Saturday 7th November (1.30pm)
Penybont 4-4 Pontypridd Town (Pontypridd Town win 4-3 on pens).
Nathaniel Car Sales Welsh League Cup 2nd Round.
Kymco Stadium, Bridgend.
Attendance: Circa 100.
A fortnight is a long time and a fortnight without football is an even longer time. It’s been the longest break from football I’ve had since the season ended in May.
I missed all of the football on offer over the Halloween weekend as my Wife and I went away for our first wedding anniversary (we actually married on 31st October 2014) and a busy work schedule splitting time between working at home in Porth and working from my London office meant I was unable to attend any midweek games.
The rain hit the south Wales valleys hard on Friday evening, it was clear to see when I stepped onto the platform at Porth station, returning from London, that very few games were actually going to be played this weekend.
I’d always planned to attend Penybont’s intriguing Welsh League Cup tie against Pontypridd Town at their relatively new 3G complex that was never really going to be under threat against the weather but as I checked Facebook and Twitter and saw a seemingly endless stream of photos of goalmouths under two feet of muddy water it soon became apparent that only a handful of games were going to make it.
It was clear on arriving at the Kymco that the attendance was up a little on what most of us were expecting, probably due in large part to the amount of curious spectators travelling from postponed matches all over south Wales.
The clubhouse looked very busy as did the main stand at the ground which was pretty much standing room only by the time I arrived.
It was great to see a good number of representatives from Pontypridd Town in the form of club chairman Phill Gibb, secretary Rob Pearce and assistant secretary Craig Morgan as well as players Zac Iheanacho, Ilias Doumas and several others supporting their side from the stand despite not being involved on the day.
Both of this afternoon’s clubs found their way into the second round of the Welsh League’s cup competition with impressive victories in the first round.
Penybont progressed after an emphatic 5-0 victory over fellow Division One outfit Cambrian & Clydach whilst Pontypridd Town performed something of a giant killing away at Division One side Garden Village with a 3-2 win after extra time.
Pontypridd Town have of course garnered a great deal of praise this season with their giant killing antics of the opening couple of months of the season. Victories against Division One sides Garden Village, Taff’s Well were followed by a Word Cup tie away at Carmarthen Town where The Dragons took the Welsh Premier League giants to extra time having lead The Old Gold twice in the 90 minutes.
Eventually Carmarthen Town’s fitness allowed them to finally trudge ahead in the second half of extra time, progressing to the quarter finals with a 4-2 victory but not without something of a scare from the plucky Welsh League Division Three outfit.
This afternoon’s sides actually met a month ago in the Welsh Cup at Pontypridd’s Ynysangharad Park ground, Penybont progressing with a 2-0 victory and you would’ve been forgiven for predicting a similar outcome to this afternoon’s tie given the gulf in league positions between both sides.
However there were a few interested onlookers on the Welsh League forums and Twitter predicting a Pontypridd Town victory given their recent form and Penybont’s somewhat mixed start to their Welsh League campaign (Penybont find themselves currently sitting in 7th place but were as recent as two games ago as low as 14th).
It was good (and quite a surprise) to see Damien Broad back on the Pontypridd Town bench after his ‘last game’ last week against Newport Civil Service.
Damien left for his new role at Manchester City last week but such is his perhaps crazy devotion for the club that he made the four hour trip to Bridgend from Manchester to assist his brother and new Pontypridd Town manager Dominic Broad.
He’s still registered at the club as a player and a manager and I jokingly checked with him whether he needed International Clearance to play a part in today’s game whilst he laughed.
Pontypridd Town were suffering something of an injury crisis today, meaning that Manager Dominic Broad and ex-Manager Damien Broad were actually named as substitutes on the Pontypridd bench this afternoon. However as I commented to Craig in the stands, there was probably a bigger chance of us two pulling on a shirt and making an appearance than there were of seeing both Broads on the pitch today.
The game started in a furious fashion with both sides attacking at pace and both wasting chances to take the lead. The best chance of the opening exchanges falling to Penybont’s Anthony Rawlings who headed powerfully from a good Adam Carpenter cross to head against the crossbar.
Five minutes later Pontypridd Town looked certain to take the lead when a defensive mix-up lead to James Hill running through on goal with no defenders to beat. Unfortunately for Pontypridd Town, Hill got himself in something of a muddle with his feet and couldn’t get a shot at goal.
In the 17th minute after a few minutes of dominance, Pontypridd Town attacked through striker Andy Coleman who ran through on goal to be met by the oncoming Penybont goalkeeper Jacob Lloyd who managed to both clatter Coleman clumsily and handle the ball outside of the penalty area.
Coleman laid on the ground for a few minutes whilst being treated. Penybont players did their best to slow down the referee in making his decision and the assembled Pontypridd throng in the stands stood up in amazement when the referee Ben Williams chose to only book Lloyd, suggesting that he awarded the free kick for a foul (and judged Lloyd not to be the last man) rather than the handball.
Up stepped right foot dead ball specialist Matthew Hibbs and left foot dead ball specialist Danny Hooper, both of whom have scored several unbelievable free kicks so far this season.
Matthew Hibbs took the kick and launched a quite spectacular effort that evaded the Penybont defence and left Jacob Lloyd with little chance of stopping his effort, putting The Dragons ahead with a deserving 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later on the half hour mark The Dragons doubled their lead with an almost exact replica goal. Matthew Hibbs took a free kick from almost the same spot as his earlier free kick, placing a ball deep into the box which looked to be going in of it’s own accord. Defender Scott Hillman popped up a yard or two from the goal line and made certain by popping his head onto the ball and running down the touchline to perform a superb gymnastic double somersault celebration, much in the style of the old Rob Earnshaw celebrations.
Two minutes later, Pontypridd stopper Ryan Griffiths performed yet another moment of brilliance by somehow keeping out an effort from two Penybont strikers in quick succession after a spot of pinball wizardry in the Pontypridd six yard box.
A minute before the half time interval Penybont were unlucky not to chalk up a goal when Josef Hopkins beat his marker Gianluca Palladino at the touchline and crossed for Richard Hodge who volleyed inches wide of the near post.
Pontypridd Town had a chance to seal the game in first half injury time when another defensive mix up in the Penybont back four lead to Andy Coleman running through on goal with bags of time and space and only the goalkeeper to beat.
It was one of those chances where if Coleman put his shot a yard or so to either side of Jacob Lloyd, he would have scored. Unfortunately, Coleman put his shot straight at Lloyd who saved well to keep his side in the game.
After a relatively poor first half and losing by two goals to a team who ply their trade two divisions lower than them, Penybont were always going to come out for the second half with renewed vigour after the traditional ‘half time bollocking’ that was surely delivered by manager Francis Ford and his team.
That quick start I predicted came in the 48th minute when a Pontypridd Town defensive error lead to a bit of a scramble in the box before Penybont substitute Marcus Griffiths popped up from nowhere to slot the ball home to the bottom right corner of the goal from twelve yards out to give his side some hope going into the second half.
On the hour mark the game was stopped for a couple of minutes when Pontypridd Town defender Matthew Escott, who at the best of times has a power left foot on him, delivered a clearance straight into the linesman’s face from five yards. It was unfortunate and of course completely unintentional but the linesman needed treatment from Pontypridd Town’s physio before continuing, albeit looking a little groggy for the first five minutes he was back on his feet.
The seemingly inevitable Penybont equaliser came midway through the second half when a lovely bit of creative play from the Penybont attack lead to the ball falling to striker Richard Hodge who hit a powerful rasping effort along the floor that beat Pontypridd keeper Griffiths before cannoning into the back of the net off the far post to put his side level on the day.
Given that they held the game so clinically at half time and that they almost went into the interval with a three goal cushion, the Pontypridd players would be forgiven for feeling a little sorry for themselves as the tide seemed to turn but the players seemed to do the exact opposite following Penybont’s second goal. After being somewhat ‘on the ropes’ for the opening stages of the second half, Pontypridd Town actually started attacking and playing the ball behind the defensive line again, a tactic which saw them gain so much joy down the left wing in the first half.
Changes were made to both sides. Penybont threw men forward in pursuit of a winning goal whilst Pontypridd Town were made to patch themselves up following some injuries. Alex Williams left the field to be replaced by Matthew Escott, creative attacking player Owain Morgan was asked to fill in at right back after an injury to usual starter Gianluca Palladino.
In the 71st minute Pontypridd Town striker James Hill found himself thirty yards out from goal surrounded by Penybont defenders with no team mates near him. With little else to do, Hill hit a sublime effort with his left foot into the top left corner of the goal leaving Jacob Lloyd with no chance of saving his effort despite a valiant effort.
The Pontypridd Town gathering in the stand rose to their feet in celebration whilst James Hill found himself being mobbed by every one of his team mates bar goalkeeper Ryan Griffiths who started his own celebrations on the goal line. The victory that seemed so certain at half time and yet so far away only five minutes earlier was back on the cards again.
Pontypridd Town defended resolutely as they held tight against waves of Penybont attack. The returning Scott Hillman, once a player at Penybont, did a superb job of shoring up his defensive line issuing instructions to makeshift right back Owain Morgan who did a superb job in quite an unfamiliar position against players at least ten years older and five stone heavier than himself.
As the game drew to a close, Penybont threw the kitchen sink at Pontypridd Town, coming agonisingly close in the 85th minute after a quickly taken free kick and a close range shot from Adam Carpenter missing the near post by what must have been a pixel’s depth.
Three minutes from time, a long deep cross by Josef Hopkins almost caught Ryan Griffiths out as the low sun shining down on Bryntirion Park looked to have caught him out as he reached for the ball on the goal line. Luckily for Griffiths whilst most of this body was behind the goal line, the ball and his hands certainly were not.
A minute or so later, Pontypridd Town looked to have sealed the win for the second time when a superb through pass from Matthew Hibbs found Luke Gullick sprinting into the penalty area at pace. Gullick expertly slotted the ball around Lloyd, who looked to foul Gullick as he shot. The penalty wasn’t needed as Gullick’s effort ended up in the back of the net and celebrations were muted as both players laid on the ground requiring treatment.
And so the unpleasantness begins. I dislike using the blog to write about things like this and I debated even mentioning it at all.
I’ve seen countless unpleasant moments throughout the year. Players who’ve left a foot in at a challenge, managers who’ve acted up, defenders who’ve punched players at corner kicks and for the most part I’ve left a lot of this out as it sidetracks from the actual match and I try as hard as possible for the blog to be something of a pleasant read and not some kind of contentious talking point to be used as fodder on Welsh football forums when all I really want to do is go around grounds having a laugh and watching some football.
However, following Gullick’s goal to put Pontypridd Town 4-2 up, the Penybont bench seemed to take exception to the celebrations occurring on the Pontypridd Town bench. They weren’t goading anyone, from what I could see the Pontypridd Town management team and substitutes were just embracing each other and jumping up and down whilst doing so, after all it did look like they’d just defeated a side two leagues above them – a certain amount of celebration within their own technical area was surely allowed?
A Penybont supporter near the dugouts took exception to the celebrations and shouted something vocal and threw a coin at the Pontypridd bench. The Pontypridd Town bench called for the referee to have a word with the supporter, who refused to leave his spot and told the referee to control the managers and claimed to have done nothing.
Penybont manager Francis Ford stepped into the Pontypridd Town technical area and began hurling abuse at the Pontypridd Town management team, who to their defence were at this stage merely standing in their technical area asking the referee “Can you remove them from our technical area Ref?” The abuse continued for a good minute or so with the referee being very slow off the mark to control things.
The lowest point came when a Penybont player, who I won’t name because I didn’t actually see the players number and that tends to be how I know who most players are.
Anyway, said player went on at the Pontypridd management team about “It’s never your fault is it?” threatened to ‘knock out’ all of the Pontypridd Town management team before making reference to something they were involved with ‘years ago’ or something to that affect, mentioning again that “It’s never your fault is it?”. The player then asked the Pontypridd Town management to meet him on the second field next door to the 3G surface following the final whistle where he would proceed to ‘fucking kill them all’
A different player, again another player who I didn’t catch their number, then sadly saw it polite to hurl homophobic abuse at Pontypridd Town’s physio and dish out all manner of lewd homosexual based remarks based on his apparent belief of the physio’s choice of sexual preference and his choice of kit for the match (the Pontypridd physio was wearing ‘runner’s tights’, which apparently makes him immediately ‘gay’ and therefore worthy of abuse?
I’ve kept fights, terrible tackles, managers going nose to nose and supporters fighting off the blog in the past and I absolutely hate for the blog to become an arena for this sort of activity but when the action boils over into either a) racism b) homophobia or c) sexism, then I’m afraid it’ll get written about.
Even more disappointing was that throughout this whole debacle, only a single yellow card was issued and I think that was actually for a foul in the build up to the goal rather than the ensuing melee.
Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill? But I went away from the match with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. It is after all, 2016 in a mere two month’s time! I thought we’d consigned all of this homophobia into the dark ages of ‘calling a spade a spade?’
Even if he just used the term ‘gay’ in the negative sense, i.e “That’s so gay!” then I’m still not having it. Sorry. Call me a lefty dreamer but I prefer my football without the abuse of gays or the use of the term as a negative thing.
Is it any wonder why some gay footballers in this country are so hesitant to ‘come out’ when pre-historic attitudes still exist in the game?
My mood was lightened a little as I got chatting to a fairly familiar looking man stood near the Pontypridd bench. I explained about the blog and we both put two and two together and realised who we were both chatting to. It was Alan Howells, official at Afan Lido who is also involved in the Boy’s Club of Wales Football side.
Alan is a great guy, who I chatted to for at least half an hour – to the point where my recollection of the closing stages of the game is admittedly a little haphazard to say the least.
He immediately recalled my blog entry regarding Afan Lido, earlier this year and almost quoted word for word my praise for the club’s setup, the clubhouse and the fact the club issue printed teamsheets in the clubhouse before the game.
We made light of the fact we were both heading down to the Port Talbot Town match against Bangor City at The Genquip Stadium and talked for a bit about people we both knew, the Welsh game, our shared fondness for Huw Jones at AFC Porth and the infamous Battenburg cake incident that seems to follow me wherever I go. (Lee, the ex-Monmouth Town chairman offered me a piece of Battenburg cake at the game and I wrote of his kind offer in the blog only for Taff’s Well’s Norma to come forward and claim she had provided the cake as part of Monmouth’s post-match snacks laid on by Taff’s Well – it all got very busy on Twitter that evening!)
The match ticked over into stoppage time and Pontypridd Town, although coming under a barrage of pressure still looked good value for their 4-2 lead.
In the 93rd minute, a sloppy moment or a lack of concentration from the Pontypridd Town defence lead to a quickly taken free kick falling to the feet of Richard Hodge who slammed the ball home from six yards to give his side a glimmer of hope going into the last minute or two of injury time.
The referee surprised us all by playing thirteen minutes of injury time. Penybont played the ball long and Sean Williams was on hand to pick up the ball in the box and fire home in the 102nd minute to save his side and take the game into extra time.
Pontypridd Town had just about enough time to restart the game before the referee finally brought the game to an end in the 103rd minute.
The game had taken it’s toll on both sides and extra time was largely played out at a fairly pedestrian pace. Luke Gullick was given a gilt edged chance in the (real) 104th minute after a neat bit of play by Matthew Hibbs, Gullick however hit his shot well over the bar from the edge of the box.
In the 112th minute, Marcus Griffiths found himself through on goal only for Ryan Griffiths to pull off a phenomenal close range save to keep his side in the tie.
The final chance of the game fell in the 114th minute when James Hill picked up the ball 30 yards out from goal in an almost identical scenario to the one which brought about his first goal.
Hill hit a testing left footed effort from all of thirty yards only for Jacob Lloyd to just about tip his shot over the crossbar and out for a corner kick.
The referee brought extra time to a close and the game moved into the lottery of penalty kicks. I joked with Alan Howells that we were never going to make it down to Port Talbot at this rate and my planned meal and a burger at Wetherspoons was quickly needing to be a quick bite in their clubhouse if I was going to make the kick off.
Whomever won the toss elected to shoot at the ’empty’ goal, away from the clubhouse. Strangely this didn’t result in all of the 100 or so spectators moving towards that goal, in fact I seemed to be the only spectator who made their way closer to the goal.
Danny Hooper, one of Pontypridd’s usual spot kick takers stepped up for the first penalty and gave his side a 1-0 advantage with a calmly taken penalty that sent Jacob Lloyd the wrong way.
Josef Hopkins stepped up to take Penybont’s first spot kick and despite Ryan Griffiths diving the right way, such was the pace behind Hopkin’s effort that Griffiths stood little chance of stopping his kick.
Luke Gullick, a fairly regular spot kick taker for Pontypridd Town, surely under pressure as his last spot kick in a normal game (against Lliswerry) cannoned back off the crossbar, stood up and converted clinically to give his side a 2-1 advantage.
With the pressure mounting, earlier goalscorer Marcus Griffiths did well to send Ryan Griffiths the wrong way and levelling affairs.
Matthew Hibbs stepped up next and sent Jacob Lloyd the wrong way to give Pontypridd a 3-2 lead in the shootout.
Ryan Griffiths proved to be the hero with the third penalty kick as he guessed right and saved Richard Hodge’s penalty to his left hand side before raising both fists and pointing to his team mates in the centre circle who could now surely sense they were on the edge of victory.
Up stepped captain Sam Graves, who must have felt every single one his nerves shredding as Jacob Lloyds guessed the right way but simply wasn’t able to stop his penalty, giving Pontypridd Town a 4-2 lead going into the last three penalties of the shootout.
Adam Carpenter must have felt the weight of the world on his shoulders as he took the long walk from the centre circle to the penalty spot, knowing that if he failed to convert his spot kick his side would go out in what surely would have been the giant killing of the round?
Carpenter did well under the pressure and hit a powerful effort into the back of the net, keeping his side in the game to at least the last round of penalties.
James Hill stepped up and Jacob Lloyd did superbly well to not only guess correctly but also stop Hill’s powerful effort. Could Penybont come back from the death in the shootout?
The scorer of Penybont’s fourth goal Sean Williams stepped up, knowing that if he failed to score Pontypridd Town would go on to the next round.
Williams hit a powerful placed effort towards the right hand side of the goal but Ryan Griffiths guessed right and did excellently to save his penalty kick.
The Pontypridd Town bench sprinted onto the pitch and Ryan Griffiths found himself being mobbed by his team mates as they embraced each other after winning a game in the most special manner.
It was nice that given the game was played in a fairly ‘challenging’ manner (I think myself and Alan counted 12 bookings?) that both sides took the time to shake hands at the end of the game and walked off chatting and smiling.
I said my temporary farewell to Alan and co. before setting off on the 5 mile journey down to the Genquip Stadium for my appointment with Port Talbot Town and Bangor City in front of the Sgorio cameras.
My Man of the Match: Scott Hillman had a superb game, taking charge of the defence and stepping up to the mark with a makeshift defence in the second half. His goal was only bettered by his somewhat spectacular celebration and for his performance – he gets it.