Thursday 16th July 2015 (8.25pm).
Red Valley 0-5 Blaenrhondda.
Sporting Marvels Pre-Season Invitational. Group A.
Cambrian Lakeside Sports Academy, Clydach Vale.
Attendance: Circa 20.
As I’ve alluded to in previous blogs relating to this tournament, the later games with a scheduled kick off time of 20:25, make for a perfect opportunity to be eaten to within an inch of your life by the thousands of gnats making their way from the nearby Cwmclydach Lake to the football field a stones throw away to suck on the blood of young footballers and their spectators.
The gnats were even more attracted to me as I walked back into the Cambrian Lake Sports Academy with my wife and a McDonalds in hand. Whilst a couple of my new found friends from the Gelli Hibs side started to make their way home for a bite to eat, I remained true to the football cause and brought my food back to match!
Both of tonight’s sides are teams I’ve seen previously this year. Both sides put in great performances when I blogged about them last. Red Valley gave an unceremonious 9-1 thrashing to their village rivals AFC Gilfach (AFC Gilfach were at the time called ‘Gilfach MODs’), whilst Blaenrhondda professionally disposed of the previous season’s Rhondda League champions Penygraig United in a composed 4-1 victory at the tail end of last season.
It was clear for me then that something had to give this evening, there was of course no way that both sides could come away victorious again without some kind of horrific FIFA rule change.
Blaenrhondda, if you believe the playful gossip doing the rounds on Facebook, messageboards and Twitter are the current “money men” of the Rhondda & District Football League. In the scale of things, this isn’t huge – the reality being that they have probably had a local businessman pump a few quid into the club to improve facilities. This doesn’t however stop mocked up club crests with rich sheikhs holding the club’s previous badge aloft and declaring a new age in the Rhondda League.
The jesting is all good natured however and is all meant in fine spirit. The one key thing I’ve noticed with the Rhondda League is that it’s much how it is when I stopped playing around fifteen years ago. Teams generally get on with each other, players know each other on first name terms. For the most part a lot of these players have been playing against each other since they were teenagers representing their local boys club or church hall. Even in the limited time I’ve been attending matches in the Rhondda League I’ve been meeting and re-meeting guys who I haven’t seen in years and played with years ago.
If the rumours of a rich sheikh taking over the club are true, then Blaenrhondda will no doubt have their eyes on a slot in the Welsh Premier League in a few years, if they don’t choose to try and play their game in the English pyramid.
I’m of course having a mess around. The Blaenrhondda side however had a very good season last year, eventually finishing in a very respectable 4th place in the Rhondda League, running last season’s winners, Penygraig United, down to 5th place in the closing weeks.
They will fancy their chances this season and will certainly be looking to put title favourites Gelli Hibs and Trebanog under pressure, especially if these reports of some strong new signings surface.
Red Valley had a very good season last year in the Bridgend & District League, finishing 3rd and only 8 points behind the very strong Brackla side that dominated the league last season. Towards the end of the season Red Valley actually upset champions Brackla with an impressive 2-0 away win in the last week of the season.
Playing their football in the Bridgend League also presents Red Valley as a bit of a mysterious team in the scale of things. Most of their players are not known to a lot of the other teams in the tournament and very few of the teams have ever come up against them.
The game kicked off at 20.25 sharp, under the Cambrian floodlights just in time for the local gnats to start making their way through my arms and all exposed skin.
Blaenrhondda started the game strong, employing a high defensive line and a very offensive attacking midfield who put the Red Valley defence under a lot of pressure. The Rhondda side were unlucky not to open the scoring on 10 mins when a dangerous pass was fizzed across the box from the left wing. Blaenrhondda’s No.10 was unfortunately unable to get his foot on the end of the cross.
Red Valley had their moments in the first half and were desperately unlucky not to take the lead midway through the first half. Red Valley’s No.26, a neat little player I’d noted on my last visit to Gilfach Goch, employed a bit of tricky footwork in beating his marker before unleashing a lovely shot from the edge of the box which painfully hit the post and cannoned off to the feet of an oncoming Blaenrhondda defender. This incident would turn out truly to be one of those “What if..” incidents.
Two minutes later, as if it were written in the script, Blaenrhondda powered into the lead. Blaen’s No.4 ran through the Red Valley midfield with force and was strong on the ball when faced with a one to one with the Red Valley goalkeeper before slotting home to open the scoring for his side.
Five minutes later Blaenrhondda doubled their advantage when their No.8 delivered a beautiful corner kick right onto the forehead of their No.16 who made no mistake from six yards to give his side a comfortable 2-0 lead going into the half time interval.
A moment of controversy occurred seconds before half time. A Blaenrhondda player took a long throw from distance which troubled the Red Valley goalkeeper. The goalkeeper chose not to touch the ball and knowing that a goal wouldn’t be allowed directly from a free kick he allowed the ball to run into his net. An oncoming Blaenrhondda player sprinted valiantly to try and get a final touch on the ball, unfortunately for Blaenrhondda adjudged the touch the attacker did have on the ball to be just over the line, disallowing the goal.
Almost immediately from the restart Blaenrhondda wrapped the three points up with a third goal. Blaen’s No.9 stole in behind Red Valley’s right back and got on the end of a testing pass to slot home from six yards.
At this point it was clear that some Red Valley heads dropped and Blaenrhondda were starting to really command the game from this point in, having the lion’s share of the possession and chances in this game.
A lot has to be said for Red Valley’s goalkeeper in the second half who remained resolute and always offered his team mates encouragement and tactical advice from the back, which to be fair when you’re 3-0 down, being bitten by gnats on a continual basis and with half an hour of pressure left to soak up is definitely admirable. An absolute credit to his team and I really hope this comment gets back to him.
Blaenrhondda’s No.16 scored another goal just after the hour mark when he broke free from the midfield and fired in a shot from a very difficult angle on the edge of the box that forced even the linesman on our side of the pitch to applaud his effort, such was the attractiveness of this goal.
Red Valley found themselves five goals behind on 66 minutes when Blaenrhondda’s No.9 was fed a defence splitting pass into the box before he turned on a sixpence and fired home a brilliant shot into the top left corner.
Red Valley found themselves in the last twenty minutes being limited to long range shots, such was the extent of Blaenrhondda’s high defensive line that they stuck with doggedly. One thing that struck me was that Blaenrhondda, although a very skillful side, don’t seem to possess a lot of height in their armour with most players being around 5″9 to 5″10 mark. I just wondered to myself whether Red Valley would have taken something from the game if they had tried to expose Blaenrhondda’s lack of height in the box and at set pieces?
The final action of note in this game was a phenomenal shot from Blaenrhondda’s No.9 in the last minute of normal time that painfully struck the cross bar and went out of play for a goal kick. It’s hard to describe in words but if this shot went just an inch or two under the cross bar I could today be writing about one of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen in my life.
So Blaenrhondda won this group stage game quite comfortably in the end. Red Valley offered glimpses of their potential but were ultimately stifled by a very high defensive line and a team with an eye for pass.
If Blaenrhondda could navigate their way through the group stage they could present themselves as potential dark horses in this tournament. They are certainly a side to keep an eye on.
I’d like to wish the very best of luck to both sides for not only the rest of this competition but for their upcoming campaigns in both the Rhondda and Bridgend leagues. I’ve got a lot of time for both clubs and I would love to see them both be successful.
My Man of the Match: Blaenrhondda’s No.16 had a great game and always presented a threat to the Red Valley defence, although there were several contenders for this dubious accolade.