WHILE League titles and relegation places cannot possibly be decided at such an early stage of the Welsh Premier League programme, Carmarthen’s performance today will have left those loyal supporters who saw this match in no doubt that a long and difficult season lies ahead.
Although Town’s first two defeats of the season against Llandudno and Connah's Quay gave little cause for cheer, there is some mitigation in that those teams currently occupy the top two places in the WPL. But Newtown, after the second round of fixtures last week-end, stood just one point and one place above the Old Gold and there was every reason for fans to have anticipated a much better performance than that which they were forced to endure.
[In fact they have now witnessed Carmarthen’s worst start to a season in their 21 years LoW/WPL history, equalled only once before in 2009-10 when they again began with three away games at Rhyl, TNS and Haverfordwest – the better news from that season, the final one in the 18-team league format, is that they eventually recovered to finish in 10th place.]
Yet, as in those first two matches, the Old Gold began brightly as they forced the home side back with a series of quick raids – and after only 7 minutes they took a surprise lead. Tyler Brock, near to the corner flag, demonstrated some smart footwork to shrug off a close-marking defender then played the ball neatly back to Lewis Harling who released a crisp angled drive that flew across the face of the goal and into the far corner of the net leaving ‘keeper David Jones well-beaten.
But Newtown responded well and were soon enjoying a fair amount of possession and attacking momentum which occasionally stretched the visitors’ defence. Initially during this period the play flowed from end-to-end although neither side was able to fashion any serious scoring opportunities.
However on 36 minutes the hosts got back on level terms, deservedly so given the increasing threat posed by their probing attacks. After the award of a free-kick some 25 yards from goal, Jamie Price clinically fired the ball over the defensive ‘wall’, beyond the reach of ‘keeper Lee Idzi and into the top corner of the net.
And in the 44th minute Price went close to giving Newtown the lead – from another free-kick just outside the penalty area he struck an equally promising effort but this time was denied by Idzi who produced a spectacular flying save to turn the ball over the bar. Yet moments later the home side were ahead. Luke Boundford’s deep cross from the right touchline landed in the crowded penalty area where Neil Mitchell hit a fine 15 yard shot that was helped into the net by Jamie Reed from close-range.
Town meanwhile were still looking to break forward whenever possible and in their young striker Brock, making his first starting appearance at WPL level, they had a target spearheading the attack with pace and movement enthusiastically pursuing every opportunity. However their best chance fell to Luke Cummings deep into first-half added time when he won possession off a defender then surged forward to the edge of the penalty area before dispatching a fierce strike that Jones resisted, claiming the ball with a smart full-length save.
After the interval Newtown continued to exert sustained pressure, keeping the Old Gold pinned back in defence of their goal. On 53 minutes Reed slid the ball through to Boundford who, from just inside the penalty area, saw his sharp drive beaten away by Idzi with a stylish reflex save.
From the resultant corner-kick the ball reached Reed beyond the far post but he too was denied by Town’s experienced ‘keeper who produced a remarkable reaction save to turn the striker’s header over the bar.
During much of the second-half Town were struggling to put together any meaningful passes and consequently unable to make effective progress upfield – any prospect of them getting back on level terms seemed remote. Crucially, their midfield organisation was seriously hampered by the early loss, due to what seemed to be a serious injury, of Ceri Morgan who, through his industry and vision, has so often in recent seasons been pivotal to the Old Gold’s performance.
Then, almost inevitably, Newtown’s persistent pressure brought them the reward of a further goal when on 66 minutes Craig Williams raced along the right-wing before firing a low cross into the goalmouth where Nick Rushton arrived with perfect timing to steer the ball home.
This further setback sparked a belated resurgence in Carmarthen’s efforts. In the 70th minute, having won a corner-kick from their most enterprising attack for some time, Kieran Lewis floated the ball into the packed goalmouth where Surman, rising high above the home defenders, saw his smart glancing header turned narrowly over the bar by Jones.
Shortly afterwards Lewis, making a welcome return to the side after missing the opening games through injury, was again involved when from just outside the penalty area he drove a fierce free-kick beyond the ‘keeper’s reach but saw it fly marginally wide of the post.
However with the Old Gold now at last playing with more freedom, inevitably gaps in their defence were appearing which Newtown eagerly sought to exploit. On several occasions the visitors managed to survive such counter-attacks, often thanks to moments of accomplished goalkeeping by Idzi. In particular, in the 90th minute Joe Kenton moved in from the left-wing then struck a powerful 20 yard shot that Idzi blocked, diving low at full length – while the loose ball was quickly claimed by Rushton just 6 yards from goal, he saw his instant angled drive again resisted by the experienced ‘keeper with another smart reflex save.
But even Idzi was powerless to stop the hosts from increasing their lead deep into added time – a long free-kick into the crowded penalty area found Leon Clowes and he headed the ball back across the goalmouth to Reed who stabbed it home from close-range.
After this miserable start to their season it is perhaps timely that there are no WPL fixtures next week-end – this may hopefully give at least some of the currently injured players in Town’s relatively small squad the time to recover before their next match on Saturday 9th September (k/o 2.30pm) when they travel to Bangor City.
Team: Lee Idzi, Luke Cummings, Dave Vincent (sub Kieran Lewis 46), Lee Surman, Dan Sheehan, Craig Hanford, Ceri Morgan (sub Liam Walsh 60), Lewis Harling, Kyle Bassett (sub Kyle Williams 12), Tyler Brock, Liam Thomas.
Unused subs: Kostya Georgievsky, Liam Griffiths.
Cards: (Y) Lee Surman (35), Dave Vincent (38), Luke Cummings (58).
Goal: Lewis Harling (7).