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Sunday, 16 August 2015 08:46

'New' North End off to a winning start

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SATURDAY 15th AUGUST: Penygaer playing fields, dry and cloudy.
After another three-and-a-half week break since my last game, it's time to go to football again, because the domestic season is starting. Most of the main leagues in Wales get underway today, with some interesting matches, but the first round of the FAW Trophy has greater pull. I hadn't picked a game in advance, but on returning from holiday yesterday a serious look at the ties caused one to jump out: Porth Tywyn Suburbs v North End. Two famous names from west Wales football (or rather its recent past), and not regular Trophy entrants. A quick look at Twitter revealed that North End have reformed, and this will be their first competitive game: decision made then.

Porth Tywyn Suburbs (formerly Garden Suburbs until the Welsh League made them include a place name in their title) used to be based in Burry Port, but lost their ground. I assume initially they'll be using another pitch in the coastal village, but enquiries reveal this game will be played in Llanelli, because pitch fees in Burry Port are prohibitive. I've never been to Penygaer before, but it's easy to find, about half an hour's walk across town from Llanelli station (and not too far from Stebonheath, in fact). It's a large area with several football pitches close together, but I can tell which one my game is going to be on, because (a) it's been roped off as required in the Trophy and (b) I recognise the claret-and-blue North End kit worm by one of the teams warming up.

It seems fitting that, in the first round of this competition, I'm watching two teams who can genuinely be said to operate at the very bottom of the Welsh pyramid. Porth Tywyn have slipped to the bottom of the Carmarthenshire League, and North End have no option to re-start in the lowest division of the Swansea League and - as one of their officials says - work their way back up to Division One. It's impossible to predict relative strengths of these two sides, and even when the game starts there aren't many clues. North End look well-drilled, with some close passing, but throughout the first half they don't put the 'home' side under much pressure. In fact Porth Tywyn twice have golden chances to score first, but they're put wide.

The breakthrough comes after half an hour: a North End attack, the ball played into the box and the chasing attacker caught by a defender - penalty. Nathan Blackwell is given the chance to score his club's first competitive goal and, despite putting his kick far too close to the keeper, the ball does indeed trickle over the line. 0-1, but the lead lasts only ten minutes, as Porth Tywyn produce a fine equaliser, their first shot on target dropping over the defence and taking the visitors by surprise.

The second half proves to be very different. North End seem full of new purpose and immediately have Porth Tywyn under pressure. Their second goal is scored only five minutes into the half, Mark Jones shooting low from the edge of the box; five more minutes elapse and Ricky Collins tucks the ball inside the post from a corner on the right; another three minites, another corner, and Nicky Davies flicks a fourth goal into the top corner. Suddenly North End are 4-1 up and are coasting into the second round. Full of confidence now, they score again in the 65th minute, a fine curling shot from Jamie Welsby, then in the final ten minutes Luke Pyle adds the sixth from what looks suspiciously like a cross. There's still time for Porth Tywyn to have the final goal - the scorer rounding the keeper from a breakaway - and for their own keeper to pull off the best save of the game to prevent a seventh North End goal.

By 3.40 it's all over and North End are into Round 2 - and the draw should be known this week I guess. With many more teams entering at this stage, the choice of where to go on 19th September may be even harder.

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