CARMARTHEN, having produced an outstanding display last week in defeating Connah's Quay away from home, surpassed even that high achievement with a remarkable spirited and disciplined performance against multiple Welsh Premier League champions and current runaway League leaders The New Saints which earned them a well-deserved victory.
As a measure of their achievement, Town became the first side to defeat TNS in all their 29 games this season in domestic competitions and the first to prevent them from scoring – in addition they extended their own impressive unbeaten run to six matches during which they have conceded just one goal.
Over the course of a pulsating 90 minutes the only difference between these teams was a smart headed goal from joint top scorer Liam Thomas who, with great anticipation and perfect timing, met Declan Carroll’s well-flighted corner in added time at the end of the first-half.
However the Old Gold were denied an earlier lead after only 9 minutes when from a goalmouth scramble following another Carroll corner-kick ‘keeper Paul Harrison produced a superb reflex save to turn aside Dwaine Bailey’s close-range goal-bound volley. But moments later the visitors similarly went close as Scott Quigley cleverly made space for himself on the edge of the penalty area only to fire the ball wide of the post.
Although TNS enjoyed a slightly greater share of possession, they were rarely able to create meaningful scoring chances – Town’s industrious midfield trio of Ceri Morgan, Bailey and Craig Hanford were repeatedly denying them time and space with close marking and timely challenges, successfully breaking up attacks before releasing frontmen Liam and Matthew Thomas and Carroll who, with their pace and movement, were stretching a surprisingly uncomfortable looking Saints defence.
And their best opportunity arose when Matthew Thomas won the ball off a hesitant defender and instantly, from 25 yards, dispatched a rasping drive that drew another flying save from Harrison to turn the ball around the post.
Meanwhile the Old Gold defence were performing with confidence and resilience - featuring the now well-established central partnership of Lee Surman and Dave Vincent, both so dominant in the air, and together with the lively Dan Sheehan and Jordan Knott on the flanks they contained and nullified the visitors’ attacks so effectively that ‘keeper Lee Idzi was never seriously tested – his main involvement was dealing with a series of crosses, corners and free-kicks, all of which he accomplished with his customary assured and safe handling.
After the interval TNS, now searching for a goal simply to get back on level terms, pressed forward but, with Town’s defence in such commanding form, the visitors were forced to abandon their normal measured and incisive attacking play and be far more direct, resorting to optimistically shooting from distance – yet with the experienced Idzi performing so impressively lately, that proved to be a hopeless strategy. Although Quigley again had a decent chance from inside the penalty area, Idzi was quick to react and claim the ball comfortably.
Even though the Old Gold were defending deeply for most of the second-half they were still creating problems for the Saints defence. Morgan produced several surging runs down the right flank and combined well with the twin Thomas spearhead, while substitute Mark Jones was a further threat when introduced into the attack for the last 20 minutes.
With manager Mark Aizlewood seeking to bring on further fresh players in the closing stages, influential midfielder Kieran Lewis went close to making an immediate impact after coming off the bench – Morgan finished another determined run with a fine pass through to Lewis on the edge of the penalty area but an unfortunate bobble of the ball led to his shot flying just over the bar. Then another welcome late substitution saw Luke Cummings making his first appearance this season after recovering from serious injury – the return of this highly versatile player for the remaining games will surely be invaluable.
But in the final incident of the match Liam Thomas went close to securing a more emphatic victory when he raced forward along the left flank, outpacing several ponderous defenders with embarrassing ease, before unleashing a fierce drive that Harrison just managed to turn aside.
As referee Tom Williams blew the final whistle to bring this pulsating game to an end, Town’s players and management team were roared off the pitch by the Richmond Park faithful after a thoroughly ‘complete’ performance.
Aizlewood was understandably fulsome in his praise of his squad at the end of the game saying "Our hard work and desire were rewarded this afternoon. Everybody did their job magnificently and I thought we were well worth our victory."
Carmarthen will be hoping for a similar performance in their next fixture on Saturday 18th February (k/o 2.30pm) when they have another tough encounter at Richmond Park with Bala Town, currently lying second in the WPL.
Team: Lee Idzi, Dan Sheehan, Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Jordan Knott, Dwaine Bailey, Ceri Morgan, Craig Hanford (Kieran Lewis 72), Declan Carroll (Luke Cummings 80), Liam Thomas, Matthew Thomas (Mark Jones 69).
Unused subs: Liam Griffiths, Danny Thomas, Rhodri Cole.
Cards: (Y) Craig Hanford (45), Declan Carroll (78), Kieran Lewis.
Goal: Liam Thomas (45+3).