CARMARTHEN continued their promising opening to their Welsh Premier League second-phase programme with a valuable victory over Newtown in a match that genuinely was the proverbial “game of two halves”.
With the accumulation of League points an essential requirement at this stage of the season the Old Gold, under the guidance of new interim Manager Neil Smothers for the first time, made a positive start with several incisive attacks that tested the visitors’ defence.
Yet the only notable scoring chance in a fairly uneventful opening spell arose at the other end of the pitch – on 9 minutes, following a Ryan Kershaw free-kick, the ball rebounded off Town’s defensive ‘wall’ and fell nicely for Alex Fletcher who struck a 25 yard effort just wide of the far post.
However that heralded a thrilling and productive period of attacking football from the Old Gold which, as in last week’s Prestatyn match, heavily featured their recently-assembled triple strike-force. In the 16th minute Luke Cummings, from the right flank, delivered a searching cross into the crowded goalmouth where Mark Jones set up the chance for Town’s all-time top goalscorer Liam Thomas to fire the ball home from close-range.
Then on 23 minutes a Cummings’ corner-kick was claimed by Jones who released a crisp drive that was blocked by ‘keeper Jack Perry – the loose ball was quickly played back to Aidan O’Kelly who from 20 yards struck a stunning volley that flew through a pack of defenders and into the back of the net.
Moments later, following a swift break out of defence the ball was sent upfield to Jones who took it forward to the edge of the penalty area then released a fierce drive that went just narrowly wide of the post.
During this spell Newtown had their fair share of possession but, with the Old Gold defence performing soundly, they were unable to create any serious goal threat from open play – their best opportunity arose after 33 minutes when Jay Denny hit a 30 yard free-kick that ‘keeper Lewis Thomas was forced to block before the ball was cleared safely away.
Then in the 39th minute Carmarthen’s refreshing attacking play was further rewarded – Cummings sent a fine pass through to Luke Bowen who, from close to the by-line, sent an inviting cross into the goalmouth where Liam Thomas, rising high above his marker, produced a firm header that went beyond Perry’s reach and into the roof of the net.
This concluded what had undoubtedly been Town’s best 45 minutes of football this season.
After the interval Newtown, unsurprisingly, were straightaway totally committed to attack as they monopolised possession and kept the home defence under sustained pressure. Yet, as before, the Old Gold were defending with composure and discipline and it was not until the 61st minute that any meaningful scoring opportunity arose – Kershaw moved forward to the edge of the penalty area before releasing a fierce strike that Lewis Thomas denied, turning the ball aside with an impressive full-length save.
And shortly afterwards Kershaw again suffered as he watched his long-range drive defeated by another spectacular flying save from Town’s on-loan ‘keeper. But eventually on 68 minutes Carmarthen’s resistance was broken when Ethan Jones broke into the penalty area and fired a sharp cross into the goalmouth where Nick Rushton stabbed the ball home from close-range.
This inspired the visitors to swarm forward with even greater intensity and after 79 minutes Rushton, from the by-line, fired a dangerous in-swinging free-kick into the goalmouth where Thomas, surrounded by a number of players, managed to punch the ball safely away. That was just one of several instances, with the Old Gold under serious pressure in their own penalty area, where the young ‘keeper bravely dived down amongst opponents’ feet to claim or clear the ball.
Ahead of him Town were fully committed to defending their lead, often with only Jones operating upfield as an isolated attacking force – and they were successful up until the 90th minute when Kieran Mills-Evans, with a close-range header, converted Rushton’s right-wing cross.
Even more anxious moments followed for Carmarthen supporters as they endured several minutes of added time before the referee blew the final whistle to confirm that three precious League points were secure and another step towards WPL survival had been achieved.
The Old Gold must now make the long journey up to Llandudno for their next League fixture on Saturday 17th February (k/o 2.30pm). With the Seasiders having gained just two points from their last four matches, Town have reason to hope that another decent performance will further boost those survival prospects.
Team: Lewis Thomas; Luke Cummings; Dave Vincent; Lee Surman; Aidan O’Kelly (sub Dan Sheehan 46); Craig Hanford; Ceri Morgan; Clayton Green; Luke Bowen (sub Kieran Lewis 73); Mark Jones; Liam Thomas (sub Jordan Knott 90+1);
Unused subs: Stephen Hall; Ryan Fochi; Dwayne Coultress;
Cards: (Y) Ceri Morgan (17); Craig Hanford (53); Luke Cummings (78);
Goals: Liam Thomas (16, 39); Aidan O’Kelly (23);