CARMARTHEN continued their impressive and productive second-phase form by again taking points off one of the undoubted top three teams in the Welsh Premier League with another spirited and disciplined performance that earned them a valuable and well-deserved draw against second-placed Bala.
The earlier stages of this game were fairly uneventful with the play largely confined to midfield exchanges and with neither side looking able to penetrate the opposition defence no serious scoring chances emerged.And while gradually the hosts began to secure a greater share of possession, increasingly the well-drilled Old Gold defensive unit, comprising the recently proven central trio of Lee Surman, Dwaine Bailey and Dave Vincent flanked by Luke Cummings and Craig Hanford, were offering stern resistance and successfully contained and nullified the potential threat posed by the experienced and prolific Bala strike-force of Mike Hayes, Lee Hunt and Chris Venables.
Behind that formidable back-line ‘keeper Lee Idzi was never really stretched – his main involvement was dealing with a series of crosses and corners, all of which he accomplished with his customary assured and safe handling.
Additionally the visitors’ industrious midfield trio of Lewis Harling, Ceri Morgan and Matthew Thomas eagerly provided a further valuable layer of defensive support whenever necessary – but they were also influential in orchestrating frequent counter-attacks which strikers Liam Thomas and Liam Griffiths enthusiastically exploited, seeking to unsettle the Bala defence at every opportunity.
Yet at last this match came to life in the 36th minute when Morgan, from the half-way line, launched a long pass into the penalty area where Griffiths, racing forward and in clear space, leapt high to reach the ball only to be clattered to the ground by ‘keeper Ashley Morris who was charging out of his goalmouth – although the tall striker’s header was cleared off the goal-line by defender Stuart Jones, the referee immediately penalised Morris and awarded a spot-kick.
There then followed a lengthy delay while the ‘keeper, injured in that collision, was treated – a remarkable eight minutes passed before Liam Thomas stepped forward and confidently drove the ball into the corner of the net.
Then deep into added time Carmarthen fashioned another decent chance when Harling slid the ball neatly across to Cummings but he saw his 25 yard strike fly over the bar.
After the interval the Lakesiders took the initiative, putting the visitors’ defence under pressure with a series of swift, piercing raids – and that soon brought them the reward of an equaliser on 55 minutes when Anthony Stephens sent a corner into the packed goalmouth where Hayes scrambled the ball home from close-range.
Spurred by that success Bala continued to swarm forward relentlessly but once again they were confronted by some outstanding Old Gold defending, both individually and collectively.Shots were successfully blocked or otherwise provided the experienced Idzi with no more than routine saves – also, helpfully, on several occasions the Lakesiders were woefully well off-target with their finishing. And while the ball flew dangerously across the visitors’ goalmouth with worrying frequency, it never found its way into the net.
Throughout the second-half Carmarthen were able to break upfield on the counter-attack only sporadically and just once, on 65 minutes, did they force Morris into any meaningful action – Kieran Lewis, a more than able midfield replacement for Harling at half-time, sent a corner into the crowded penalty area to find Griffiths, rising high above defenders, but he saw his firm header claimed by the ‘keeper just under the bar.
And in the final action of the game in added time Bala created, but wasted, another decent opportunity when the ball was played forward into the penalty area only for Venables, from 10 yards, to fire his angled drive over the bar.
This result ensures that the Old Gold remain in fifth place in the WPL, four points ahead of Cardiff Met – accordingly the match between these clubs, their penultimate fixture of the League season, next Friday (April 14th k/o 2.30pm at Richmond Park) is of high significance since if Carmarthen avoid defeat they will finish in fifth position and thereby ensure a home tie in the following end-of-season UEFA play-off match.
Team: Lee Idzi, Luke Cummings, Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Dwaine Bailey, Craig Hanford, Matty Thomas, Ceri Morgan, Lewis Harling (Kieran Lewis 46), Liam Griffiths, Liam Thomas.
Unused subs: Dan Sheehan, Danny Thomas, Neil Smothers.
Goal: Liam Thomas (44 pen).