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Sunday, 29 March 2015 08:30

A Bluebirds win at Sloper Road

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SATURDAY 28th MARCH: Coronation Park, milder but windy.
BLUEBIRD FC 5 MAERDY SOCIAL 2 (South Wales Intermediate Cup semi-final)
A spell of heavy rain on Saturday morning is always a worry - that added risk of postponements would have made a long distance trip a gamble today, but after the exertions of a six-game marathon on the Scottish Lowland League groundhop last weekend, I'm quite content to stay local and take in one of the Intermediate Cup semi-finals - but which one? In the end, I choose the tie involving cup holders' Bluebird FC, who have been the dominant side in Merthyr League football recently.

This semi-final is taking place at Grange Albion's Coronation Park ground, and I'd recently heard they were getting round to erecting a stand here - nearly a decade ago they acquired the old Cardiff Civil Service structure from Sanatorium Road but it was left in pieces for years. So there's an added air of anticipation as I walk along Sloper Road - past the site of Ninian Park, the ghosts of so many football occasions so quiet you'd never know the smart gated housing estate was built on it. On entering Coronation Park, the frame of a stand is visible on the far side, but if it's the Sanatorium Road cover, it must have shrunk in the rain! A host club official later confirms it's a new structure - the other one was just too big to fit in. The club hope to add the brickwork and roof at the end of the season.

The rain earlier has left one goalmouth with a couple of puddles, but otherwise the pitch is fine for this semi-final between Merthyr and Rhonnda sides about whom I know very little. Bluebird (once called Bluebird Toys) are obviously a successful club. Their kit (blue of course) sports a crest with the usual swooping bluebird outline used by all teams carrying that name or nickname. Maerdy Social, from the top of the Rhondda Fach, are in yellow and black.

We don't have to wait long for action: a couple of heavy challenges test the referee early on, the sort of full-blooded 'tackles' which would draw red cards in more senior, protected levels of the game; here they are more the outlet of tension, players wound up for the big game and, wisely, the referee doesn't act too hastily. But from one of the resulting free-kicks, Maerdy score in the third minute. From another, ten minutes in, Bluebirds hit the crossbar, but then they are gifted an equaliser when a defender heads over his own keeper.

The score stays 1-1 and that looks like being the position at half-time - until a fine shot from out on the right gives Bluebird the lead in the 44th minute, and as we go into stoppage time Maerdy promptly equalise. So, 2-2 at half-time.

The second half starts with a bad challenge by the Maerdy number 2 and a bit of reaction from the Bluebird player. The perpetrator gets a straight red card and Bluebird have the numerical advantage, which immediately starts to show: in the first half their forwards looked capable of troubling the big Maerdy defenders by running at them, and now it's that little bit easier. They take a 3-2 lead with a low shot from out wide on the left, then extend the lead to 4-2 with a break that leaves the keeper trying to stop two advancing strikers; when the fifth goal comes from a defensive error with ten minutes to go, the Rhondda Fach's interest in the cup is definitely over. Although Bluebird will face another Rhondda League challenge in the final, as Gelli Hibernia (from the Rhondda Fawr) have overcome Cardiff Cosmopolitan in the other semi.

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