Tuesday 14th July 2015 (8.30pm).
Gelli Hibs 4-2 Ton & Gelli.
Sporting Marvels Pre-Season Invitational. Group B.
Cambrian Lakeside Sports Academy, Clydach Vale.
Attendance: Circa 50.
After heading to tonight’s matches pretty much straight from work and with a half an hour break between this game and the earlier Penrhiwfer vs. Maerdy Social game for referee Steve Lloyd-Brennan to have a solitary cup of tea in his changing room and a towel-down from the misty rain hitting the Rhondda this evening, I took the opportunity to pop to the McDonalds a mile or so down the road in Llwynypia for a quick snack before returning for the real highlight of this evening’s proceedings – an intriguing local derby between the side who won every single competitive trophy they were competing for last season, Gelli Hibs and their South Wales Alliance counterparts, (partially) from the same village, Ton & Gelli.
Gelli Hibs are a side I’d watched a handful of times last season and aside from a brief off-game (a 1-1 draw as it happens) against a (very good on the day) Tonyrefail Welfare side, they always looked in fine form, commanding two superb wins against title rivals Trebanog FC and a phenomenal 9-0 victory against AFC Trebanog, in a match which is still the biggest victory I’ve seen so far this year. The Hibs are a strong side with a lot of physical prowess but they couple this with a really dynamic attack-minded passing style of football that wins them a lot of plaudits in the area. Perhaps more importantly than this, everyone I’ve spoken to that happens to involved with The Hibs tends to be very friendly and very passionate about their club, which is always great to see.
The Hibs look an even more dangerous prospect this season as they have added to their numbers with some really strong talent that will surely see them start the upcoming Rhondda Premier Division as favourites. Of these signings perhaps the most high profile addition being Leon Kisby, a strong left sided player who spent last season at Penygraig United and a player who looked very keen to make a good impression at his new club.
Added to these new signings are a host of impressive looking youth players (based purely on watching the warm up) who look comfortable on the ball and will no doubt be looking to break their way into the starting 11 through the course of the season.
I’d never seen the Ton & Gelli senior side play before, in fact my last experience of any Ton & Gelli side was a 7-0 win for my AFC Porth Under 12’s side in 1994 against them when I came on as a second half substitute and scored the seventh goal, so I looked forward to seeing them in action.
With a late kick off and the night drawing in, the Cambrian floodlights shone down on both teams as they kicked off and Gelli Hibs made a ferocious start to this derby match.
Josh Harding is a player I’ve written about many times on this blog and he seemed to be in similar form this evening, getting lots of joy down the left flank. His true strength really lies in his off the ball pace, seeming to be in the right place at the right time more often than not.
On six minutes, Harding appeared to be in the right place at the right time as he got his head on the end of a testing cross into the box, past the flailing Ton keeper who couldn’t do anything to stop Harding getting the opening goal for The Hibs.
The Hibs would have been forgiven for sitting back and holding things tight for ten minutes but they powered forward again almost immediately in numbers and were rewarded two minutes later with a tidy goal from Garin Hughes who like his colleague Josh Harding earlier, found himself in the right place at the right time to tap home from a wide pass to give his side a 2-0 lead within the first ten minutes.
Ton & Gelli’s first real foray into The Hibs half came after twenty minutes when their defence were guilty of being caught sleeping. Ton’s No.9 was presented with a golden opportunity from a fast counter attack to start his side’s comeback but he was only able to fire his shot wide of the mark.
Midway through the first half, Gelli Hibs looked good value for their 2-0 lead and were playing, at times, some really phenomenal stuff even going as far as playing neat little one-two’s when deep in defence. Their passing game for the first half was truly at times, sublime.
Gelli Hib’s superb passing game was lead by and started on most occasions by the newly signed Leon Kisby, playing in a left back/wing back role this evening. Kisby looked exceptionally comfortable on the ball at all times and to be honest looked like he had been a veteran member of the Hibs side rather than a player making only his second or third appearance. Kisby certainly wasn’t afraid to attack the ball and found himself in good advanced positions at times and laid on several superb crosses for his strikers.
Ton & Gelli showed a moment of brilliance on 37 minutes when against the run of play they quickly turned defence into attack as they played a series of lovely passes across their front three which lead to Ton’s No.10 deftly chipping the Hibs goalkeeper Keiron Williams to give them some hope going into the half time break.
Unfortunately for Ton & Gelli, Hibs would go on to reinstate their two goal advantage moments later after the restart. Hibs playmaker Josh Harding broke into a counter attack at pace into the Ton half. With very few of his team mates in an advanced position and no other options in front of him, Harding launched a speculative fizzing half volley from about twenty five yards out which chipped the goalkeeper and fell beautifully into the side of right hand of the goal to give his side a 3-1 lead going into the interval.
Ton & Gelli were afforded an opportunity back into the game on 53 minutes when they were awarded a penalty for a handball in the box. Ton’s No.10 bravely stepped up to the spot but found his placed effort was excellently saved by Keiron Williams who knocked the ball away to safety to the relief of his team mates who rightly mobbed him when the ball went out of touch.
As the game continued, Ton & Gelli’s experience started to show and they slowly started to control aspects of the game, scoring a goal that brought them right back into the game midway through the second half. A cross into the box caught the Hibs defence unaware and Ton’s No.8 was quickest to react, heading the ball against the bar, the ball dropping behind the line and offering his side a glimmer of hope going into the closing stages.
Despite being the better side on the night, with quarter of an hour of the game to go Hibs had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping them in the lead as he produced a handful of quite brilliant and unlikely saves in the space of a high tempo ten minute period.
This period of ten minutes where Keiron Williams kept his side in the game ended with the awarding of a second penalty, this time awarded after a foul just inside the box to the left of the penalty area.
On this occasion Ton’s No.9 stepped up to the spot and fired a powerful penalty kick to the left of goal, Gelli Hib’s goalkeeper Keiron Williams again produced a great save to keep his side in the lead and was again rightly mobbed by his team mates. The collective howl from the Hibs bench when the second penalty was saved could surely be heard as far as Bridgend such was the amazement and relief!
From here on in, Gelli Hibs did well to close the game down, starting to play the kind of football they had been playing earlier on in the match, retaining possession and pushing forward in attack, exposing holes in the Ton defence.
Jordan Gibbon in particular shone for Gelli Hibs during the second half, I don’t believe I’d ever seen him before. I assumed he was a young player as I noticed him warming up with the younger cluster of players earlier on. Gibbon took twenty minutes or so to warm into the game, but once he found his feet he made a good contribution and was quite often used as a good outlet to relieve pressure at times in the second half. His pace and positioning allowing team mates to send long passes his way for him to expose spaces.
Jordon Gibbon broke free in the 89th minute, beating his man and ran into the box at pace, unselfishly laying the ball on a sixpence across the box to Josh Harding who slotted home from close range to confirm his side’s 4-2 victory.
Harding had just confirmed his hat-trick on the night, but a fair amount of the Hibs players running towards the pair congratulated Gibbon just as much, if not more, for his contribution in the goal.
With a mere two minutes of injury time, Ton & Gelli were unable to get any further attempts on goal and as referee Steve Lloyd-Brennan brought this exciting affair to a close under the Cambrian mist and floodlights the Gelli Hibs players ran to their management team on the bench and gathered in a warm embrace of celebration.
Pre-season friendlies don’t mean anything? If tonight’s evidence is anything to go by, then that adage needs some serious rethinking.
Gelli Hibs looked very good tonight, at times they were playing some phenomenal stuff. If they play at anywhere near this level in the Rhondda League next year then they will surely fancy their chances at another shot towards promotion to the South Wales Alliance following their unsuccessful attempt this Summer.
Ton & Gelli have a good amount of talent in their squad as shown by some moments of brilliance they showed this evening. They will look at their two missed penalties and ponder on what might have been this evening. In games like this the difference between going away with 3 points or 0 points is quite often so little.
I wish both sides the very best of luck for the rest of the tournament and look forward to watching both sides again before the conclusion of events.
My Man of the Match: When players like Josh Harding scores a hat-trick, Leon Kisby has a game like he did and Jordan Gibbon plays as well as he did in the 2nd half, it’s so hard to pick an individual player out. This is made even harder when the Gelli Hibs goalkeeper comes out and saves two penalties and has a dream second half.
With this in mind, the Gelli Hibs goalkeeper Keiron Williams has to just about edge it for me. I hate seeing goalkeeper’s as man of the match, not because they don’t deserve it – but quite often awarding the accolade to a goalkeeper suggests all he did all game was keep his side in the game and withstand barrage after barrage of shots, which he didn’t by any means, he just happened to have a superb match.