Tuesday 28th July 2015.
Ton Pentre 2-0 AFC Porth.
Ynys Park, Ton Pentre
Attendance: Circa 60.
I always love a visit to Ynys Park, especially in midweek. It’s one of my favourite grounds in Wales, if not the world. It’s a real ground of the ‘old school’ variety, a mismatch of stands, a glorious entrance for players walking down a staircase to the pitch, a tea hut buried in the corner and all of this just a Chris Waddle penalty kick away from the Treherbert-Cardiff train line. It’s the kind of place that fills football fans like me with a sense of warmth, something that you don’t quite get or wouldn’t understand if you’ve only ever watched football in the comfort of an armchair or a sofa.
I’d originally planned to take in the 3rd/4th place playoff and the final of the Sporting Marvels tournament at Cambrian Lake 3G which was also scheduled for this evening.This presented an opportunity for me to take in two matches in one night, but I’d found out earlier that afternoon that Ynyshir Albions and Gelli Hibs both agreed to forgo their 3rd and 4th placed playoff, resulting in only the one game being played at Cambrian this evening between Cambrian & Clydach BGC Academy and Sporting Marvels, both sides whom I’ve seen a fair bit in recent weeks.
With this in mind, I decided to take in a pre-season friendly between two of Rhondda’s Welsh League clubs at Ynys Park instead, a bit of a tasty friendly fixture between Ton Pentre and AFC Porth.
Any Rhondda derby in the Welsh League tends to be a bit of a spicy affair and although this match was only a pre-season friendly, there was still likely to be a fair bit of pride up for grabs and I’m certain that a few tough tackles would have gone in at some poinnt.
Ton Pentre finished last season in a very strong manner, climbing slowly up the Division One table towards the end of the campaign. There was a period around February and March where the amount of games postponed at their Ynys Park home ground lead to them falling into the relegation zone. However, some memorable wins against the likes of Cardiff Metropolitan University towards the tail end of the year lead to a very respectable mid-table finish that the club could be proud of.
AFC Porth, as they themselves would admit, had a poor season last year. A highly decimated squad after a lot of high-profile departures in the Summer of 2014 left them fairly threadbare for most of the season. Such was the situation that the first time I watched Porth last season they needed to bring on their 55 year old secretary when one of their starting players went down with an injury.
I’m pleased to say things are looking a lot more promising at AFC Porth this season, they’ve acquired a few new signings, acquired funding for work on their Dinas Park ground (new dugouts, a lick of paint around the place, a new car park and a near rebuild of their single stand) and there generally seems to be an air of optimism surrounding the club at the moment. They will no doubt be keen to start their Division Two campaign with a fresh start after having spent so much of last season at the foot of the table.
One of the key things for Porth this season will be whether they can start winning games and getting used to winning. They haven’t had a bad pre-season so far, the highlight of which being a 4-3 victory against Ely Rangers last week, perhaps more remarkable due to the fact that they were 3-0 down at half time!
Ton Pentre have had some personality changes during the Summer break. The most notable being the loss of the superb goalkeeper Neil Collins, who at times last season dragged his side kicking and screaming to victory. Some Ton fans still speak fondly of his performance in the memorable victory over title hopefuls Cardiff Metropolitan University in which the stopper saved two penalties to earn his side a 2-1 victory. In fact, as I walked into the ground this evening I overheard two Ton fans talking about his decision to leave the club, they speak in glowing tones of this and other memorable performances.
Can you remember the Adidas Tango?
If the phrase ‘Adidas Tango’ doesn’t give you a blind, loving feeling of yesteryear then you’re probably a lot younger than me and grew up in the age of nameless and ugly footballs, players running around in size XXXXXL shorts and size XXXXXXXXXXXL shirts and Sky Sports.
The Adidas Tango is the ball of my youth. I’m sure I’ve touched on this in previous Ton Pentre blog entries. It’s the first ball I was given as a child and it’s been my ‘go-to’ ball since I was a little lad kicking a ball around Edmondstown field. It’s also the ball that I slid for when I was 8 years old and painfully went into a broken milk bottle which resulted in needing several stitches and an operation 5 years later, from which I never really recovered and ended up stopping playing competitive football.
The Tango is a beautiful ball, even more so in an age where games are more often than not played out with luminous yellow ugly circular pieces of synthetic plastic.
So watching on in delight as the Ton Pentre players boot them around during their warm up is a sight to see. I realise that devoting three or more paragraphs to the Adidas Tango could be seen as being perhaps ‘geeky’ to some, but those of us who have truly experienced the Adidas Tango will understand the joy and memories the ball invokes in those of us of a certain age.
At the risk of alienating readers much further (to be fair, you are reading a blog that primarily revolves around Welsh teams with very small followings – you shouldn’t have come here if you weren’t ready to read some obscure stuff!) I’ll talk about the match a little, if that’s okay?
Ton kicked off with what looked like a back three, headed by the recently appointed captain Thomas Davies who impressed me a few times last season with some sterling performances, employing what looked like a 3-5-2 formation.
Porth lined up with a 4-4-2 formation and immediately took control of the game having the better of initial exchanges. The Porth side were unlucky not to take an early lead through their No.9 who tested out the new Ton goalkeeper with a lovely volleyed effort 25 yards from goal, only a brilliant save from the Pentre shot stopper kept the scores level.
As suggested, Ton Pentre started the first half an hour of the match in a stuttered form and AFC Porth took advantage of this and played with a lot of pace, typically on the counter attack.
Porth were again unlucky not to take the lead on the half hour when a good opportunity was presented to their No.11 who picked up the ball on the far left of the box only to drag his effort just wide of the post.
Ton Pentre would have wait until the 34th minute for their first real opportunity in this friendly. Tom Billing, playing in an advanced role received the ball from outside of the box but fizzed his effort well over the bar from about ten yards out.
At this point after watching the initial proceedings from the half way line, the heavens opened up and I ran for cover in the main stand running along the length of the goal being defended by Porth in the first half.
The best opportunity of the first half fell to Porth’s No.10 a few seconds before the referee eventually blew the half time whistle. The Porth striker found himself facing down on the Ton goalkeeper in a one-on-one but could only look on in despair as his weak effort fell into the arms of the oncoming goalkeeper.
The last time I took in this same fixture, the same pattern occurred as did tonight. Porth started the match extremely positively and for big periods of the match looked the better side. Unfortunately for Porth, their lack of guile in front of goal on the night was what lost them the game as Ton Pentre made their two chances on the night count.
AFC Porth looked resigned to falling foul of the same fate again as Ton scored two goals in quick succession of the restart.
The first goal coming from substitute Connor Ray, a young player who is very much held in high regard at the club, a boy who has risen from the ranks of the Youth and junior teams at the club and is now very much staking a claim for a regular starting spot in the first team. Ray held his composure well when given a defence splitting pass and did well to fire home past the Porth goalkeeper from 12 yards despite defenders facing down on him.
Two minutes later Connor Ray was involved again as he laid the ball on for team-mate Tom Billing who slotted home an impressivie effort from the right side of the penalty area to give his side a 2-0 lead.
In those five minutes, a clinical Ton side essentially won the match, despite being arguably second best for the whole of the first half.
Ton Pentre grew in stature and confidence and began playing some very attractive football and showed their experience at this level of the Welsh pyramid.
Porth were unlucky at times and will feel they would have scored more than once against a poorer team on the night. Only some graet defending and some impressive saves prevented them from opening their account this evening. Their No.8 in particular was unlucky not to score mid-way through the second half after a furious volley from just outside the box tested the Ton stopper who performed a quite brilliant save to preserve his sides two goal advantage.
AFC Porth certainly have nothing to be ashamed of after a performance like this. For large periods of the game they were arguably the better side, particularly in the first half. They will certainly feel that against Welsh League Division Two sides performances like these will certainly result in them winning more games than not. Porth surely must go forward feeling confident of having a good season.
Ton Pentre made their experience at this level count and were clinical on the night in front of goal. It’s often said that if you can grind out results when you’re not at your very best then you’re certainly doing something right. This isn’t to say that Ton were off form – because they certainly weren’t, but they will know that they probably had room to take their play up another gear or two. They have a handful of pre-season friendlies to get them back to the kind of form that lead to them finishing the season at the top of the Welsh League form table and perhaps mount an effort towards a title challenge come next Spring.
The highlight of this game however has to be the emergence of youngster Connor Ray, who changed the face of the game upon his arrival. If given a chance in the Welsh League this season, I’m convinced he will turn some heads this year. This boy is a real player, definitely one to keep an eye on.
I’d like to wish the very best of luck to both clubs in their upcoming Welsh League campaigns. Being Rhondda born and bred, both clubs are very close to my heart and I have a lot of time for a lot of people at both clubs. I know I’m meant to maintain some kind of level of ‘non-bias’, but little would please me more than both of these clubs going on to do something really special this season.
My Man of the Match: He came on at half time and he turned the game on it’s head and for that, there can only really be one candidate – Connor Ray of Ton Pentre.