CARMARTHEN, having last week endured the agony of conceding a late goal and dropping vital points against Cardiff Met, fared even worse in this match – despite having twice held the lead, they saw Bangor snatch two breakaway goals in the final minutes to be denied a stunning victory over the big-spending North Wales side.
Both sides made a cautious start and with the play being largely confined to midfield exchanges and the defences looking untroubled, no serious early scoring threat emerged. Yet all that changed in the 14th minute when the Old Gold took the lead with the first decent chance of the match – Luke Cummings, from wide on the right flank, crossed the ball into the crowded penalty area where Kyle Bassett headed it on to Matthew Thomas who skilfully struck a close-range volley past ‘keeper Connor Roberts and into the back of the net for his first Welsh Premier League goal.
Yet City were soon back on level terms, albeit in highly controversial circumstances. On 19 minutes Yalania Baio received the ball just inside the penalty area then, with Kieran Lewis in the vicinity, he theatrically fell to the ground convincingly enough to persuade the referee, some 20 yards away, to award a penalty despite the fervent protestations of Town’s players. Daniel Nardiello stepped forward and comfortably converted the spot-kick.
From there onwards the match quickly developed into a much more open, faster-paced, end-to-end affair although initially the Old Gold were enjoying the greater share of possession and territorial advantage.
After 22 minutes Bassett sent an inviting corner-kick deep into the packed goalmouth where Matthew Thomas produced a firm close-range header that Roberts managed to claim just under the bar. The hosts maintained the pressure on the City defence with a series of further corners and on 29 minutes they fashioned another promising opening when following a smart exchange of passes between Matthew and Liam Thomas inside the penalty area the ball was played back to Declan Carroll who struck a crisp 20 yard drive that slid only narrowly wide of the post.
A significant element of Town’s drive and competitiveness was the performance of Ceri Morgan who was producing a masterful 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. And Morgan’s contribution allowed his midfield partners, Lewis and Carroll, the opportunity to do what they do best, using their vision and craft to stretch the Bangor defence in an effort to restore Carmarthen’s goal advantage.
And in the 42nd minute they went close to achieving that aim. Bassett fired a searching ball deep into the penalty area that found Lewis who turned sharply past his marker but saw his fierce angled shot deflected marginally outside of the post.
After the interval the visitors began with far more positive intent, putting immediate pressure on the Old Gold defence with a series of quick raids. On 51 minutes Dean Rittenberg raced unmarked into the penalty area only to be denied a clear scoring chance by Dave Vincent’s late but perfectly executed intervention, robbing him of the ball.
Soon afterwards Nardiello, from the corner of the penalty area, hit a smart low drive that Vincent, just yards in front of goal, deflected upwards forcing ‘keeper Lee Idzi to produce a sensational reflex save and tip the ball over the bar. From the resultant corner the ball was cleared but only as far as Brad Jackson who struck a stunning 30 yard drive that Idzi, diving full-length, turned around the post. Then moments later Baio broke clear through the home defence and into the penalty area but from 15 yards he wastefully fired too high.
Yet the Old Gold soon recovered from that early spell of City pressure and the play once again became more open and evenly balanced. And in the 60th minute they restored their lead – Morgan added further gloss to his impressive display when he won possession off a defender then sent a dangerous cross into the crowded goalmouth and saw Liam Thomas arrive with his customary keen anticipation and flawless timing to sweetly glide the ball past Roberts and into the corner of the net.
[With this goal, his 54th for Carmarthen in the WPL, Liam Thomas has now gone ahead of Tim Hicks to stand in second place in the Club’s all-time list of League goalscorers – while current player/coach Danny Thomas heads the list with 56 goals, given Liam’s rich scoring form over the past few weeks, there is a real chance that he will take over the top spot before the end of the season. But he’s unlikely this season to get ahead of those two players at the top of Club’s overall goal-scoring table (League, Cups and UEFA games) where remarkably both Danny and Tim are equal with 76 goals – although some more goals for Liam in our end of season UEFA play-off match(es) would do it!!]
Then on 70 minutes Town went close to extending their lead when Liam Thomas made a strong run forward from the half-way line then fed the ball neatly through to Matthew Thomas and with an instant short pass he set it up for Carroll who from 30 yards unleashed a rasping shot that Roberts did well to resist, turning it around the post at full stretch. From the ensuing corner Lee Surman headed the ball across the face of the goal where substitute Liam Griffiths executed an overhead kick that went narrowly over the bar.
As the match entered its closing stages Bangor noticeably increased the tempo of their attacks and after 86 minutes they were rewarded – Nardiello, who had been a constant threat to the home defence throughout much of the game, weaved across the edge of the penalty area then struck a fierce drive that flew beyond Idzi’s reach and into the corner of the net.
The Old Gold responded immediately, pushing players forward in an attempt to take the lead for a third time – but that ambitious strategy left them vulnerable to a swift counter-attack and as the match went into added time it ultimately proved fatal. Jackson surged forward from well inside his own half and reached the penalty area where he rolled the ball across to Nardiello who fired it home from 6 yards to complete an impressive hat-trick.
Carmarthen must now shrug off the disappointment of conceding costly late goals in successive games and hope for better fortune in their next fixture on Saturday (18th March k/o 2.30pm) when they entertain Connah's Quay at Richmond Park.
Team: Lee Idzi, Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Luke Cummings, Craig Hanford, Declan Carroll, Ceri Morgan, Kieran Lewis, Kyle Bassett (Liam Griffiths 60), Liam Thomas, Matthew Thomas.
Unused subs: Lewis Harling, Dan Sheehan, Danny Thomas, Iwan Roberts.
Cards: (Y) Ceri Morgan (53).
Goals: Matthew Thomas (14), Liam Thomas (70).