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Sunday, 03 May 2015 07:28

Saints complete the Welsh treble

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SATURDAY 2nd MAY: Latham Park, chilly and damp.
NEWTOWN 0 THE NEW SAINTS 2 (Tenovus Welsh Cup final)
There's no mistaking the top game in Wales this weekend, the cup final given added interest this year by Newtown's first appearance since 1897 and the decision to depart with recent tradition and hold the final on the ground of one of the finalists. Although it's perfectly possible to watch the game live on S4C, there is no substitute for being there, so I set off early on the train, into England via Hereford and Shrewsbury and back down into mid Wales. I leave Cardiff in steady rain, with a forecast of more, and first impressions on stepping off the train in Newtown are that the wind is even chillier here, but the rain is little more than the odd spot of drizzle. Either way, not the fine spring day we all hope for.

After warming up over a leisurely pint in the Elephant, there's still time for an equally relaxed riverside stroll across town to Latham Park: the ground is buzzing with activity even an hour and a quarter before kick-off, extra refreshment marquees erected and tv crews setting up. The media room above the clubhouse is busy and full of familiar faces - a comment that in fact applies equally to the crowd in general, for I'm constantly bumping into acquantainces - officials, supporters of various clubs and fellow neutral followers of Welsh football. It's a feature of these occasions that underlines the point of travelling for hours to watch the game live. The crowd swells to over 1,500, enough to generate a decent atmosphere in a Welsh Premier stadium, and which seems to justify the choice of venue.

After pre-match formalities - well-staged by the FAW - it's time to watch the match, and to see whether The New Saints can complete the domestic Welsh treble: consensus is that they almost certainly will, with Corbett Sports quoting Newtown as 5/1 to win, and I certainly wouldn't argue the odds should be any shorter than that. TNS have lost only once in domestic football all season and, on a familiar 3G surface, they should really not be troubled by a Newtown side hardly at the peak of its form. Despite the obligatory brave and optimistic words from the Robins camp over recent days, it feels like a question of waiting for the inevitable TNS win.

In fact, the first half proves more even than that: chances are few and far between at either end, but Newtown are not penned into their own half by any means, forcing their share of corners and free-kicks and creating a handful of half-chances. Neither keeper is really extended, though. Encouraging if you're a hopeful Robins fan; but for the cynical neutral, the feeling is still that it's a matter of when TNS take control, not if.

And so it proves: eight minutes after the restart, a finely flighted ball by Phil Jones reaches Matty Williams on the edge of Newtown's box. He has just enough space to control it and send a low shot speeding past keeper Jones into the bottom left hand corner. 1-0 to the Saints.

Sometimes a goal changes a game, and on another day Newtown might have found another gear and responded; but they don't seem to have it in them today, and the Saints now dominate with relative ease. They press for a second goal, but it doesn't come, and with time ticking away Newtown launch a few desperate last attempts, creating a bit of pressure but no breakthrough. From a TNS breakaway, Scott Quigley bears down on the Newtown goal and is taken out by last man Sutton. The Newtown man is somewhat harshly sent off, and Williams despatches the penalty to seal the win.

If the match itself stuck to a fairly predictable script, and lacked a certain level of cup final excitement as result, you can't blame TNS or the FAW for that; the occasion was a success, and credit should really be accorded to Mike Harris of TNS for being part of a decision to play such a decisive match on the ground of his opponents: supreme confidence maybe (justified) but a gesture made in the interests of wider Welsh football and the host club. I'm glad I was there.

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