Welsh Football

Switch to desktop

Sunday, 22 February 2015 09:47

Holywell ride their luck

Rate this item
(4 votes)

SATURDAY 21st FEBRUARY: The Observatory Ground, bright but blustery.
HAKIN UNITED 3 HOLYWELL TOWN 4 (FAW TROPHY Quarter-final)
The last eight of the FAW Trophy, the first non-regionalised round of the competition, is potentially one of the highlights of the season - the one round when you can get a real north v south tie, played on a club ground rather than a neutral venue. And this year's draw has served up three such ties, although the down-side of that is the real possibility that all three southern sides will lose and the semi-finals will consist of four teams from the Welsh Alliance. Just one of the ties is taking place in south Wales, and that's where I'm heading...

The journey west to Milford Haven, home of Pembrokeshire League champions Hakin United, is a long but fairly easy one. One train all the way from Cardiff, taking three hours to travel the hundred miles or so, with two 'reversals' along the way, into and out of Swansea and Carmarthen. Settling in for the long haul, I position myself so as to be on the seaward side of the train for the most scenic leg, between Swansea and Carmarthen, and let Arriva Trains Wales do the rest. There's a touch of irony that I'm reading Andrew Martin's accounts of luxury train journeys of the past, while stuck on a train without even a trolley service (though one does appear for the last hour, after Carmarthen).

In Milford, it's bright and might feel like spring were it not for a biting westerly wind coming off the Atlantic. In the more sheltered spots, like Gelliswick Bay just below Hakin, it's pleasant enough, but the position of the Observatory Ground, high up and overlooking the coast to the west, means it's catching the full icy blast of every gust. And just to remind us that it isn't yet spring, ten minutes before kick off there's a (mercifully brief) hailstorm.

Visitors Holywell Town, unbeaten in the Welsh Alliance and only just edged out of the Welsh Cup recently by Aberystwyth, start as firm favourites: press previews from up north imply that defeat is unthinkable against a team from the Pembrokeshire League. But this is to mis-understand the nature of west Wales football - clubs and players out here exist almost detached from the rest of Wales, and exceptional teams can exist even in county leagues. Hakin are unlikely to be over-awed by the Wellmen.

Hakin kick 'up' the pitch with the winds at their backs in the first half - though on a surface with so many quirky gradients, it's a simplification to refer to any direction as up. And the Vikings dominate the early action as Holywell come to terms with the conditions, forcing early corners and the better chances, so it's no great surprise when Micky Woodrow forces the ball inside a post in the 20th minute to put them ahead. The white-shirted home players celebrate with their noisy fans on the 'slab' in front of the clubhouse, but the cheers are immediately silenced when Phil Lloyd is put through to equalise for Holywell.

The goal settles Holywell, who enjoy a better spell, and in the 38th minute they take the lead with a fine header from Matthew Hardy. At this point it seems they may be able to take a firm hold on the game, but within minutes that illusion is shattered when they concede a penalty for handball and Mike Cooper steers the kick into the corner to equalise. 2-2 at half-time and this cup tie is living up to its billing as the tie of the round.

Having the wind at their backs doesn't really help Holywell - after all, Hakin know the conditions here very well. Early in the second half the visitors' number 10 is very lucky to receive only a yellow card for a dangerous challenge, which sparks a brief scuffle as tempers boil over. But football breaks out again, and just after the 60 minute mark Hakin snatch the lead, a ball forward from the left wing and a couple of rapid touches in the box, Jack Harding the scorer. Holywell are really up against it eight minutes later when they're reduced to ten men after a tussle over retrieving the ball; ridiculous that this merits a red card when a challenge earlier that could have done real injury only got a yellow.

The game has now swung in Hakin's favour and they are, in the clichés of the game, 'having to dig deep'. I can tell this, as players are telling each other "we can still do this". I'm not sure they actually believe it.
But fate takes a hand: with ten minutes remaining, the home keeper spills the ball under pressure and Jack Darcy gets just enough of a touch to send it rolling slowly into the corner of the Hakin net.

Now chances to win the game, before extra time becomes necessary, come at both ends. Home left winger Woodrow scampers clear, one on one with the keeper, but sends his shot across the face of the goal. And then, deep into stoppage time, a calamitous error gifts the game to Holywell: another spillage, under less pressure, leaves Phil Lloyd of Holywell with an open net and from a wide angle he steers the ball into it. Heartbreak for Hakin. Holywell have truly ridden their luck. But above all, both sides have played a full part in a really great cup tie, and once again FAW Trophy Quarter-final day has lived up to its reputation as one of the best of the season.

Read 4297 times

© Copyright 2013 Welsh Football

Top Desktop version