Friday 9th October.
Ton Pentre 1-1 Monmouth Town.
Welsh League Division One.
Ynys Park, Ton Pentre.
Attendance: Circa 80.
I’ve often written on this blog that there is little better than a night game at Ynys Park, home of Rhondda based Welsh League Division One side Ton Pentre.
So earlier in the week when both clubs announced that they were bringing their weekend fixture forward to the Friday evening, it was met with delight in my household.
Ton Pentre, like a handful of clubs in the Welsh League are big proponents of the Friday evening game and it makes a lot of sense why more and more clubs are deciding to schedule some matches on Friday evenings when rugby and football internationals are involved.
Saturday attendances in the Welsh League are often affected when the Welsh rugby team play on the same day and this weekend is no different with Wales meeting Australia in the final pool game of the Rugby World Cup.
There’s also the little matter of Wales’ crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against Bosnia Herzegovina to deal with as well.
Another advantage of Ynys Park is that it is located a mere ten minute drive from my home in Porth which brings the novelty of being able to leave my house at 7.10pm for a 7.30pm kick off.
Both of tonight’s side have something of a rich heritage in Welsh football. Monmouth Town won the Welsh League in the 2013/14 season and are always talked of as being a potential title threat year after year however their season has certainly got off to something of a stuttering start.
Monmouth currently sit 11th in the league, a point above the relegation spots with just two wins from their first eight games.
Ton Pentre on the other hand have had a slightly better campaign, sitting in 4th position and looking a more improved outfit this year. After losing a couple of players during pre-season, including superb shot stopper Neil Collins (who left for fellow Division One outfit Goytre United) I was interested to see what kind of start to the season they’d have and whether the missing players would have a negative affect on their season.
As I made my way into Ynys Park, paying my £5 admission as I went through the gate I got speaking to a couple of Ton fans I’d come to know from previous games, of course I don’t know them well enough to know their names and it has got to the stage where to ask their names now would be too awkward.
“I don’t fancy our chances today if I’m being totally honest. We’re missing about five or six lads through injury” the elder of the two gents tells me.
“It might be a step too far for some of the younger boys” his mate chips in.
You see, there’s something happening at Ton Pentre. There’s definitely something rumbling under the belly of the club. They’ve recently adopted a fan ownership model, their supporters group the ‘1896 Bulldogs’ are taking positive steps to improve attendances and the atmosphere at home games and since the turn of the year the side have been one of the better teams in the Welsh League.
The Bulldogs played host to WPL outfit Port Talbot Town a fortnight ago as part of The FAW Word Cup competition, something which brought a quite large crowd to Ynys Park and it’s clear from speaking to guys behind the scenes at the club that welcoming clubs of the stature of Port Talbot Town to Ynys Park on a regular basis is something the club definitely want to do sooner rather than later.
So to tonight’s affair. Unfortunately, some of the usual characters at Ynys Park whom I usually get hold of starting lineups from just happened to find themselves having a whale of a time in Bosnia. Which means, especially since a large chunk of Ton Pentre’s usual starting lineup were absent through injury, that I’m forced to resort to doing a ‘No.7 hit a cracking shot’ type of blog.
If anyone from either club recognises themselves in the blog or has access to a teamsheet, please feel free to pass it on and I’d be happy to update it.
Taking up my position on the half way line, perched on a loose stone left from the demolition of the stand that used to run the length of the pitch (I’m 5ft 9, I’ll take any advantage I can to get a better view of things!) the match started at a somewhat ferocious pace.
Ton Pentre took the lead in the game ten minutes in when a lovely piece of link up play between Ton’s No.7 and 8 lead to Ton’s No.7 making a brilliant run deep into the Monmouth box and hitting a great pass across the box to Ton’s No.8 who fired home from 12 yards to give The Bulldogs a 1-0 lead early on.
Ton Pentre were unlucky not to double their advantage on the quarter of an hour mark when they broke away quickly after a Monmouth Town attack that broke down and Ton’s No.9 found himself just outside of the box looking down on the goalkeeper. He skillfully rounded the Monmouth stopper but a defender sprinted back and recovered in time to block the shot on the goal line.
Midway through the first half, despite possession being shared equally between both sides it seemed chances were only really falling to Ton Pentre who would certainly need a second goal in this game if they were to take all three points in this encounter.
The Bulldogs almost got that second goal in the 24th minute when captain Thomas Davies headed against the bar after meeting with a looping corner kick. Unfortunately for Davies, the referee blew the whistle a split second before he connected with the ball for an infringement in the box.
The first real chance of note for Monmouth Town came in the 32nd minute when the aforementioned Ton Pentre captain Thomas Davies gave away a free kick in a dangerous area a couple of yards outside of the box.
Unfortunately for Monmouth Town, their No.10 was only able to hit the ball well over the cross bar – a shot which was met with derision by the Monmouth bench who stood looking on in amazement as their side struggled to hit the target.
The biggest problem for Monmouth Town in the first half came in the shape of their passing play in the Ton half. It just seemed that as soon as their full backs crossed the half way line all passing prowess for the Monmouth side seemed to break down.
The last action of note came in the 44th minute when Thomas Davies found himself down on the ground with a head injury. Luckily for Davies he appeared fine to carry on but it did draw one of the more comic moments of my year when the Ton Pentre physio hobbled onto the pitch, he himself injured.
As the half time whistle blew I finally got to meet Ceri Jones, chairman of Ton Pentre who I’d previously spoken to at length on Twitter and Facebook about the club, the blog and everything in between.
Ceri’s a great guy, one of many characters I’ve met this year that exude nothing but passion and love for the club they represent and I’m chuffed to find that aside from ‘getting’ the blog he’s actually something of a regular reader in that he quotes things from the blog that didn’t come up in Ton Pentre matches.
Ceri invited me up to the boardroom for a coffee during the second half but I’m embarrassed to say that the match was so intense during the second half that I found myself glued to the action on the touchline completely forgetting the offer – so for that Ceri, I apologise – next time I promise I will.
The old ‘half-time bollocking’ saying is something of a cliched term in football but I’ve seen so many occasions this year where a side comes out for the second half a couple of minutes earlier than their opponents, standing rigid in a 4-4-2 formation on the pitch without muttering so much as a word to each other. When this happens you know you’re in for a game in the following 45 minutes.
Almost immediately following the restart Monmouth Town’s passing play flows together as it should have done from the start. They begin playing some lovely, attractive passing football, passing themselves out of trouble from the back and building up some promising moves down the channels.
Five minutes into the second half Monmouth Town were unlucky not to restore parity in the game when their No.9 picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and hit a furious effort with his left foot which beat the Ton Pentre goalkeeper but cannoned back off the cross bar and was booted into safety by Thomas Davies.
At this point I started speaking to two guys from Merthyr Tydfil, who had found their way here much in the same way I tend to do so – checking the Welsh League website and picking a game to attend.
We spoke for about quarter of an hour, great guys – both passionate Merthyr Town fans with a superb knowledge of the game in south Wales. They took great interest in what I was doing and passed on a few recommendations of grounds to visit, which is always great.
Monmouth Town continued to push forward and although they played a lot more football in the Ton half since the restart, they had still not really troubled the Ton Pentre goalkeeper. That is until the 73rd minute when Monmouth Town were awarded a needless penalty.
I say needless because the penalty surprised most of us in the ground. A Monmouth Town attacker picked up the ball on the right hand side, just inside the penalty area, facing away from goal. Such was the lack of danger that myself and several Ton fans around me actually turned away from the action. Whilst we did, a Ton defender sprinted in and took the Monmouth striker down just inside the box.
Gifted a golden opportunity to restore parity in the game, Monmouth’s No.7 stepped up to the spot and sent the Ton goalkeeper the wrong way, giving neutral supporters like myself and the two guys from Merthyr something of a treat in the closing quarter of an hour.
From here on in the action was frantic. Just as Monmouth Town looked to be turning the screw and enforcing their dominance on the game their attack would break down and Ton Pentre would counter attack down the other end, go inches away from sealing a winner before Monmouth sprinted off down the other half and did the same. This continued long into injury time!
Monmouth Town brought on a substitute in the form of their No.15, who made a big difference to the game, helping the ball stick up front and improving passing play throughout the Monmouth side. The aforementioned No.15 hit a beautiful cross deep into the penalty area that looked destined for the forehead of Monmouth’s No.9 who would have surely sealed the three points had he connected, only for Ton’s No.2 to bravely put his body on the line and make a split second intervention.
From the resulting corner, Monmouth’s No.9 hit a testing corner kick that was met by the unmarked No.3 who headed just inches over the bar, leaving the Ton Pentre goalkeeper firmly rooted on the goal line.
Monmouth went close to sealing a victory again on 84 minutes when a loose ball in the air was met by their No.11, his headed effort left the flailing Ton goalkeeper beaten only for Ton’s No.6 to stop his effort on the goal line.
After Monmouth Town went close on three occasions in as many minutes it took a determined run from Ton Pentre wide man Leon Jacka, who picked up the ball deep in the Ton Pentre half and went on a superb run, knocking the ball around Monmouth Town’s No.3 only for another defender to boot the ball well into touch and out of the ground.
In the final minute of normal time, Ton Pentre’s last chance to seal victory came when their No.2 dispatched a quite unbelievable long pass from his own penalty area to the feet of his No.9 deep in the Monmouth half. With only the goalkeeper left to beat, the Ton striker unfortunately opted for power and hit his shot well over the crossbar and even the stand behind the goal whereas a slight placed effort would have probably gone in.
Minutes later the referee brought this entertaining encounter to a close, allowing players and supporters alike a break from the ferocious action of the second half and both sides had to make do with a share of the spoils on offer.
Monmouth Town are a decent side and although at present they may lack a little of what made them win the Welsh League two years ago I believe they’re not that far away from playing the kind of football that won them the league.
Ton Pentre are clearly a side on the up and when taking into the account the amount of players that spent this evening on the treatment table then they will certainly be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. Don’t be too surprised if this side turn a few heads come April!
My Man of the Match: He came out of the match battered, bruised and probably injured but he commanded his side excellently throughout the whole 90 minutes and barely put a foot wrong all game. This dubious accolade, on this occasion, has to go to Ton Pentre’s Thomas Davies.