Sunday 17th May 2015.
Aberystwyth Town 1-2 Newtown.
Welsh Premier League Europa League Play-Off Final
Park Avenue, Aberystwyth.
It’s been a pretty intense week for me if I’m completely honest, so a nice, entertaining football match at the end of the week was always going to be welcomed.
I’d spent the last week on a conference/workshop at Microsoft’s UK headquarters in Reading. A very interesting four days to be fair. Being stuck in Berkshire in a lovely 4 star hotel is not all that bad really.
Microsoft have a beautiful set of offices. Everything you read in the press about how the Google offices are a bit whacky is completely true. There’s a gym onsite, a dentist, a Starbucks, a Costa Coffee, a canteen the size of a small factory, X-Boxes everywhere, fussball tables, pool tables, snooker tables, everything!
I tried to feed my football habit by taking in the two Champions League semi-finals, between Barcelona and Bayern Munch on the Tuesday night and Real Madrid and Juventus on the Wednesday night.
I really tried my hardest, but unlike the other hundred or so folks in the hotel bar I wasn’t able to connect with the game and found my attention constantly being pulled away from the action. At first I started checking my phone for news from back home, then I picked up a newspaper and started reading that and then before I knew it, Juventus had equalised on the night and Real Madrid were knocked out in a cruel fashion.
I know I come over as a football hipster here, I can almost feel the football hipster beard growing as I type this.
Yes I watch games in obscure leagues, yes I see the merit of the False 9, yes I own a St. Pauli shirt and yes I do own replica shirts from the early 1990s from clubs that ply their trade in the Ceredigion League, Division Two!
Your Messi’s and Ronaldo’s are superb players, don’t get me wrong. They are without doubt, the two greatest players in the world at the moment and have been for the last five years, even with the rise of players like Bale, Ibrahimovic and all of the others.
It’s all a show though isn’t it? The El Classico is an event in the same way the a night at the theatre is an event, or a day spent at a musical, or a night in a comedy club. It’s all entertainment but with little substance.
I was desperate therefore to get back to the level of the game that I love that I have become accustomed to once again.
After spending last Saturday night drinking until 2am for an 8am start before trundling up the A470 and across the A44 to Aberystwyth, we had an early night and headed off for the same journey without hangovers.
We made a quick stop in Merthyr Tydfil for a spot of breakfast before powering ahead up the A470 to Rhayader and then across the A44 to Aberystwyth.
A couple of Caramel Macchiatos were purchased in the town’s Starbucks before heading over to Park Avenue for this afternoon’s vital Europa League play-off final.
The club had generously given away somewhere in the region of 750 free tickets to local residents in the hope of bolstering the walk up attendance for the final. With the match being televised live on Sgorio, it was likely that some of the usual walk up crowd may have been tempted to remain hidden under the warmth of their duvet covers for the afternoon.
I had also been gifted by the kindness of one of the Aberystwyth Town directors, a chap named Thomas Crockett who had come across the blog through one of my previous entries relating to the club.
Mr. Crockett saw a post I wrote on the Aberystwyth Town Facebook group asking if I could somehow reserve a set of the free tickets being offered at various outlets in the town centre in the week leading up to the match. I explained that living near Cardiff and being away in Berkshire for the week made getting my hands on those tickets a little difficult.
Thomas messaged me privately a few hours later, saying some very kind things about the blog and the whole idea of what I’ve been trying to do. He also offered to put me and my Wife on his guest list for the afternoon, which certainly brightened up my Thursday afternoon when I received the message.
Having sat in every stand at Park Avenue except for the Dias Stand this season, we made the conscious decision to position ourselves in that stand, right behind one of the Sgorio cameramen beaming this afternoon’s game live across the principality and beyond.
Aberystwyth Town and Newtown took to the field at 12:55 to rapturous applause from both sets of fans. The attendance was a very impressive 1012, which was arguably made up of about a half and half split of both supporter groups. Both groups of supporters made themselves heard with all manner of chants, musical instruments and bass drums being heard from all four corners of the ground as the match kicked off.
The game kicked off with a hesitant approach from both sides, perhaps both teams being a little bit cautious of committing too many players forward and getting caught out at the back so early. Both sides had a couple of chances in the first ten minutes but nothing of any great danger of breaking the deadlock.
In the tenth minute, Newtown would be first to score in this final with a well worked goal. A long throw in from Newtown’s Luke Boundford put Aber defender and captain Stuart Jones under heavy pressure on the six yard line. Jones was only able to head the ball to the feet of Tom Goodwin on the edge of the box who turned on a sixpence to meet the ball with his preferred left foot and give Mike Lewis, in goal for Aberystwyth, little chance of stopping his effort. His volley rustled into the right corner of the net and sent his players and the bench into pandemonium.
The goal was celebrated exuberantly by the Newtown players and their fans, who made up a good number of the 1012 spectators present for this end of season finale.
Newtown were unlucky not to add a second a couple of minutes later when Luke Boundford made a dangerous run down the right wing with only one man to beat. Unfortunately for Newtown, his long range effort was always curling just wide and in the end didn’t manage to trouble Mike Lewis.
Their opening goal seemed to do Newtown the world of good in this game as their confidence seemed to grow tenfold following the opener and for large periods of the first half they looked great value for their 1-0 lead.
Aberystwyth Town are a very attacking side who play some beautiful football when they get an opportunity to pass the ball around, so they were always going to be a threat in a game of such magnitude. Aberystwyth are one of those sides that always look a good bet to win a game 5-4 or 4-3, their mantra very much being that they always try and score one more than their opponents.
The Seasiders were desperately unlucky not to level affairs on 15 minutes when a corner kick was launched into the Newtown box. After being headed away by captain Shane Sutton, the ball fell to the feet of defender Stuart Jones who dispatched a powerful volley towards goal. The shot beat David Jones for pace but unfortunately for The Seasiders it was always rising and went a yard or so over the bar.
Newtown threatened again on 20 minutes when a loose ball was picked up on the edge of the box by Neil Mitchell who fired a volley through several players. As with Boundford’s earlier effort, Mitchell’s shot was always curling wide of the post and Lewis wasn’t required to make an intervention as the ball went out for an Aber goal kick.
Geoff Kellaway, a player who had impressed me greatly in every Aberystwyth match I had seen this season, came close on 25 minutes when he beat his marker and was able to get a shot on goal with his left foot. His shot, perhaps hit a little bit scuffed, went inches wide of the right post but showed the intent of his Aber side to score an equaliser.
Following the pattern of last week’s Semi Final against Gap Connah’s Quay, Aberystwyth Town were awarded a penalty after 28 minutes. to offer The Seasiders a chance to get themselves back into the game.
Geoff Kellaway made a dangerous and tricky run into the Newtown penalty area, weaving in and out of his markers. He made one tricky weave too many and caught the foot of Shane Sutton just inside of the box. The referee was in no doubt and pointing straight towards the point, much to the frustration of Sutton and his colleagues. It was one of those incidents where from the stands I was totally convinced it was a stone wall penalty but when I re-watched the match on Sgorio later that evening it looked a bit less stone wall if I’m completely honest.
Up stepped club talisman Chris Venables, a cool character who is until I can be corrected, still the highest goalscorer in the whole of Europe. A player who as I mentioned earlier, has caught the eye of several clubs in the English Football League for his repeated ability to score high numbers of goals from midfield.
Venables made no mistake from 12 yards and calmly placed his spot kick down the right, sending Newtown goalkeeper David Jones the wrong to put his side level on the day.
With the score back on level terms and the momentum in Aber’s hands, it would surely have been the case that they would have powered on to state their dominance in this game? However this was not to be the case and Newtown were unlucky not to take the lead almost immediately from the restart when a long free kick from deep inside their own half, taken by goalkeeper David Jones, caught several Aber defenders unaware and the ball was then fumbled by goalkeeper Mike Lewis. Only the quick thinking clearance off the line by captain Stuart Jones stopped Newtown from re-taking the lead.
After sitting in the Main Stand for my first visit to Park Avenue back on New Year’s Day and choosing to sit in the “New Seats put in for the Europa League” Stand last week, this week I chose to sit in the Dias Stand, behind the goal Newtown were attacking in the first half.
When I arrived home later, I re-watched the match on S4C’s Sgorio and noticed that although I saw myself every minute or so in near-pixel form when any action near the Aber goal took place, it was a mere 37 minutes before I found my full face on TV; albeit in a very blurry form. My Wife and I showed up, at 37:37 as the camera man followed Newtown striker Jason Oswell’s movements in the box while preparing for a corner kick.
Newtown re-took the lead with a couple of minutes of the first half left. A long ball sent to the right wing from deep inside the Newtown half was picked up by Matthew Hearsey who ran into the Aber box with the ball and hit a fine effort into the bottom left corner to restore Newtown’s lead in this important encounter.
After a minute of stoppage time, Newtown went into the interval with a well deserved 2-1 lead after looking the more dangerous of the two sides and arguably with one hand already on the Europa League Playoff trophy that would grant them the tickets to take them into the illustrious tournament come the first week of July.
After a quick visit to the club shop to pick up a pair of Aberystwyth Town scarves at £7 each and a car window sticker (free of charge after the purchase of the two scarves) I re-took my place in the Dias Stand just in time to see the second half kick off.
Aberystwyth Town started the second half the stronger of the two sides, a long range effort from Ross Stephens from just outside the box would test David Jones, who did well to keep his volleyed shot out, such was the power of Stephen’s effort.
The Seasiders, for all of their early dominance in the second half were unable to convert this dominance into an equaliser.
Mike Lewis did well on 50 minutes to stop his side from going further behind when he saved two shots in quick succession after some defensive mistakes in the build up.
Unfortunately for Aberystwyth, Newtown set their defence out in a very organised style and The Seasiders always found it hard to break their opponents down. Last week against Gap Connah’s Quay when Aber were losing, on the balance of play you always suspected that Aber would find an equaliser and an eventual winner from somewhere. However this afternoon, as the match went on, it seemed more and more unlikely that The Seasiders would be able to break their Mid Wales rivals down.
Only a superb save from David Jones stopped Aber from equalising on the hour. Striker Mark Jones picked the ball up just outside of the box, chipped it and turned sharply before volleying the ball seemingly into the bottom left corner of the goal.
The ball took a wicked bounce off the hard looking sandy goalmouth but Newtown goalkeeper Jones was able to make enough contact with the shot to send it over for a corner kick and to keep his side’s precious lead.
Newtown were reduced to ten men for an extended period of time mid-way through the second half when captain Shane Sutton was forced to leave the pitch for about seven minutes to a cut just above his eye treated. After Sutton was bandaged to within an inch of his life and treated to a new, albeit number-less shirt, he returned to the pitch.
Aberystwyth Town pushed numbers forward and had the lion’s share of possession and chances in the second half but I wouldn’t say that any Newtown fans would have been particularly worried as this dominance ensued as they seemed to be riding the pressure fairly well.
While Aber pushed forward in numbers in their search for an equaliser, Newtown seemed pretty comfortable riding the pressure and then attempting to take advantage on the counter attack and were unlucky on a couple of occasions not to extend their lead when they broke.
Aberystwyth’s Europa League ambitions were sadly extinguished on 80 minutes when they found themselves reduced to 10 men after the sending off of winger Geoff Kellaway.
After a coming together between Aberystwyth’s Craig Williams and Newtown’s Craig Williams (yes, I had to double check this myself!), the referee spotted Kellaway kicking the ball directly at Newtown’s Williams face (in the style of the Ashley Williams and Robin Van Persie incident a few years ago at the Liberty Stadium). The referee almost immediately brought out his red card and sent Kellaway to the changing rooms for an early shower.
Such was the confusion in the stand around me and the resulting melee meant that we didn’t know who had been sent off for a full minute or so until Kellaway started his walk down the tunnel. In fact some Twitter accounts I checked at the time suggested that Chris Venables had been sent off but that wasn’t the case as he was nowhere near the incident at the time.
It would take something very special from here on in if Aberystwyth were to again realise their Europa League dreams, something the elderly gent sat in front of me would agree as I noticed him texting a friend “Miracle Needed!” (I don’t make the habit of reading people’s texts as they write them. This elderly gent just happened to have one of those mobile phones designed for people with poor eyesight and most people within about four or five rows of me were able to read the text!).
Newtown played out the remaining minutes intelligently, nullifying Aber attacks and slowing the game down by hitting the ball up the channels close to the corner flags.
Aberystwyth’s best and closest chance of drawing level came in the 94th minute when full back Chris Davies hit a sublime cross deep into the box from about 40 yards out. Mark Jones beat two Newtown markers to head the ball towards goal from just outside the six yard box, only to see his header cleared off the line by Steffan Edwards, even though the resulting clearance only missed the far post by mere inches.
The final chance of the game came by way of a corner kick that even brought goalkeeper Mike Lewis up to the Newtown penalty area. A testing cross was sent into the box but David Jones was able to just about punch the cross away to safety.
Moments later the referee brought the match to an end and the Newtown players celebrated in joy in the centre of the pitch. Sportingly, the ten Aberystwyth players left on the pitch congratulated their opponents on their victory and Aberystwyth player Wyn Thomas even stayed on the pitch to applaud the Newtown side when they collected their trophy in the Main Stand.
So Newtown will have a very brief Summer break before returning in the first week of July to play out a two-legged First Qualifying Round tie against a European side in the UEFA Europa League. Regardless of whether they make it through the first round Newtown will be awarded prize money of 200,000 Euros (or roughly £145,000 in our money) that will come as a massive welcome relief to the Mid Wales club.
Aberystwyth Town on the other hand must surely be wondering at what might have been. At the turn of the year they held second place in the league pretty securely and for large parts of the season looked near-certainties for automatic Europa League qualification.
Aber will now go forward into the Summer break looking to make a serious assault on the title next year. The Seasiders managed to keep hold of record breaking goal scorer Chris Venables, who after this game was officially crowned Welsh Premier League Player of the Year by his peers.
Following the publicity surrounding Venables after his impressive goal haul, it seemed certain that he would be picked up by a Football League club in the English Pyramid, however for whatever reason that move doesn’t seem to have materialised.
After the match we took a brief stroll around the town to have a look around and bid farewell to the town until we return to nearby New Quay again in July for our Summer holiday.
We stopped in the town’s Wetherspoon’s to partake of their irresistible Sunday Club offerings. Although the food was great, we were fairly dismayed at first to find that our vegetarian roast came with a huge chunk of meat on the side of the plate. The staff seemed nonplussed when we raised the issue, but in the end they swapped our meals and gave us a new meat-free plate of food.
A massive thanks to Aberystwyth Town directory Thomas Crockett and all at the club for their kindness and hospitality and a massive congratulations and the very best of luck to Newtown in their European adventures in the Summer. I do hope to be able to catch at least their home tie and hopefully more of the European home ties next season!