Friday 14th August 2015.
Taffs Well 2-1 Monmouth Town.
Welsh League Division One.
Rhiw Dda’r, Taffs Well.
Attendance: Circa 150.
Pre-season friendlies are great aren’t they? But they don’t really live up to a tasty league encounter between two sides with three points up for grabs do they?
I’ve gone on about them (friendlies) a fair bit over recent weeks. I’ve seen some really exciting and entertaining games over the last couple of months but it’s fair to say that this was the match I was looking forward to more than any of the recent games I’ve taken in.
It seems like an absolute age since the last match I watched which actually had anything riding on it, excluding of course the entertaining Newtown v. Valletta Europa League tie back in July.
The Welsh domestic league season, Ladies and Gentlemen is back for another year and I for one couldn’t be more excited. How things have changed over the course of two or three months?
We’ve welcomed the newly promoted Abergavenny Town (They’ve certainly impressed in pre-season according to most reports that I’ve read) and STM Sports (who arguably made more press due to the fact one of their full backs was arrested on the touchline at their Welsh League play-off match) to the Division Three fold.
We’ve also bidded a farewell and the best of luck to Haverfordwest County, who this season will rub shoulders with the elite of Welsh football in the Welsh Premier League after their second placed finish in Division One last season (eventual champions Caerau Ely did not apply for a Welsh Premier League spot). We also said goodbye to Rhoose and Cardiff Grange Quins, both of whom suffered financial difficulties throughout the season and elected not to continue in their current form. Hopefully we will see both of these sides return to the Welsh League in the future as both clubs have a very rich heritage in Welsh football and it would be a complete shame to not see both sides in action again.
The English Premier League started back last weekend. Do I care? Of course I don’t. Even when I held a season ticket at Cardiff City I didn’t enjoy being in the Premier League. Yes, we lost about 75% of our matches up there. Yes, the whole year was tarnished by the ongoing Red Shirt/Vincent Tan debacle but on the whole it was generally a disappointing year.
Sure there were good times in the Premier League. The win against Manchester City was one of the highlights of my football supporting life, likewise the win at the Cardiff City Stadium against our rivals Swansea City was also something special. Other than these two moments though?
The fun days out away at the likes of Peterborough, Bristol City and Charlton were replaced by days out at sanitised museums of football like Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge or at new soul-less Stadium-Corp grounds like the Emirates Stadium and the Etihad Stadium.
So when I arrived at work last Monday to hear the mundane coffee room chatter about Petr Cech’s new helmet, Wayne Rooney’s man of the match performance and his newly receding-again hairdo, Brendan Rodger’s tactical headache and Yaya Toure’s fucking haircut it was safe to say I was more than craving the return of my Welsh League, South Wales Alliance, Rhondda & District and every other league I manage to watch my beloved sport in.
Taff’s Well, aside from being a very friendly club are a dream for groundhoppers like myself as they seem to be fans of the Friday night game, opting to play a good number of their home games on the Friday evening as opposed to the Saturday afternoon. This gives absolute losers like me with targets to meet a chance to pack as much football into the weekend as they can.
The Friday plan appeared to work as on my arrival to Rhiw Dda’r it became apparent that a big crowd had assembled for this evening’s Welsh League opener. Including, it seemed, representatives from several other clubs in the league. I was most pleased to bump into my friend Huw Jones and his chairman Neil Dowler from AFC Porth who made their way down from the game. We live close to each other and made small talk about local goings-on and debated whether he actually built the extension on the back of my new house twenty years ago, as you do.
Rhiw Dda’r is a lovely ground, it’s got a great little clubhouse and the facilities on offer are superb for this level of the football pyramid.
Taffs Well and Monmouth Town are both sides with a bit of ‘previous’ in the Welsh League. The 2013-14 season saw the Monmouth side win the league title by two points on the last day of the season, beating today’s opponents Taffs Well into second place.
Both sides have spent the best part of the last four seasons in the upper echelons of Division One since Monmouth Town were promoted from Division Two in the 2011-12 season with a title win on goal difference.
Taffs Well started this evening’s match the stronger of the two sides. It took a while for Monmouth Town to start their game and to be fair to both sides they both struggled in front of the goal for the first twenty minutes or so.
I spotted Matt Harrison, the Lost Boyo himself, standing behind the Monmouth Town goal with his mate Huw so I made my way over to him. He’s spent the last two weeks visiting Wales and has taken in quite a few matches around the place recently, including visits to Ystrad Mynach and Bridgend Street with me, so it’s always good to see him at matches.
Standing with Matt put us in the perfect position to watch the opening goal of the game unfold in front of us.
It was then that Matt pointed out that Taffs Well’s impressive new home kit had a somewhat passing likeness to Borrusia Dortmund’s home kit and Monmouth Town’s classy red kit, complete with Volkswagen sponsorship made for quite a German looking affair, at least in the mind of football fanatics like ourselves.
Taffs Well opened their scoring, somewhat controversially through Jason Bertorelli. The mother of goalmouth scrambles occurred in the Monmouth penalty area. The ball was ‘pinballed’ back and forth in the box before falling to the feet of Bertorelli, who looked to be at least two yards offside. Unfortunately Monmouth Town played the whistle, not the ball and Bertorelli was just about able to poke the ball home from a few yards past the helpless Monmouth Town goalkeeper who had already been floored from a save made only seconds earlier.
The players surrounded the referee, who after a series of industrial challenges earlier in the game, appeared to be starting to lose his grip on the game. The referee went to consult with the linesman who agreed with his decision to award the goal and Taffs Well found themselves ahead.
Two minutes later, Bertorelli doubled his side’s advantage with a neatly rounded effort which unlike his opener had no doubt about it. Admittedly I didn’t fully see this goal happen as I was distracted by Huw Jones of AFC Porth and the Monmouth Town chairman offering me multiple pieces of battenburg cake!
Taffs Well played some lovely stuff for the rest of the first half, gaining plaudits from many people. They played attractive passing football but attacked with intention.
Monmouth Town pushed forward in an attempt to get a goal back before half time and were unlucky not to go into the interval with a one-goal disadvantage when their No.8 hit a decent effort from just outside of the box which tested the Taffs Well goalkeeper and forced him to produce a good save.
The second half of the game failed to live up to the excitement of the first half as the game was played out in a very stop-start manner.
Taffs Well found themselves being reduced to ten men on 55 minutes when their No.4 was sent off after a harsh challenge. What followed showed that the referee had indeed lost control of the game as he allowed himself to be chased around the pitch by players of both sides, whilst everyone else proceeded to push each other.
Monmouth Town continued to push forward but didn’t seem to be making the most of having an extra player on the pitch, arguably having only the one real chance of pulling a goal back in the 70th minute through their No.8 who latched onto a great cross to volley the ball inches wide.
On 75 minutes Taffs Well found themselves going down to 8 outfield players as their no.8 saw red after another dangerous challenge. It all threatened to kick off again whilst the referee decided how best to react. He decided to send the Taffs Well midfielder for an early shower, leaving The Wellmen with a difficult task to earn the three points on offer.
Monmouth Town, despite the numerical advantage failed to push forward until the closing stages and were awarded a late consolation penalty in what must have been the 92nd minute.
Monmouth’s No.10 stepped up to the spot and made no mistake to give his side a glimmer of hope going in to the last two minutes of injury time. Unfortunately for Monmouth Town, the goal was only to act as a consolation and Taffs Well would control possession for the remaining two minutes of the game.
Taffs Well took all three points with a very convincing performance, until they were reduced to 9 men they were for my money, the better side. They rode their luck a little when faced with the numerical disadvantage, but Monmouth Town would also consider themselves a little wasteful in front of goal and would surely rue the fact that they didn’t really take advantage of their numerical advantage on the pitch.
All in all, a very entertaining and heated affair to open up what will surely be an enthralling Welsh League season. Taffs Well have opened their account in spectacular fashion. Time will tell whether the two suspensions they picked up along the way will damage their title credentials in the next month or so.
I’d like to wish the very best of luck to both Taffs Well and Monmouth Town, two sides who will surely be challenging for honours come next Spring.
My Man of Match: Jason Bertorelli of Taffs Well. Games are often decided on the ability of certain players to take the game by the scruff of the neck and Bertorelli certainly did so in the first half.