Tuesday 29th September
Carmarthen Town 4-2 (AET) Pontypridd Town.
The FAW Word Cup, 2nd Round.
Richmond Park, Carmarthen.
Attendance: Circa 100.
The FAW Word Cup is a relatively new tournament, billed as a half-way replacement for the old FAW Premier Cup. It essentially acts as a semi-rebranding of the Welsh Premier League Cup, with elements of the tournament taken straight from what used to be called the FAW Premier Cup, kind of like a meshing of the two even though the Welsh Premier League Cup and the FAW Premier Cup co-existed.
The Premier Cup was a tournament founded in 1997 which became the only way for English pyramid teams like Cardiff City, Swansea City and Wrexham to play in Welsh pyramid tournaments following their removal from the old Welsh Cup competition.
The format of the tournament changed greatly over its 11 year lifespan, the most memorable of which being the period the tournament invited 16 teams to compete. The 16 teams typically composed of the Top 10 placed clubs in the Welsh Premier League (Note: The WPL had 16 teams at this time), the current Welsh Cup holders, Cardiff City, Swansea City and the two highest placed teams from Newport County, Wrexham and Colwyn Bay. I don’t seem to recall what happened if the Welsh Cup holders finished in the Top 10 of the Welsh Premier League and I can’t seem to recall whether an 11th Welsh Premier League was invited or not.
The two big sides Cardiff City and Swansea City didn’t actually enjoy as much success in the tournament as many would have guessed. In the tournament’s 11 year lifespan, Cardiff City won the tournament one time whilst their Swansea rivals enjoyed only two Premier Cup wins. For much of the tournament’s lifespan Cardiff City were both a Division One side and a lower Championship whilst Swansea City flirted with the old Vauxhall Conference at times but even so, one would still have expected both sides to take more silverware in that period.
The most successful team in the tournament’s history were North Wales English pyramid side Wrexham who amassed an impressive five victories and three runners-up medals in 11 years.
The only sides to win the tournament from the Welsh pyramid were Barry Town (1999) and The New Saints (2007)
Part of the perceived lack of interest from English pyramid clubs originated from the fact that the tournament only offered a relatively small financial prize (in the scale of these clubs of course) and never offered a berth in the UEFA Europa League as it’s English equivalent did, this lead to both sides opting to field weakened sides in the competition which did little to encourage their large fan bases to get excited about.
Such was the general apathy for the tournament among the English pyramid clubs that the 2001-02 Premier Cup final contested between rivals Cardiff City and Swansea City at Ninian Park attracted a mere 6,629 fans.
Obviously both clubs held nowhere near their current status as English footballing giants but the very idea that only six thousand or so fans were interested enough to get down to Ninian Park for a mid-week cup final against their most fierce rivals just shows how little interest the competition held for supporters.
There were Cardiff v. Swansea fixtures in the late 2000’s that probably had more than 6,629 police officers in attendance!
Sponsors BBC eventually pulled the plug on the funding in 2008 and the tournament was immediately dropped by the FAW.
English pyramid clubs had always played in the Welsh Cup and with their absence noted and felt over the preceding years the FAW reached out to the English pyramid clubs and invited them to re-take their places in the Welsh Cup in the 2011-12 season.
Merthyr Town, Newport County and Wrexham all accepted the invitation whilst Cardiff City, Swansea City and Colwyn Bay declined the invitation.
The clubs who accepted the invitation all declined to enter the competition after UEFA confirmed that these clubs would not be allowed to take their places in the Europa League should they have gone on to win the Welsh Cup.
Since the reorganization of the Welsh Premier League as a 12 team league the tournament has had a little bit of an overhaul. The tournament is now played out between all of the current Welsh Premier League clubs as well as the top half of last season’s Welsh League Division One table in the South and the top half of last season’s Cymru Alliance (ground criteria permitting)
What has made this tournament slightly more interesting has been the introduction of four ‘wildcard’ positions in the tournament, open to any club playing in the Welsh pyramid regardless of which level they play at.
These wildcard sides were required to apply to the FAW for inclusion in the tournament. Their entries were judged against a number of criteria, ground requirements and whether the club had done anything in it’s recent history that earned the club a place in the tournament (The application form refers to interesting reasons why the club should be considered)
This year’s selected wildcards were Denbigh Town, Holywell Town, Penrhyncoch and Pontypridd Town. All four sides, despite being underdogs in their first round ties managed to win their way through to the second round where they would potentially go on to meet the giants of the Welsh game in the form of The New Saints, Bala Town and Airbus UK Broughton.
I was so gutted to hear that Ton Pentre’s home tie against Port Talbot Town had been scheduled for the same night as Pontypridd Town’s trip down the M4 to Welsh Premier League as this was a match I would have loved to have seen under the Ynys Park floodlights. Unabashed however with my Dragons loyalty in hand I headed down the M4 at about 4.30pm for another match at Richmond Park.
I left a little later than I’d wanted to, I tried to fit in a visit to the gym before coming back home, showering and leaving. With the M4 traffic around Baglan and Port Talbot I absolutely knew I’d get stuck in it if I didn’t leave before 4.30.
True enough I did and I didn’t manage to walk into Carmarthen’s Wetherspoons branch, named ‘Yr Hen Osaf’ until 6.20pm, leaving me just about enough time to take advantage of the ‘Beer & Burger Deal’ with a pint of Tuborg.
There are few joys better in life than sitting down in a Wetherspoons on a table by yourself being a miserable bastard – this is something I completely excel in.
You know the ‘Wetherspoon’s News’ magazine? What do you mean ‘No’? Of course you do. It’s usually stowed away on every third table at their pubs. If you’ve never read it, next time you’re in a Wetherspoons next to a table full of people who look like they’re having a great time and being a bit too raucous politely ask if you can borrow their copy of ‘Wetherspoon’s News’.
They will most certainly hand it over to you and will certainly avoid you for the rest of the evening. If you couple this with throwing a few psychotic glances as well I find this tends to move on the noisier ones.
The ‘Wetherspoon’s News’ magazine is essentially a complete loser version of FHM except pretty, attractive girls are replaced by photos of elderly (mostly male) customers sipping on pints of real ale with the manager of a pub whilst holding a large novelty sized cheque for £27 being paid out to Children in Need as a result of their sponsored Bitter festival.
It’s one of the strangest and most entertaining things I’ve ever read. The highlight of the magazine coming in the form of the letters page in which regular ‘Wetherspooners’ like myself commit their thoughts to ink and write to the CEO of Wetherspoons.
Most letters are inane chatter that causes only the mildest level of inconvenience to most, ‘Why are the sauce containers empty most of the time?’, ‘Why did you change the type of plates you serve food on?’ and that type of the thing. You can sense the sheer desperation in the CEO’s replies as he struggles to muster up even a four word reply to someone’s 1000 word diatribe about the lack of baby seats at some branch in East London.
‘Fair point. Investigating’ he replies.
Anyway, if you’ll allow me to talk about football for a brief minute the reason I found myself in Carmarthen this evening was to take in Pontypridd Town’s away trip at Richmond Park facing off against Welsh Premier League outfit Carmarthen Town.
After an impressive 2-1 win over Taff’s Well at Ynysangharad Park earlier this month The Dragons found themselves being drawn against WPL side Carmarthen Town who would no doubt prove to be the most difficult challenge faced by the Pontypridd side under the helm of manager Damien Broad and assistant Dominic Broad.
I’ve already visited Richmond Park this year with the blog, so won’t bore you with details of the stands, the cafe and the clubhouse but I will just point out that the club have a club shop that looks like a Ghetto Blaster!
Admission was tonight’s game was £5, which was lower than the £7 I’d paid to watch The Old Gold play Bala Town earlier this month at the ground. A match day programme set me back a further £2 but to be fair to the club as I’d learned earlier this month the Old Gold’s programme offering is a very in-depth 48 page publication.
I was pleased to instantly find a few familiar faces at the ground on my arrival at the turnstiles. Craig Morgan (The voice of Ponty Town’s online match commentary) and his wife Amanda (A club cafe legend), club secretary Rob and club chairman Phil who all say their ‘Hello’s’ as I get there.
Watching the Pontypridd side warm up on the Richmond Park surface under the floodlights gives you some kind of idea of the scale of the task ahead of the Dragons this evening.
The Dragons outwitted a classy Taff’s Well side three weeks ago in the first round of the competition with a mixture of clinical striking, resolute defending and a superb performance from shot stopper Ryan Griffiths, in the end fully deserving their passage through to tonight’s tie.
It’s clear that for Pontypridd to progress beyond tonight’s tie they would’ve needed to go even further to knock out an effective and solid Carmarthen Town side.
Carmarthen Town have had a very mixed season so far this campaign. As I alluded to earlier, I’ve already seen them once this season put in a dogged performance against a strong Bala Town side. This was a game The Old Gold would have been disappointed to have drawn at the end of the game as they had more than one or two real chances to seal the game.
Their passage to the second round was a tough one, finally coming through a 5-5 draw with Briton Ferry Llansawel and winning on penalties.
A Carmarthen Town side which only a couple of absentees from the side that started the aforementioned Bala Town game took to the pitch, albeit with only one outfield named substitute. Pontypridd Town suffered a similar fate with only four named substitutes on the bench following a couple of late injuries and absences due to work commitments.
One of the most notable absences for Pontypridd Town came in the form of Welsh League top goalscorer Luke Gullick, whose ten goals this season has thrown The Dragons into the promotion places of Welsh League Division Three this season.
Gullick picked up a knock very late on in his preparations and was forced to withdraw from the squad the night before. His absence would of course be duly noted, being a sharp poacher as he is, his absence would be greatly noted in a game where Ponty Town were likely to need to make the most of the chances they got in the game.
Against all odds, Pontypridd Town actually started the game the better of the two sides. The Dragons forced Carmarthen keeper Lee Idzi to make a good save straight from the kick off when a neat piece of play between Danny Hooper and Zac Iheanacho lead to Matthew Hibbs picking up the ball and hitting a long range effort at Idzi’s goal only for the Carmarthen shot stopper to save comfortably.
In the fourth minute of the game Ponty midfielders Rhys McCarthy, looking so composed with the ball at his feet shuffled past a duo of Carmarthen defenders and hit a lovely pass to Matthew Hibbs who ran at pace into the box and fired a shot past the sprawling Lee Idzi into the goal to give Pontypridd Town a somewhat unlikely 1-0 lead in this tie and in the process set Twitter’s Welsh football fraternity into meltdown.
It was clear that Carmarthen Town would attack strongly in search for the equaliser and Mark Aizlewood’s men were unlucky not to level affairs after ten minutes when Rhodri Morgan picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and fired a decent effort a yard or so wide of the far post which looked to have beat Ryan Griffiths in the Ponty goal.
This game was certainly not a case of one-way traffic. In fact, Pontypridd Town came tantalisingly close to doubling their advantage on 14 minutes when a long ball fell to Mikey Thomas, on his own up just outside the box, who did a great job in holding the ball up awaiting reinforcements. Thomas was able to neatly pass the ball a few yards back to oncoming defender Scott Hillman who tested Idzi with a thirty yard effort that only marginally flew over the cross bar.
Carmarthen Town got their equaliser on the quarter of an hour mark when a defence splitting pass from Rhodri Morgan was met by striker Liam Thomas who hit a testing shot across the floor that just about alluded Ponty keeper Ryan Griffiths.
With the lead taken from The Dragons arguably against the run of play at the time you would have forgiven the Pontypridd Town side for feeling a little sorry for themselves but they immediately took the game to their opponents from the restart.
They were almost immediately rewarded when Mikey Thomas found space down the right wing and made his way into the box, ghosting past his marker. With the angle a little too tight for Thomas to make a decent effort on goal, Thomas hit a superb pass right into the six yard box for striker Matthew Hibbs to chase.
Carmarthen defender Luke Prosser stuck out his foot as the cross looked destined for Hibbs on the far post and in one of those moments where you think to yourself ‘This is either going to be an own goal or an absolutely sublime save by the goalkeeper’, Prosser was unfortunate to get a touch and guide the ball past Idzi who was helpless in goal.
With a 2-1 lead, Pontypridd Town grew in confidence and rode out a period of about twenty minutes or so with very little threat on their goal. A lot of their calm play coming from midfielder Rhys McCarthy, a very relaxed fellow who epitomises coolness and calmness on the pitch.
It took 36 minutes for Carmarthen Town to threaten the Ponty goal, but once they did the onslaught began.
Rhodri Morgan made a mazey run down the left wing beating his marker Zac Iheanacho and hitting a testing cross into the box for goalscorer Liam Thomas who could only look on in horror as his header evaded all of the defence and keeper Ryan Griffiths but cannoned back off the cross bar and was booted into touch by a Dragons defender.
As the referee blew the whistle to mark the half time interval, Carmarthen Town manager Mark Aizlewood and his side cut forlorn figures as they walked across the Richmond Park surface. Perhaps a little bemused by the 45 minutes that they’d just witnessed. It was clear for everyone present at Richmond Park that none of this was written in the script.
The following from Pontypridd gathered in the stand and we struggled to come to terms with what we had witnessed out on the pitch. Carmarthen Town who as recent as the 2013/14 season finished third in the WPL were not only being matched toe to toe by plucky little Pontypridd Town, they were actually losing to them.
We spoke of horrific scenarios that potentially laid ahead of us all.
“I bet they’ll go and score two goals in the 89th minute now, you watch!” Someone quipped.
The reality was that squad fitness was also going to be an issue. A side like Pontypridd Town live in a world where work and family commitments simply have to come first, getting every single player to training is a logistical challenge in itself.
Carmarthen Town with their increased fitness levels would always have the upper hand as the game drew to a close. I realise how cocky such a sentence may sound, but this was certainly going to be a game where Pontypridd Town needed a third goal to seal the game.
Carmarthen Town emerged first from the changing rooms for the second half. I’ve been in the scenario countless times when I still played the game. You go in to the changing rooms absolutely dreading the ‘bollocking’ you’re going to get from the manager.
Some of the really good managers are those who can spend the first half of the interval stripping paint off the changing room walls and then spend the next half of the interval getting the adrenaline pumping through every players veins to point where they’re willing to run through the changing room walls for you.
Matthew Hibbs of Pontypridd Town had the first real chance of the second half. He picked up the ball just outside of the box from a misdirected pass and hit a weak volley goalwards. Despite being somewhat of a tame effort the shot actually forced Lee Idzi to scramble to his knees quickly, just about stopping the ball in time.
James Hill made a further positive move two minutes later when he made a dangerous run towards goal, unfortunately Luke Prosser was able to show him away from goal just before he unleashed a cross into the box for the waiting Matthew Hibbs.
Carmarthen Town, perhaps realising that unless they upped the pace they faced being potentially dumped out of the tournament by the lowest ranked team remaining in the contest, started to play the ball around the Ponty Town half with pace.
This urgency resulted in a lovely piece of play by Jeff White in which he beat his marker and unleashed a shot that for all intents and purposes would have probably beaten 9 out of 10 goalkeepers. Luckily for The Dragons, Ryan Griffiths pulled off a magnificent save that drew applause from even the Carmarthen fans assembled in the ground.
“I’d sign him up in a second, that keeper” One elderly gent pointed out to his next seat neighbour.
As the half grew older it became clear that Carmarthen Town were not slowing down, every player seemed to be still picking up loose balls and sprinting off in the opposite direction and although Pontypridd Town were defending resolutely at this point there was a fear that Ryan Griffith’s goal would be impeded sooner rather than later.
Carmarthen Town’s equaliser came in the 64th minute when striker Lewis Harling picked up the ball 25 yards out from goal and moved in from the left channel and hit a powerful grass cutting effort which Griffiths made a valiant attempt to save but was just a split second away from palming the ball away.
At this point, mid-way through the second half, it was clear that it would take nothing short of a superb Pontypridd Town performance across all areas of the pitch to take anything from this game.
The Dragons didn’t park the bus however and took the game to The Old Gold. James Hill in particular seemed to be getting a lot of joy down the left channel as his marker gave him a yard or two of space which he exposed on numerous occasions.
Pontypridd Town were denied a penalty with twenty minutes of the game to go when defender Ilias Doumas went down under what looked like a Carmarthen Town defender’s elbow. The subsequent cut required a couple of minutes of treatment on the sideline before he returned with a ‘Terry Butcher-esque’ bandage adorning his forehead.
Carmarthen Town weren’t without their refereeing grievances either as they were denied what looked like a penalty in the 88th minute. Unfortunately for you readers, I didn’t see which Carmarthen player was brought down, or even which Ponty Town player brought him down. After all, you don’t come here for spectacularly accurate match reports do you? You come here for my irreverent reviews of Wetherspoon pubs all over Wales and if a football match happens at the end, it’s a bit of a bonus isn’t it?
The fourth official took his time in showing us the amount of added time this encounter would require. Eventually, four minutes of time was added onto the game. Four minutes in which both sides had chances to seal their passage into the next round.
Carmarthen Town firstly were unlucky not to seal the win with a brilliant close range header from Mark Jones who must have wondered what more he could do to get the ball past Ryan Griffiths in goal, who for what must have been the fourth time this half – pulled off a Gordon Banks-lite save which kept his side in the Word Cup.
Danny Hooper of Pontypridd Town, who has shown on more than one occasion this season the danger of his left foot at a set piece was unlucky to see his free kick down the other end go an inch or so wide of the far post.
Ilias Doumas stood like a rock at the centre of the Pontypridd Town defence, despite cutting his head open in a bloody fashion only twenty minutes earlier Doumas was still heading every single ball booted from Lee Idzi’s foot and still challenging every single headed 50/50 ball.
The final chance for Carmarthen Town came in what must have been the 96th minute of the game when Kyle Bassett rounded Ryan Griffiths on the edge of the box only for defender Scott Hillman to block his shot on the six yard line.
Moments later the referee brought normal time to a close and both sides faced a gruelling extra thirty minutes to settle the tie.
The affect the 90 minutes had taken on some of the players was clear to see from the stands as players from both sides fell to the floor on the final whistle. Some of them, in particular several of the Carmarthen Town side were suffering cramp whilst the likes of Ilias Doumas took a breather on the floor simply to stop the world from spinning following his earlier head injury.
As the game moved in extra-time, Carmarthen Town seemed to find an extra gear they could move into whilst their opponents found their energy sapping quickly, especially when considering the high pace of the previous 90 minutes.
Earlier goalscorer Lewis Harling hit a lovely headed effort goalwards only to again come unstuck by another brilliant Ryan Griffiths save in the 96th minute.
With all of their outfield substitutes used and some of their players really starting to struggle with cramps and muscle issues it looked like Carmarthen may have needed to close out the game with 10 players on 101 minutes as Jeff White looked to over-extend himself going into a tackle and went down in a heap on the floor.
White took a few minutes to regain his composure as he struggled with his hamstring.
A minute before half time the flood gates finally opened for Carmarthen as they took the lead for the first time in the cup tie with a goal from Lewis Harling. Harling connected with a deep cross hit into the box, he connected cleanly with the ball and hit a powerful effort past Ryan Griffiths. Such was the power behind the shot that even though Griffiths got a firm hand on the ball he was unable to stop his side from going behind.
Pontypridd Town had just about enough time to throw the ball forward for substitute Andy Coleman to pick up the ball twenty-five yards out from goal and hit a phenomenal volleyed effort past Lee Idzi. Unfortunately for The Dragons his effort was ruled off as Coleman was judged to be a yard or so when the ball was dispatched to him.
The final action of note in the game came with nine minutes of the second half of extra time left to play when Danny Thomas hit a superb lobbed effort directly into the top right corner giving Pontypridd Town keeper Ryan Griffiths little chance.
The game ebbed out in the closing minutes as Pontypridd Town pushed forward in an attempt to reduce the deficit and give themselves a glimmer of hope going into the last few seconds of the game.
As the referee blew the final whistle, several Carmarthen Town fans gathered near the changing room entrance to applaud their visitors off the field, they had after all come to a Welsh Premier League ground and more than matched their opponents. In a real league encounter, Pontypridd Town would have been more than deserving recipients of their point from an away draw against a very strong Carmarthen Town side.
Carmarthen Town will go into Thursday afternoon’s draw for the third round knowing they underwent quite a scare for large period of their second round encounter. Perhaps this is the kick they need to get their mixed season started on the right foot?
Pontypridd Town certainly did themselves proud this evening and their escapades in the FAW Word Cup so far have certainly grabbed the imagination of the Welsh domestic footballing public. They can be very proud that they took a very strong Welsh Premier League side to within fifteen minutes of the lottery of penalty kicks.
If Pontypridd Town can produce performances like this on a regular basis then they must surely be hot favourites to be promoted to Welsh League Division Two come the Spring of next year?
This game reminded me of a similar match I watched (and you probably did too) several years ago, the 2012 Carling Cup Final between Cardiff City and Liverpool.
This game took almost exactly the same format as the Carling Cup Final. A plucky set of determined underdogs going up against Premier League giants who were massive favourites.
The underdogs took an early lead in the tie and defended resolutely before being pinned back by the favourites. The underdogs hung on by the skin of their teeth at times but took Liverpool to penalty kicks.
Liverpool had something like 75% of the possession in the second half. Only a single Kenny Miller shot in the 88th minute threatened Liverpool in the second half but the Bluebirds continued to defend resolutely, Tom Heaton pulled off some marvellous saves and at times Cardiff City rode their luck.
However despite all of their dominance, I can’t remember a single person ever saying that Liverpool were the better team on the day. Everyone seemed to be in the same frame of mind that despite Liverpool’s dominance Cardiff City were indeed the better side on the day.
This is the best way I can describe how I felt about this game. Carmarthen Town had the more chances in the game, they had a lot more possession and without a keeper like Ryan Griffiths in goal for Ponty Town, Carmarthen might have gone on in to win the game comfortably in normal time, but they didn’t and for pretty much every Carmarthen Town attack Pontypridd Town had an answer. The fact that Ryan Griffiths only really made a handful of saves (noted: every save was unreal) in the game tells you how great the Dragons defence performed.
Sides like Bala Town have come to Richmond Park recently and struggled to even get shots on goal against Carmarthen Town so for a Welsh League Division Three side to come here and score two goals in the opening fifteen minutes is a real credit to Damien Broad’s side.
The 90 minute journey was broken up by listening in to a TalkSport debate on English clubs poor performance in the Champions League before calling in to Talbot Green Tesco to pick up a packet of Jaffa Cakes (oh, nothing but the high life here in Porth!)
On my arrival home I started to read the match day programme I’d bought a few hours earlier only to find that Carmarthen Town had actually published excerpts of an earlier blog entry I wrote about teams from the south of the country not really fancying promotion to the Welsh Premier League.
I was kind of gutted to only see the article when I arrived home, if I’d seen it while at the ground I would’ve hunted out whoever was responsible for getting the article in there and giving the blog a shout out and firmly shook their hand for helping spread the word.
I’d like to thank both sides for their hospitality, kindness and ongoing friendship and wish you both the very best of luck for the rest of the season. The very best as well to Carmarthen Town in the next round of the FAW Word Cup.
My Man of the Match: There were a handful of superb performances on both sides but on an occasion like this it’s only really right to award such a dubious accolade to a Pontypridd Town player. Every single player did themselves proud out there, Ryan Griffiths, Matthew Hibbs and Scott Hillman in particular performed excellently but for all of his bravery and the fact I don’t think I saw him put a foot wrong all game, Ilias Doumas just about takes it for me. A superb performance from a great defender. If the referee’s only knew half of what he shouts at them in Greek he’d probably be banned for the rest of his life! Superb player though!