CARMARTHEN'S objective before this match, if they were to hold on to fifth place in the Welsh Premier League and thereby ensure a favourable home tie in the end of season UEFA play-offs, was quite straightforward and seemingly relatively simple – avoid defeat against a Cardiff Met side which had secured just one point in their previous eight League second-phase fixtures and had failed to beat the Old Gold in the three earlier encounters between these clubs this season.
But regrettably Town, in front of their biggest home crowd (527) for over 15 months, chose this occasion to produce one of their worst performances this season as they displayed not only uncharacteristic defensive frailty at key moments but also a serious absence of craft and confidence going forward.
Cardiff however made a positive start to the match, putting immediate pressure on the home defence with a series of swift raids – and this approach soon earned them the reward of an early goal, albeit in controversial circumstances.
In the 9th minute Dave Vincent went into what looked to be a 50:50 challenge with Matt Taylor out wide on the edge of the penalty area – the referee, ignoring Town’s protests, decided to penalise Vincent and awarded a spot-kick despite his assistant, who was closer to the incident with a clear view of it, apparently remaining completely unconcerned. Kyle McCarthy duly fired the penalty beyond the reach of ‘keeper Lee Idzi and into the net.
The Old Gold, stunned by that setback, went in search of an equaliser with some spirited counter-attacks but they were rarely able to make any noticeable impression on the visitors’ well-drilled defence. However on 14 minutes Met ‘keeper Will Fuller was eventually called into serious action – Kieran Lewis sent a huge free-kick from the half-way line into the crowded penalty area to find Liam Thomas who turned sharply past his marker and struck a crisp drive that drew a fine reflex save from Fuller.
But that, remarkably, was Town’s only notable effort on target during the entire match which Cardiff effectively went on to dominate.
And they soon extended their lead when after 26 minutes McCarthy burst forward along the left-wing before playing the ball invitingly into the penalty area where Will Evans, in plenty of space, hit a spectacular 15 yard volley that flew into the net leaving Idzi well beaten.
The half-time whistle could not come fast enough for home supporters – not only were they having to endure such a poor display, after being very much impressed (and often pleasantly surprised) with the Old Gold’s performances in their previous phase-two fixtures, but the prospects for any significant improvement in the second-half looked particularly grim since two key players, influential midfielder Lewis and top scorer Liam Thomas had already been forced off the field with injuries.
After the interval the Met once more took the early initiative and their constant probing of the home defence led to them extending their lead in the 59th minute – Taylor raced forward on the right flank to reach the by-line then fired a low cross towards the goalmouth where defender Craig Hanford, in attempting to clear the danger by the near post while under pressure from Rhys Thomas, unluckily steered the ball into his own net.
Then on 65 minutes the visitors went further ahead when Eliot Evans received the ball on the edge of the penalty area and dispatched a fierce drive that was just too good for Idzi.
While Cardiff continued to press forward at every opportunity, thankfully the Old Gold were able to protect their goal from any further damaging encroachment – but they finished the match well beaten, and deservedly so, by a much better side on the day. Although Town’s players, as usual, could not be faulted for their energy, spirit and commitment, that was simply not enough to counter their opponents who were sharper to the ball and making better use of it when in possession as well as being far more clinical and positive in the final third of the pitch.
Yet over the course of this season these sides have proved to be remarkably well matched. With only one game remaining in their respective League programmes, just one point separates them while in their four fixtures, they have drawn twice and each has won their away match relatively comfortably. Given those considerations, the forthcoming UEFA play-off qualifier between these two clubs should be a fascinating contest.
Team: Lee Idzi, Luke Cummings, Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Craig Hanford, Lewis Harling (Jordan Ellis 73), Ceri Morgan, Kieran Lewis (Dwaine Bailey 20); Matty Thomas, Liam Griffiths, Liam Thomas (Danny Thomas 40).
Unused subs: Dan Sheehan; Neil Smothers, Iwan Roberts.
Cards:Liam Griffiths (38), Dwaine Bailey (53), Ceri Morgan (56), Lee Surman (70); Dave Vincent (86)