Saturday 15th August 2015.
Pontypridd Town 6-0 Treowen Stars
Welsh League Division Three.
Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd.
Attendance: Circa 20.
Before you go any further with this blog entry. It’s probably worth pointing out a couple of things, some key things really.
I always preach my level of non-bias I try and put over in these blogs. The whole idea really of why I even started this was as some kind of effort to make up for all of the years I spent funding the English game and the pockets of Malaysian billionaires was not through any form of personal gain. It was just an attempt to try and cover a level of football that is so commonly ignored by so many people. I wanted to cover the stories of players who, like their professional counterparts train two or three times a week, play once or twice a week but also hold down normal jobs like me and you. Jobs like call centre employees, deputy headteachers at local secondary schools, IT consultants, rubbish collectors, factory workers, civil engineers and all manner of professions.
I divulge from the point, but any regular reader of the blog will of course be more than used to this by now.
The point I was originally trying to make? At some point between my first match watching Pontypridd Town last season (all the way back in Match 2 of the year) and the last time I saw them something happened that I promised myself wouldn’t happen.
I found myself quickly losing my level of non-bias and genuinely grew to love what was at the time, my hometown club (I moved during pre-season from Pontypridd to nearby Porth). This of course, I hope, didn’t come over in my blog entries – but the reality was that as each match passed and I got to know more people behind the scenes at the club and started to grow familiar with players and management I became a Pontypridd Town fan. Such was my love of the club that I remember walking away from a defeat against local rivals Treharris Athletic Western genuinely gutted, much in the same way that I used to feel a couple of years ago when Cardiff City lost a game.
That was it, I had crossed the line between somewhat interested blogger and actual supporter.
Over the course of pre-season, being a somewhat ambitious club Pontypridd Town opened an online shop. Predominantly being used to sell replica shirts, tickets and memorabilia for their coveted second annual visit to Spain to play La Liga’s very own Deportiva La Coruna.
One of the products the club put up for sale was a season ticket and one at quite good value I might add. For the princely sum of about £32.50 (I believe?), which without even going near a calculator is approximately 8% of the cost of my previous season ticket with Cardiff City (and I might add, about 300% of the entertainment). With this option available to me I just couldn’t resist, so I bought one for my wife and I straight away.
I managed to pick up Season Ticket #0002, my wife was assigned #0003 and when we arrived at Ynysangharad Park this afternoon we met season ticket holders #0004 and #0005 in the stand. Season ticket holder #0001, radio DJ, former Match of the Day presenter and celebrity Pontypridd Town fan Colin Murray was conspicuous by his absence but I’m certain he’ll be seen propping up the limited bar at the clubhouse before too long.
Pontypridd Town have made some personnel changes this season. Midfield stalwart and scorer of perhaps the greatest goal I’ve ever witnessed, Geraint Passmore has moved on to start a new career down under, bringing his Welsh League career to a premature end. A couple of other players have taken the opportunity to play their football elsewhere but suitable replacements have been brought in. The likes of which, including but not limited to the lively young striker Aaran Caffell, signed from local rivals Treharris Athletic Western and the graduation of youth products Jack Wheeler, Gareth Hole and the highly rated Owain Morgan into first team players.
The start of a new season is a beautiful thing. It’s quite romantic in a very obscure way isn’t it? Think about it, regardless of what happens in 30-odd matches time, this is the only point of the season where everyone is level. Everyone starts the season with the hope that this year will be their year. Gone are the bad results, the losses, the terrible month of form, the injury list and the stacked up fixture list following six weeks of postponements. In their place are the eternal optimism of hope, superbly lush grass pitches without a hint of mud and a full and fit squad following six weeks of harsh pre-season training.
Pontypridd Town were slow starters by their own admission last season. Short of a strange spell in March following a couple of injuries and the loss of their first choice goalkeeper Ryan Griffiths to illness, if you look at the form table from the start of 2015 to the end of the season, only title winners Llanelli Town and second placed Cwmamman United gained more points than them.
With this in mind, it was key for Pontypridd Town to start the season off strongly if they were and are going to achieve their ultimate goal of promotion to the third tier of the Welsh pyramid.
Today’s opponents Treowen Stars had the potential to spoil the start of The Dragons’ season. On my entrance to the ground I was told that the Stars have become a “bogey team” to Pontypridd over the years. Treowen have typically made the spot a couple of places above the relegation places in Division Three their home for the last four or five seasons but possess more than a handful of very decent players who on their day can give anyone in this league a run for their money as taking 4 points from the eventually promoted Ammanford Town showed last season.
On our arrival to the ground we made a beeline for the clubhouse for a coffee and a chance to catch up with Craig, who was busy doing the popular online commentary of today’s game. A funny story regarding the commentary actually, people may scoff at the idea of a Welsh League Division Three club offering commentary on their games but I actually ran into someone at last night’s Taffs Well game from Milton Keynes, who told me he first heard about my blog when Craig mentioned it at during the commentary of one of last season’s matches. It’s a great idea and it appeals to supporters who can’t make it or even some of the many hundreds who were drawn into the Ponty Town story through their two Summer trips to Spain in recent years.
I’m most pleased to find that the club have invested in mugs with a colour scheme over the Summer, or at least I believe they have as I’m given a white mug for my white coffee and Lara is given a black mug for her black coffee. We have just about enough time to say our hellos to some of the usual characters around the clubhouse before we have to make our way out to the stand for the kick off.
Ponty Town start the match in a strong manner, their intention is clear from the outset. In the opening ten minutes they retain a lot of possession and pass the ball around the park neatly to feet but there are no clear cut chances for either side, something I’m convinced will change as the half progresses.
On ten minutes a lovely bit of play between Michael Thomas and newly appointed club captain Luke Gullick resulted in Gullick facing down on Asa Kirkwood, keeping goal for Treowen, and slotting the ball calmly around Kirkwood to open the scoring for The Dragons, much to the joy of the Ponty Town management team who seemed visibly delighted with an early lead.
I’m delighted to find on my arrival home later that evening that Gullick’s first goal was actually the 300th goal of the year that I had witnessed on this adventure. This of course is a fact I would have no doubt celebrated in wild fashion had I realised this at the time.
Treowen Stars put The Dragons under a great deal of pressure around the half an hour mark and were very unlucky not to level affairs after two superb saves by Ryan Griffiths kept his Pontypridd side in the lead, the first effort being a close range header from Luke Harris and the second being a powerful shot by Johnny Edwards which required a phenomenal gymnastic effort to stop.
Ryan Griffith’s superb saves didn’t stop there as thirty seconds later from the resulting corner he was called on to stop Tommy James flicked on effort.
After riding their luck a little for a period of ten minutes or so, Pontypridd broke on the counter attack and could consider themselves unlucky not to be playing against ten men when Luke Gullick ran through on goal and was taken down by what looked to be the last defensive man merely inches outside of the penalty area.
The small but vocal Pontypridd following, myself included, called on the referee to issue the defender his marching orders but the referee perhaps a little further away from the incident than he would have liked to have been chose to award The Dragons a free kick and issue a yellow card and a stern word to the Treowen defender.
Luke Gullick looked to have stepped up for the free kick, only to run over the ball as a dummy as new signing Matthew Hibbs placed the ball through the wall and firmly past Kirkwood who struggled to get to the ball in time.
With a 2-0 lead, Pontypridd Town, perhaps with the pressure off their shoulders, played some really attractive football and played the kind of football that has seen them win plaudits and be considered a strong contender for promotion on many of the unofficial Welsh League messageboards.
The first half ended with Treowen striker and captain Matthew Jones being gifted a glorious chance at goal after a spot of lax Pontypridd defending. Fortunately for The Dragons Jones was only able to fire his headed effort wide of Griffith’s goal.
The second half started with a spell of heavy Ponty Town pressure, resulting in a corner kick being converted in truly spectacular fashion by centre half Ilias Doumas who rose above his marker to hit a phenomenal overhead kick far beyond Kirkwood in the Treowen goal to give his side a 3-0 lead and to the predictable joy of his team mates who mobbed him instantly.
There’s a saying in football – when your centre half scores a beautiful overhead kick, you’re probably going to have a good game! Okay, so that isn’t a well known saying outside of my own head, but there we go!
James Hill, a player who I’ve written about countless times on this blog. Hill is one of those players made for Football Manager. He possesses bags of skill, a phenomenal finish on him when he fancies it and above all of this, he doesn’t seem to possess any of the cockiness that someone of his talent should possess. You know that if you signed him on Football Manager (don’t even speak to me about Football Manager at the moment, I myself was recently fired from my own imaginary job due to a string of 4 defeats) he wouldn’t come to you with ridiculous wage demands, he’d be happy playing week in week out, scoring goals for fun.
Hill, somehow, is desperately unlucky not to score Ponty’s 4th when he breaks free from his marker and fires a ridiculously powerful effort towards goal only for Asa Kirkwood to pull off a save that would make even the great Neville Southall blush and tip Hill’s effort over the cross bar.
Ponty Town put the game to bed in fine style on 55 minutes when another piece of lovely link up play between the strikers Luke Gullick and Matthew Hibbs lead to Gullick picking up the ball on the edge of the box and slotting the ball home neatly into the far corner of the goal from the edge of the box to give his side an unassailable 4-0 lead.
Gullick would later round off his hat trick in the 80th minute with a deftly placed header from 12 yards after a floated free kick into the box from the feet of Dominic Broad.
With a 5-0 lead and the win secured it allowed Dragons manager Damien Broad, presiding over his first competitive game since taking over the reigns from his brother Dominic (who still holds the Assistant Player-Manager role) the chance to blood youngster Owain Morgan into the first team with a ten minutes appearance, which at the age of 17 years old is something quite special. It’s also a special moment for the club, who have only in recent years joined with Pontypridd Boys & Girls Club to have some form of youth system at the club.
Luck was clearly not on the side of James Hill, who again was desperately unlucky not to add to Pontypridd’s tally on 85 minutes when he fired a powerful effort across the goal which beat the Treowen goalkeeper, only for his shot to go out wide for a goal kick after rebounding off the inside of the post in what I can only describe as the most obscure real life demonstration of GCSE Physics known to man.
Geraint Passmore may have left the club, but the spirit of the man remains and was demonstrated in the 86th minute when hat-trick man Luke Gullick produced a moment of sheer brilliance as he spotted the goal keeper off his line from near the half way line. Gullick hit a deftly volleyed effort high above Asa Kirkwood that didn’t bounce until it tricked down the back of the net.
If only there was another famous goal scored from the half way line on the opening day of the season in the past that I could compare it to? Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to skip that comparison….
Pontypridd Town pushed forward in search of a seventh, such was the mood the team were in but they found themselves having to settle for the six before the referee brought what had been a terrific Dragons performance to an end.
I often dislike writing blogs about matches like this, because they can often have the tendency to sound a little one sided. Regardless of how this blog may have sounded, Treowen Stars were by no means mugs in this game and threatened the Pontypridd goal on more than a handful of occasions. They enjoyed a spell of around ten to fifteen minutes where they arguably should have put away about two or three of their chances and could have gone into the interval level had it not been for some quite frankly ridiculous saves from Ryan Griffiths.
The difference between the two sides on the day? Pontypridd Town have obviously benefited from a very long pre-season, a necessity following their Deportivo friendly and they were truly clinical in front of goal.
There are 35 more games to play out before title wins, promotion places, mid-table obscurity and relegation spots are decided, but based on today’s performance alone – The Dragons will surely want to be involved in the first two rather than the last two.
A tricky visit to local rivals Treharris Athletic Western follows in mid-week – made even more tastier due to the fact that both clubs sit atop Division Three following Treharris’ impressive 4-0 victory over Llantwit Major.
If I told you in March that Pontypridd Town and Treharris Athletic Western would be fighting out a top-of-the-table clash come August you would have tried to have me committed to a psychiatric unit wouldn’t you?
My Man of the Match: There were several candidates for this accolade and truth be told, there wasn’t really a player on the Pontypridd side who would scored less than about an 8.7. Ryan Griffiths pulled off some truly excellent saves to keep his side ahead when they were put under pressure in the first half but you simply don’t score four goals in a match and don’t walk with something. Luke Gullick picks this up for what I’m sure isn’t the first time.