan (70).
Goal: Ceri Morgan (78).