CARMARTHEN'S outstanding start to their Welsh Premier League second-phase programme, along with their six-match unbeaten run, were brought to an abrupt halt with this narrow defeat against a strong Bala side who lie in second place in the League and are themselves enjoying a sequence of just one defeat in 17 games.
Yet the Old Gold were far from disgraced and the outcome of this match could have been so different if they had not made such an awful start, conceding a poor goal in the opening stages – after that shock they soon recovered and for the remaining 75-80 minutes the play was far more evenly balanced with both sides enjoying spells of pressure.
From the outset the visitors swarmed forward, putting immediate and sustained pressure on the Town defence which looked uncharacteristically hesitant and disorganised. And after only 2 minutes Bala took the lead when David Thompson’s huge throw-in caused confusion in the crowded penalty area where Kieran Smith took advantage to fire the ball crisply past ‘keeper Lee Idzi and into the net.
[This was the first goal conceded by Carmarthen since Cardiff Met’s Adam Roscrow scored in the 10th minute on 31st December – 352 minutes ago. That time-span has only been bettered once before by the Old Gold in their LoW/WPL history when as long ago as 2000/01 over the course of six matches and 461 minutes highly-regarded goalkeeper Rob Fitzgerald was never beaten.]
The Lakesiders again went close on 4 minutes – Anthony Stephens’ corner was met by Stuart Jones who saw his firm header deflected just wide of the post. But from thereon Town gradually began to find their customary rhythm, spirit and discipline. The defence, and in particular the formidable central pairing of Lee Surman and Dave Vincent, increasingly showed greater composure and resilience, while in midfield key players Kieran Lewis, Ceri Morgan and Declan Carroll were using their energy and vision both to disrupt the visitors’ attacking momentum and create opportunities for lively strikers Liam Thomas and Liam Griffiths to exploit with their pace and movement.
Throughout the rest of the first-half the game was more open and evenly balanced with the play shifting briskly from end to end – but with both defences performing soundly there were very few clear scoring chances.
However on 25 minutes the hosts narrowly avoided conceding again when a low cross from Ryan Wade took a huge deflection off a defender that sent the ball dangerously high towards the goal only for Idzi to produce a stunning reflex save, clawing the ball onto the top of the bar and safely behind.
The Old Gold’s first notable effort arose in the 31st minute when Carroll slid a fine pass through to Griffiths who raced forward to the edge of the penalty area and turned smartly past his marker before hitting a fierce drive that flew marginally wide of the post.
Then on 35 minutes Carroll’s corner-kick into a packed goalmouth reached Thomas who from 8 yards cleverly chipped the ball over several defenders but ‘keeper Ashley Morris stretched high to claim it just under the bar.
After the interval the same pattern of play quickly emerged but for a long period the game was fairly uneventful and rather scrappy. Then midway through the second-half manager Mark Aizlewood made his intentions clear when, in a 10 minute spell, he brought on three attack-minded substitutes Luke Cummings, Kyle Bassett and Matthew Thomas to inject more pace and flair into Town’s search for an equaliser.
And in the 79th minute that was almost achieved – Cummings launched a long throw into the penalty area to find Morgan who from 10 yards drilled the ball through a crowd of players only for Morris to react instinctively and kick it off the goal-line to safety.
With the Old Gold pressing forward so enthusiastically, Bala were now looking more of a threat on the counter-attack and on 85 minutes they went close to extending their fragile lead – Wade cut inside from the right flank and drove the ball across the face of the goal but saw Bassett, alert to the danger, race back into the goalmouth and make a timely clearance.
Then after 91 minutes Town’s flying winger demonstrated his searing pace at the other end of the pitch when he burst through the Bala defence and into the penalty area only for Morris to rescue his side once more by quickly coming out of his goal and diving down to block Bassett’s 15 yard angled drive.
But deep into added time the visitors again threatened when, with the Old Gold defence stretched, Wade raced clear to the edge of the penalty area and as Idzi, who had clearly been hampered by a leg injury for some time, struggled to come out to challenge him the striker fired towards the unguarded goal only for the ball to drift just wide of the far post.
While this result was disappointing, Town’s performance (after the initial disastrous lapse) was certainly not – and to have secured 6 points in their opening second-phase fixtures against unquestionably the three strongest teams in the WPL was both highly commendable and unexpected.
Carmarthen, currently occupying fifth place in the League, next have an important away fixture against sixth-placed Cardiff Met on Saturday 4th March (k/o 2.30pm). A repeat of their stunning victory there on New Year’s Eve would be both very welcome and a big step towards securing that League position at the end of the season.
Team: Lee Idzi, Dan Sheehan (Luke Cummings 59), Dave Vincent, Lee Surman, Craig Hanford, Declan Carroll (Kyle Bassett 66), Dwaine Bailey (Matthew Thomas 71), Ceri Morgan, Kieran Lewis, Liam Griffiths, Liam Thomas.
Unused subs: Danny Thomas, Iwan Roberts, Rhodri Cole.
Cards: (Y) Liam Griffiths (86).