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Sunday, 17 August 2014 07:45


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SATURDAY 16th AUGUST: Penypound Stadium, dry, cloud, sunny spells and a cool breeze.
MONMOUTH TOWN 1 CARDIFF MET. UNIVERSITY 1 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Div 1)

Domestic football returns, on a pleasant mid-August day - somewhat drier and warmer than some of the opening days I can remember. Welsh League Division 1 champions Monmouth have been scheduled to face the Division 2 champions, the students of Cardiff Met, an interesting fixture in itself, but made even more so by Monmouth's controversial move to Penypound Stadium, Abergavenny over the summer.

While the relocation of any football club is bound to be controversial, and we all have misgivings about the 'franchising effect', I do find it hard to oppose this one. The Kingfishers were unable to upgrade their facilities in their home town and any thoughts of continuing this club's rise would have to be abandoned if they'd stayed there. Welsh League clubs have come in for some heavy criticism for lack of ambition recently... so here's one showing real ambition and taking a gamble: sixteen miles down the road, Penypound, one of our iconic old grounds, had lacked a senior tenant for well over a decade and its future was uncertain.

So I'm travelling to Abergavenny - which, it has to be said, is easier to reach than Monmouth by public transport. I've only been to Penypound for cup finals in recent years, but the walking route across town to Penypound is still familiar - I can remember my first visit, twenty-five years ago, in the heyday of Abergavenny Thursdays, and the excitement of the approach to this venue. Today, I'm curious to see what, if anything, has been done to tidy up the stadium by the incoming club (or rather I should say clubs in the plural, for Monmouth are not alone - the ground is also being used by Gwent County League club Abergavenny Town, formerly Govilon, who have relocated a rather shorter distance from their home village).

The first sign of construction work is evident from the outside a new turnstile block is under construction against the perimeter wall, just where the Abergavenny Thursday's club name was displayed. In through the gates, and it's apparent further work is underway on the stand side of the ground, new hardstanding / low terracing already laid from the entrance to the stand, and marked out to the far end beyond the stand. And clearly this is just the start of a renovation which will save the massive old stand from total demolition, and bring seated accommodation back to Penypound.

The tea bar and bar are up and running, although there are fewer patrons than such an occasion deserves - the crowd never threatening to get into three figures.

As far as the match is concerned, I don't know what to expect. The visitors are always an unknown quantity at this time of year, given the turnover of students and the effect of college holidays, although it's true CMU are much more 'professional' than most college teams, requiring squad players to train during the pre-season. Nevertheless, there are clearly a number of new faces in the team, with seven of the starting line up not listed in the programme. Attempts to ascertain their names are only partly successful, and I'm left with several whose surnames seem to be unknown to the bench.

And when the game starts, initially they look like a team that is still a work in progress: for the first twenty minutes or so they play the familiar Mets passing game, but more in the style of a training session than a game where the object is to win. As Monmouth are doing virtually all the attacking, it's not surprising that they go ahead, Elliot Ford running into the box and falling under a challenge. Chris Harrhy slots the penalty in, via a post. Shortly after, he's clear again and looks odds-on to score, but his shot is blocked.

More goals look likely, but around the half hour stage the students begin to settle and mount some forward moves of their own. From one such, in the 37th minute, Town concede a free-kick on the edge of the box, and Elliot Scotcher steps up to strike it low. The defending wall obligingly jumps over it, and Kieron Blackburn in the Town goal is unable to prevent it nestling in the corner of the net. A few minutes later the students win another free-kick, in an almost identical position. Blackburn is immediately heard yelling, repeatedly, at his defenders "Nobody jump !". They don't, and the shot is blocked.

The second half starts with Monmouth putting the Mets under pressure. Elliot Ford has an early chance, but keeper Fuller blocks it, the first of several crucial interventions which keep the score level. From this point though, the game seems to peter out, play becoming scrappy and disjointed, and chances few and far between. Cardiff Met have one of the best attempts on goal, when a long cross from the right beats Blackburn and Emlyn Lewis sees his header clip the crossbar. But neither side can fashion a winner, and they settle for a point apiece. The visitors, newly promoted and fielding a new team, are surely happy to take the point against the reigning champions, who don't appear to have hit their stride yet.

Read 5220 times Last modified on Sunday, 17 August 2014 07:49

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