Wednesday 14th October.
Pontypridd Town 1-2 Bridgend Street
Welsh League Division Three.
Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd.
Attendance: Circa 60.
There comes a time in every football season when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, the rock meets hard the place – put simply, two teams at the top of the league meet each other.
Tonight’s visitors to Ynysangharad Park come in the form of Cardiff’s own confusingly-at-first named Bridgend Street, a side hailing from the area of the capital surrounding the steelworks.
Bridgend Street have started their Welsh League Division Three season in fine form, second only to early pace setters Caerau. ‘The Mish’ as they are more affectionately known amongst their followers have amassed an impressive six wins from eight games going into this evening’s game and have won plaudits from all corners of the Welsh League for their attractive, passing game.
Pontypridd Town are a side who have been covered many times on this blog, helped greatly by the fact I hold a season ticket at the club. I’m the first to admit that my blog entries involving The Dragons tend to be a little biased.
Actually, I wouldn’t say biased. I try and be as fair and as impartial as I possibly can when writing these blogs, I do hope that comes over when reading them?
I certainly go into every game, like any other supporter of a football team does, hoping that the side I support utterly trounce their opponents but I do always try and write a fair blog.
With no other games in the Welsh League this evening, due to both sides needing to play this fixture as one of their games in hand, tonight’s teams knew that a victory would send them to the top of Division Three until at least the weekend.
The fact that there were no other games in the Welsh League this evening meant that Ynysangharad Park was a little busier than usual with a good number of interested neutrals, predominantly representatives from other clubs and a healthy smattering of Bridgend Street supporters joined the usual Ponty Park crowd.
With a 7.15pm kick off, I arrived at Ponty Park in my at about 6.50pm. I try and pick up a match day programme whenever I visit the ground and especially wanted one this evening as I’ve been doing a monthly column in Pontypridd Town’s programme, specifically giving a ‘fan’s view’ of recent fixtures.
Arriving at Ynysangharad Park with merely pennies in my pocket I took a brief five minute walk across the cricket pitch, over what is lovingly known by locals as ‘Marks and Spencer Bridge’ back into town and taking out some cash from the nearest cashpoint for a match day programme and a couple of coffees during the match.
As someone who has lived so relatively close to Ponty Park for most of my life I made a grave error that I’ll never forgive myself for, for years to come.
My entrance back into the park was blocked by twenty foot high gates that were apparently double padlocked and shut tight when only seconds earlier I had walked through them unchallenged.
I’d failed to remember that all pedestrian entrances, bar one, close at Ponty Park in the Autumn months at 7pm!
You don’t need to tell me, I felt like a dick. Locked out of the park, fifteen minutes to kick off, my car parked up neatly in the car park next to the ground.
The only possible ways into the park came in two forms:
- The legitimate bona-fide entrance to the park next to The Maltsters Arms pub and the Health Centre. A probably fifteen minute walk away, which would leave me probably seconds to kick off.
- A generally quite dangerous and foolish way that involves climbing over a fence, scrambling down marshland, negotiating a lovely area of town lovingly named ‘graffiti bridge’ before walking into the ground the wrong way and walking back out of the ground to collect my camera from the boot of my car before awkwardly walking back into the ground past Lyndon the ticket seller and picking up a program. This journey was likely to take ten minutes.
Needless to say, I got there in ten minutes after a bit of gymnastic dexterity. Luckily my Adidas Sambas that were nearly killed at a previous Pontypridd Town game were safely locked up in my house.
After picking up my camera bag I had time for a quick chat with Lyndon before making my apologies and running off to grab a quick coffee before kick off.
It was clear from the outset that Bridgend Street were going to present something of a challenge for their high-flying rivals this evening. They entered the pitch looking determined, full of energy and a superbly held minute’s silence for a friend of the club who tragically passed away recently, held by both teams and supporters, only seemed to inject further energy and passion into their game.
The first chance of the game fell to Bridgend Street’s Shaun McCarthy in the 7th minute as he hit a testing long range effort from all of thirty yards out that forced Pontypridd Town stopper Ryan Griffiths to scramble to his feet to tap the shot away to safety.
For the first half hour the game was largely a tactical battle played out in midfield. Both sides enjoyed periods on the ball with the home side enjoying perhaps a fraction more of the ball.
Bridgend Street took the lead in the 36th minute with a well worked goal from Ryan McHugh. Liam Jeremy took advantage of a Pontypridd defensive mix up and set up Ryan McHugh who tapped home from close range to give his side the all important lead in this top of the table clash.
This goal ignited the fire that set the pace for the rest of the game as both sides began going at each other furiously, Pontypridd Town looking to make amends for a goal they’d be disappointed to concede.
Pontypridd Town have been in fine form this season and have an impressive strike force in top goalscorer Luke Gullick and his partner Matthew Hibbs who can’t be that far behind him on the goal count. The Dragons were always going to get a chance to level in this game and they did so deep into first half injury time.
A pin-perfect defence splitting pass was relayed by Dominic Broad and picked up by striker Luke Gullick on the edge of the box who ran at Bridgend Street goalkeeper Damien Lack at pace before slotting the ball past him and into the net to level the scores merely seconds before the referee put the whistle to his mouth.
During half time I took the time to chat with a good friend Danny Glorieux, a man well known in Welsh League circles. I first met him during his time as Club Secretary at Pontypridd Town. Danny recently moved on to a role as Secretary at Gwent based Division Two side Llanwern who happen to be a lot closer to his home.
It’s always good to bump into Danny and his daughter Becca who are regular fixtures at games all over south Wales.
Danny jests that he currently has four ex-Pontypridd Town players on his books at the moment and is here on a ‘scouting mission’.
I just about have enough time to explain the story of how I made my way into the ground, making it of course sound far more risky and dangerous and generally giving the impression that my journey was something that Bear Grylls himself wouldn’t even risk doing.
As the sides emerged for the second half it looked initially like Pontypridd Town were going to be the side to really kick on in the second half and possibly go on to win the game. This appeared to be the case almost immediately following kick off The Dragons attacked and came within inches of taking the lead through a Tom Rutherford header.
Rutherford has made a welcome return to Ynysangharad Park recently, having departed for a brief sojourn with Division One outfit Penybont in the Summer.
Despite Pontypridd Town’s energetic start to the second half it was in fact Bridgend Street who took the lead in the 48th minute with a superb goal from Anthony Burnett who rose well at a corner kick and hit a quite brilliant header that bounced a yard or so in front of the goal line and left goalkeeper Ryan Griffiths with no chance of stopping his shot.
The Bridgend Street players united with the throng of support behind their dugout in jubilant scenes as they appeared to be inching their way closer to the helm of Division Three.
Pontypridd Town pushed forward in search of another equaliser and were gifted a good opportunity in the 54th minute when they broke free in a counter attack movement. Matthew Hibbs ran with the ball at pace whilst two of his colleagues flooded the box. Hibbs was probably best placed to pass to one of his colleagues in the box but he took aim and fired himself and hit the ball a yard or so over the cross bar.
Four minutes later The Dragons were awarded a free kick forty yards from goal. Usually the reserve of dead ball specialist Danny Hooper, defender Scott Hillman took it upon himself to fire a delicious pass deep into the box which was met by the head of Mikey Thomas who knocked the ball on to Matthew Hibbs who furiously rattled the cross bar from twelve yards with an effort that beat Damien Lack in goals, only to be frustrated watching his effort come back into play off the woodwork.
Such was the end to end nature of the second half that Bridgend Street found themselves going close as often, if not more than their opponents. One such example came in the 63rd minute when Robert Fowler (am I the only one who has to ever double check that name?) hit a stupendous effort from the edge of the box that stretched Griffiths in goal for Pontypridd Town and required one of his trademark gymnastic efforts to keep The Dragons in the game.
Almost immediately down the other end, a deep lobbed cross from Matthew Hibbs was met by Tom Rutherford who volleyed across goal to see his effort saved superbly by Damien Lack.
As the game started drawing to a close, Bridgend Street started to look more likely to score a third than Pontypridd Town were to scoring an equaliser. They defended superbly, played the ball through the midfield at pace and their strikers did a great job in making the ball stick to feet in the Pontypridd half.
There was a moment of concern in the 78th minute when Bridgend Street midfielder Anthony Burnett collapsed in a heap under an innocuous challenge. Such was the concern that Pontypridd Town striker Luke Gullick, perhaps with a prior knowledge of what to do in the scenario of a potential broken leg, sprinted to Burnett and stabilised his right leg whilst motioning for the physio to run onto the pitch.
It’s never good at this level when a player is seriously hurt and it’s never nice to see a tough man like Burnett literally howling in pain. It looked terrible for a couple of minutes as Burnett’s leg dangled in a precarious angle. Pontypridd Town’s physio sprinted onto the field to offer his assistance and there even mumblings that Burnettt may have needed breathing apparatus.
Luckily for all concerned after a couple of minutes of treatment Burnett was able to hobble to the touchline with the assistance of both his own physio and the Pontypridd Town physio. It certainly looked a lot worse for a few minutes.
The game never really got going again after this, Pontypridd Town hit the ball forward but found themselves more and more frustrated as the Bridgend Street defence always seemed to manage to get a head to the ball.
At this point I noticed Bridgend Street Club Secretary Alun in the stand so I made my way over to him and had a brief catch up. I’d met Alun earlier this year, in pre-season in fact, when I found myself watching a pre-season friendly of theirs at The Willows against Division Two outfit Pontardawe Town.
I’ve written in great depth about Alun previously so I won’t do a cover version here. I’ve always found Alun to be a brilliant guy with a superb passion for his club. Admittedly given we were now approaching the 88th minute of the game and with his side only a goal to the good he was a little tense as we spoke.
Alun had reason to be tense as well as a minute later Pontypridd Town had their best chance to level affairs. The ball falling to Matthew Hibbs inside the penalty area who hit a shot that would have probably beat 17 of the 18 goalkeepers in Division Three. Damien Lack however managed to pull off a quite superb one handed save.
The final action of note came in the 91st minute when Bridgend Street were gifted an opportunity to seal the three points by adding a third. Pontypridd Town’s defence found themselves outnumbered by four to two after a failed counter attack.
Bridgend Street substitute David Brooks unselfishly crossed the ball into the box for Nicky Davison who could only knock his headed effort onto the cross bar which was then picked up by the recovering Ryan Griffiths.
Six minutes of injury time were played out following Burnett’s earlier injury but neither side could summon any chances and the game was largely played out in the manner in which it started – a tactical battle in midfield.
As the referee blew the final whistle, the Bridgend Street players gathered in the centre of the pitch and celebrated with great aplomb. It was clear to see how much this victory and going top of the league meant to the side.
Pontypridd Town walked off looking disappointed after their first league defeat of the season. It was for The Dragons just one of those days. Had either of Matthew Hibb’s late efforts (one of which cannoned off the cross bar, the other stopped by a superb save) gone in then they’d be walking off the field with their unbeaten record in tact.
I took another opportunity to speak to Alun, who seemed a lot less tense following his side’s win. I told him The Street were certainly one of the, if not the best side I’ve seen come to Ynysangharad Park in a while and he seemed happy with that.
I watch a lot of football at this level and I’m convinced both of tonight’s sides will find themselves promoted come the end of the season. It’s purely just a matter of where in the top places these clubs will finish.
Bridgend Street will go forward with confidence, knowing they were able to come to the home ground of an unbeaten side and go away with all three points. If they can defeat Pontypridd Town at home then on their day The Street could probably give anyone in Division Three a run for their money.
Pontypridd Town went an impressive nine league games without a defeat. They lost 12 games out of 34 last year so to go to 9 games with only the one defeat on their record is an impressive feat and shows the massive amount of progress made at the club over the last year or so.
Perhaps unhelpfully for The Dragons is that their next game comes in the form of an away trip to Ely Rangers, who currently find themselves firmly rooted to the foot of Division Three staring relegation in the face. Whilst they might usually relish this type of game would it come too soon for Pontypridd Town following a hurtful defeat?
I’d like to wish the very best of luck for the rest of the season to both Pontypridd Town and Bridgend Street and all of both club’s officials and supporters. As I mentioned earlier, I’m convinced that both clubs will find themselves playing their football in Division Two next season and nothing I saw today has made my change my mind on that.
I also just want to briefly apologise for the length of time taken to write this blog entry. As I touch on in my ‘about me’ page, my job often gets in the way of my football addiction. I spent Thursday and Friday working long hours in Bristol before making my way to London at the start of the following week and have barely spent any time at home with my laptop since the night of the game.
In fact, I’m writing this blog entry on the 06.55 train from Cardiff Central to London Paddington as I make my way into the office!