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Saturday, 04 April 2015 20:12

Abergavenny clinch Gwent County title

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SATURDAY 4th APRIL: Pontymister Recreation Ground - mild, sunny, chilly breeze.
AC PONTYMISTER 2 ABERGAVENNY TOWN 6 (Gwent County League Division One)
We've reached that point in the season when you look for a game with something on it - cup ties, promotion or relegation deciders, they're all fine. On this Easter Saturday, there's no real shortage of such games, but the one I want to see involves Abergavenny Town, still unbeaten in the league and needing a win to clinch the Gwent County League title mathematically. The bonus is that they're away to AC Pontymister, easy to reach, with the guarantee of a quality programme, and, as it happens, a ground on which I've not previously watched a match.

Since the opening of the Ebbw Vale branch line some six years ago, Risca and Pontymister have become much easier to reach from Cardiff - a simple 30 minute train journey, three stops, no changes. At 2pm I'm off the train, with an hour before kick off (the Gwent County being the only league in Wales to revert to 3pm kick-offs during BST). It's only a short stroll, down past the familiar entrance to Risca United's ground and across the main road to the pleasant public park in Fields Road, where Pontymister's football and cricket clubs are based. It's a fairly open setting, with good views of the surrounding hillsides - this part of the Ebbw valley is more attractive than it's given credit for, if you ignore the less aesthetically pleasing housing stock that occupies the valley floor and one hillside north of here, the latter the huge Ty-Sign estate.

The pitch has a fixed rail on three sides, but the fourth is bounded by the cricket square and has a mixture of moveable barriers and fixed rail. Behind the goal at the Fields Road end, a fairly large set of buildings houses changing rooms and a bar-cum-pavilion, over which the cricket club obviously claims primacy, although it's open and in use for the football today. Unlike many Gwent County clubs, AC Pontymister - the Aces - make available a reasonable number of match programmes for sale, rather than a bare minimum to satisfy league rules; and, what is more, it's a good quality production well worth it's £1 face value.

Of course, the home side have the misfortune today to be the support act: the visitors are expected to clinch the title here and the best the Aces can hope for is to wreck their unbeaten record and delay their coronation as champions. Within a few minutes of the start, this tall order looks a little less unlikely, when Town fail to defend a corner and the ball is crashed in from close range. The visitors have not found fluency yet, and despite creating chances, continue to look a little uncomfortable for much of the first half, especially in midfield where the Aces are doing a good job of denying them space or time. They need a goal to settle the nerves which often strike when the prize is within touching distance, and eventually it comes after about half an hour, a cross from the right met by Craig Norman and the ball creeping over the line (pictured above). Just before the interval, Town finally get their noses in front with a really pleasing goal, Aaron Norman rounding off a series of close passes with a clinical finish.

The second half starts with unexpected drama: Pontymister are awarded a penalty, despatched for 2-2, but from the restart Town win a spot-kick of their own, Jamie Laurent tucking it away despite the home keeper touching it.

Can the Aces draw level again ? They do their best, but the next goal, decisively, goes to the visitors, a cross from the right well met at the far post by Dan Jenkins. Substitutions break up the action after this, but Abergavenny extend the lead with a fifth goal, and in stoppage time Ben Bannon adds a remarkable sixth - a run past numerous tackles in the manner of John Barnes in 1984 or Maradona in 1986 - OK this was a battle-weary Gwent County defence and not Brazil or England, but still...

After the final whistle, the presentation (nice that the league bothers to send the trophy out to present at the earliest opportunity, this is how it should be done). There's a 'brief' hold-up (no pun intended) when the non-playing, injured Town captain is forced to change into someone else's shirt and shorts before he's allowed to receive the trophy, but soon the formalities and the photos are over and the celebrations can begin for Abergavenny Town.

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