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Sunday, 14 December 2014 20:11

Easy does it

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SATURDAY 13th DECEMBER: Penydarren Park (the Cigg-e Stadium), sunny and cold.
MERTHYR TOWN 6 BASHLEY 0 (Evostik Southern League, S& W Division)
Four months into the season and I haven't yet been up to take a look at Steve Jenkins's Merthyr side as they attempt once again to win promotion to the Southern League Premier Division. Time to remedy that, especially with the Martyrs sitting top of the league, having recently overtaken Stratford.

It's a sunny dry day in north Cardiff as I set off at lunchtime, feeling warm on the walk over to Llandaf having dressed for a cold afternoon to come, but sure enough, in Merthyr an hour later, it's a couple of degrees colder - but still pleasant in the strong winter sun. The walk up to Penydarren Park is familiar enough but there are changes afoot: the old Strikers building has been demolished and is now a building site, while the iconic high terrace is condemned and out of bounds. A couple of pre-match conversations confirm a positive, optimistic mood, and once I peruse the match programme I can see why fans would be expecting to stay top of the table today: visitors Bashley seem to be cannon-fodder, the club struggling on after near-extinction but fielding a team with many young recruits from local Wessex football. I'd not realised I was choosing another potentially one-sided game, for the third week running.

And, as if to emphasise a repeating pattern, for the third week running an early goal confirms the form-book: a corner, headed into the box, and Ian Traylor heads the Martyrs in front. The first half is one-way traffic, Merthyr passing the ball around at will and creating plenty of chances. They expose Bashley's defence with two breaks down the right, both culminating in lobbed goals from Prosser and Traylor, and Traylor completes his hat-trick before the break. But four goals is in some ways a meagre reward for such complete dominance - Merthyr's over-elaborate approach denying them a bigger lead, as they seem to want to score the perfect goal rather than rack up a big win. Maybe it's just a bit of early Christmas charity to the outclassed Hampshire side.

Half time ends, the sun has set, the floodlights are on, and the temperature is dropping. The game fails to absorb, as Merthyr again contrive to camp in the Bashley half without scoring. Visiting keeper Maher seems to have decided to see how far he can kick the ball over each stand but another ball is always quickly found and the onslaught starts again. The crowd grows restive: in the covered terrace, kids race around to entertain themselves; old men bemoan Merthyr's possession football, which sees them work the ball to the bye-line and then all the way back to the half-way line to start again. After 25 minutes of this, the game is enlivened by a fine volleyed goal from Kerry Morgan, and after another eight minutes, Morgan scores Merthyr's sixth, possibly the one they've been seeking all afternoon, as he walks the ball over the line.

At the final whistle, it's still 6-0, something of a let-off for the visitors - last season I saw Merthyr destroy a more competent Guildford side 12-0. It's hard to criticise a team that's won comfortably and sit top of the league, but the entertainment value today was limited. In fact, compared with my previous two Saturdays' games won by Caersws and Albion Rovers, to my surprise this was far more one-sided, genuinely a mis-match. Merthyr's goal difference is already way superior to their rivals, so the goals they didn't score today probably don't matter in the slightest.

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