Saturday 21st March 2015.
Port Talbot Town 1-3 The New Saints.
Welsh Premier League.
The Genquip Stadium, Port Talbot.
It’s funny that the weekend the Welsh Premier League used to launch their supporters consultation on a proposed switch to Summer football is the first weekend of the calendar year to be basked in early Spring sunshine. It comes across like some sort of “This is how it could be every single weekend, if you’ll only agree to it” thought.
The sunshine for this afternoon’s match isn’t sunbathing weather by any means and when the wind catches hold its still a chilly day, but it does mark the first game of the year where I don’t need to take my parka jacket to protect myself from the traditional Welsh cold and rain.
This afternoon marked my second visit to the Genquip Stadium this year, having previously taken in the Steelmen’s impressive 4-3 victory over Bala Town in January, a match which consolidated Port Talbot Town’s place in the Championship Conference (a.k.a The Top Half) of the Welsh Premier League following the last third of the season split.
The club have pulled out all stops in trying to attract spectators to the stadium for this afternoon’s match against the recently crowned champions The New Saints. A wide range of offers for cheap entrance included free admission offered to all Swansea City and Cardiff City season ticket holders, which I took advantage of.
To say I was a little underwhelmed by the prospect of watching Cardiff City take on fellow strugglers Birmingham City in Cardiff this afternoon would be an understatement. So I headed west down the M4 with my Cardiff season ticket in hand to take advantage of Port Talbot Town’s kind offer. Hey, at least the season ticket was being used to afford entry into some kind of match!
Perhaps one of the reasons attendances were down across the whole of the Welsh football pyramid this afternoon was due to this afternoon being the culmination of the Six Nations rugby tournament. The club very wisely chose to show the Italy vs. Wales match on the big screen in the clubhouse. Luckily for those wanting to take in both matches, the rugby is scheduled to finish about ten minutes before this afternoon’s football kicks off.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’m not a big rugby fan – finding the sport a bit strange and a bit too stop/start for me to actually settle in and enjoy. I am however a proud Welshman and I want our small country to be the absolute best at everything, whether that’s football, rugby, boxing, chess or tiddlywinks. So I get myself a pint of Strongbow Dark Fruit and pitch myself in a good spot to watch the last twenty minutes or so of the rugby. We hammer Italy by about 50 points, but in the scale of things – this apparently is not quite good enough.
This afternoon’s visitors TNS, last week wrapped up the Welsh Premier title with a handful of games left by comfortably beating Bala Town 3-0 in a largely pedestrian performance. Their dominance of the Welsh Premier League has been debated greatly among fans of the league. TNS, still undefeated in both league and domestic cup this season, having only been defeated in the Champions League back in the Summer. There is every chance than TNS may go on to the finish the Welsh Premier League season completely unbeaten and should they take the Welsh Cup (they currently find themselves in the semi-final, with a tricky match against Airbus UK Broughton standing between them and a Welsh Cup Final spot) and surely must set some kind of record for their unbeaten domestic season?
Port Talbot Town, sportingly and admirably, welcome TNS onto the pitch in a guard of honour to celebrate their title win. It’s not a necessary touch, but it’s something that goes down very well at the Genquip Stadium this afternoon. The applause is backed by the applause of the crowd, who also offer up their congratulations to The New Saints for such a convincing title win.
After this initial show of respect, Port Talbot Town offer their opponents no further form of respect, starting the match sharply and holding onto possession rather well. They start the match in furious fashion, before TNS wake up.
After the opening lull, TNS reawaken into the game and then go on to have the better of initial exchanges, Kai Edwards came very close to opening the scoring after 5 minutes after he fired a shot just wide from close range.
TNS came even closer to getting the opener on a quarter of an hour as the pacey Matty Williams beat a couple of players on the wing and fired a shot goalwards from the edge of the box. Williams’ shot beat the goalkeeper but didn’t beat the upright as it rattled the stantion and went for a goal kick.
Adrian Cieslewicz, looking impressive on the wing for TNS came close to scoring after twenty minutes, unleashing his furious shot from outside the penalty area. The resulting shot travelled through the air, moving at times, Steve Cann in the Port Talbot goal had to be certain before committing to his save.
Port Talbot Town took the lead on 24 minutes through midfielder Liam McCreesh, who had been set up by Rhys Griffiths. McCreesh, facing oncoming pressure from the TNS goalkeeper, kept calm and slotted the ball underneath the keeper to give the Steelmen the lead.
The Port Talbot Town 1901 Ultras, whom I commented on in my previous visit to the ground, were making themselves heard loudly in the Gerald McCreesh stand, coming out with some pretty witty and entertaining chants, brightening the moments in the game where the action naturally ebbs.
TNS, who were looking rather disappointed with themselves for conceding the opening goal were desperately unlucky not to level affairs almost immediately though an effort by Chris Marriott which cannoned back off the upright.
Minutes later, Port Talbot Town were unlucky not to be awarded what looked to be a certain free kick and inevitable booking as Martin Rose looked to have beaten his marker Chris Marriott. Rose looked to have been pulled back, at one point, by his hand.
After scoring the opener, Port Talbot Town actually looked the better side and could consider themselves unlucky to go in at half time on level pegging. TNS’ Michael Wilde got his head onto the end of a lovely corner kick and headed home from close range to level affairs for the champions.
At half time, my wife and I headed back for the clubhouse, taking in a coffee and a chip butty for £2.70. The coffee was lovely, much as it was in January, but the chip butty, a fairly simple meal I must admit, was sublime.
As the sides emerged for the second half, it appeared straight from the outset that TNS had come out in a different gear altogether. Connell Rawlinson headed home on 50 minutes in a replica of TNS’ opening goal.
Port Talbot Town weren’t defeated lying down and were desperately unlucky not to level scores two minutes after Rawlinson’s goal as Luke Bowen delivered a superb cross that was met by Rhys Griffiths who could only head just wide.
TNS wrapped up the points on the hour as Michael Wilde picked up the ball on the edge of the box and drilled home a powerful shot that Steve Cann was unable to get a hold of.
Steve Cann, keeping goal for Port Talbot Town, would pull off a superb save with a quarter of an hour of the match left as he saved a powerful Michael Wilde effort, denying Wilde a hat-trick by gymnastically saving the ball with his feet.
Chad Bond of Port Talbot Town was unlucky not to add his name to the score sheet with about ten minutes left as he picked up the ball about thirty yards from goal. Seeing no passing options, Bond elected to unleash a speculative effort from long range. The resulting shot went inches over the bar.
TNS almost added to their three goals in stoppage time as Alex Darlington rounded Steve Cann but saw his shot blocked on the goal line.
As the match closes, the Port Talbot Town Ultras, who have now moved from their usual spot in the Gerald McCreesh stand to the spot behind the TNS goal play out the rest of the game ‘jamming’ a version of ‘Men of Harlech’, featuring a pretty fluid and loose trumpet.
TNS, deservedly took all three points in this match and went another step towards ensuring they go the whole season unbeaten. People will debate whether their dominance harms the league, but on this sort of showing where they convincingly won the match without really getting out of third gear, it’s clear to see that they are, at the present time, a fair few steps above all other teams in the league.
They may not be dancing on the streets of TNS tonight, but they’ll probably be doing a mild jig.
I always enjoy a visit down to the Genquip Stadium, big thanks to all at Port Talbot Town for your ongoing kindess and hospitality.
My Man of the Match: Michael Wilde of TNS. Wilde put in a great performance and won the game for his side with two impressively taken goals.