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Sunday, 08 February 2015 09:12

Carmarthen survive the siege of Ely

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SATURDAY 7th FEBRUARY : Cwrt-yr-Ala, cold.
CAERAU (ELY) 0 CARMARTHEN TOWN 4 (after extra time) (Welsh Cup Round 5)
The last sixteen of the Welsh Cup involves not one, but two attractive ties in Cardiff, so the question has always been which one to choose. By my reckoning, Caerau (Ely) are more likely than Cardiff Met to cause an upset against Welsh Premier opposition, so for me it's a mid-day bus journey through the city centre and out to Cwrt-yr-Ala. Now regular readers will know I rarely have anything positive to say about international rugby, but on this occasion I'm grateful the Wales v England Six Nations game was brought forward to Friday evening from its usual Saturday slot - otherwise my four mile journey would have been a huge challenge today.

I tend to come to this ground once a year on average, and it seems every time I do the approach up Cwrt-yr-Ala Road is a little more middle-class: I clearly remember my first visit, a quarter of a century ago when AFC Cardiff were the tenants, when the road was an ugly row of council prefab houses giving way to edge of estate wasteland. Now private housing crowds the road all the way up to the bridge under the link road, after which the city is gone and ahead is farmland - and of course the football ground. A crowd is already forming an hour before kick off - inside the clubhouse, though, as it's too cold to stand around outside. The Carmarthen coach is here already, as are a number of neutrals, and the bar and tea hatch are doing brisk trade. By kick off time there's a three-figure attendance, enough to generate a bit of atmosphere.

Early action confirms the view that Carmarthen are in for a tough afternoon: the visitors, resplendent in an all-mauve away kit, are immediately under pressure and there's plenty of activity around Lee Idzi's goal. He has to save from Jamal Roberts following a well-worked free-kick, and then soon afterwards a goal-line clearance is needed in a scramble. The chances keep coming, Carmarthen conceding free-kicks and corners to relieve pressure, but Idzi's goal survives. Andrew Smith looks sure to score when a Roberts effort is cleared to his feet, but sees his effort go for a corner. Carmarthen are confined to breakaways, Kyle Bassett having one chance but not capitalising.

The second half brings more of the same: Carmarthen look increasingly besieged, and when Chris Thomas lunges into a late challenge, the red card means the visitors are down to ten men for the last half hour. Still Caerau (Ely) come forward, and still they fail to score. They're unlucky not to get a penalty when a powerful Roberts run is ended by clear contact in the box, but mostly it's resolute defending that prevents the breakthrough. In the end, Carmarthen survive the 90 minutes and in fact, late in the game, enjoy a better spell as the home side appear to tire. But can the ten men last another 30 minutes of extra time?

The answer comes in the very first minute: a break for Carmarthen, defender David Vincent commits a foul, resulting in a free-kick just outside the box and a harsh red card (for denying a scoring chance, not the severity of the challenge). Sacha Walters finds the bottom right hand corner with the kick and Carmarthen are ahead.
It's a real test of character for the home side now, but not one they can rise to. A few minutes later a slick Carmarthen move down the right ends with Liam Thomas scoring from close range and then Bassett adds a third as Caerau (Ely) heads drop. A fourth, by Thomas again, results from a bizarre rebound from an attempted clearance, and at the extra-time interval the game is way beyond the Cardiff side.

The second period is therefore 'academic'. The flow of goals dries up, but Carmarthen are through to the quarter-final draw and the scoreline almost makes it look comfortable. But the 128 spectators, and everyone else involved, knows it was anything but.

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ELSEWHERE, Carmarthen's fellow Welsh Premier sides also prevailed, so I didn't miss a shock at Cardiff Met - Airbus proving too strong in a 1-4 win, but Holywell Town gave Aberystwyth Town a real fright - that one stayed 0-0 through 120 minutes before Aber won a shoot-out.  But Rhyl won 2-4 in mid Wales against Llanrhaeadr and Bangor City avoided an upset against Conwy Borough.  

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