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Sunday, 23 August 2015 07:56

The Road to Europe Starts Here

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SATURDAY 22nd AUGUST: Deep Duffryn - humid.
Another week, another national cup competition gets underway for 2015-16. This time it's the Welsh Cup, so technically the road to the Europa League starts here, though the 118 clubs in action today will realistically be hoping for a run through a few early rounds, enough to earn a share of the prize money in the 'Proper' rounds, rather than a tilt at European glory.

With 58 ties in almost every part of Wales, there's no shortage of choice: there are numerous games that appeal - many of these at clubs which wouldn't normally issue programmes. But adverse weather, which so often afflicts this first stage of the cup, means postponements are possible, and I'm not travelling too far afield. The Perthcelyn tie is one within easy reach and with 'options' if the weather prevails. The home side are the only entrant from the Aberdare Valley League, hosting a team from three divisions higher in the pyramid, and on a ground I've not visited before.

Not that Deep Duffryn is unfamiliar - you can't miss the imposing Mountain Ash rugby ground when travelling up the valley to Aberdare. The football pitch - formerly, briefly used in senior football by AFC Baileys - is next door. The journey is straightforward - a train to Mountain Ash station, and though I've travelled this line many times, I've never had cause to alight here before. First impressions of Mountain Ash are not great - run down streets close to the station, little that's pleasing on the eye or interesting. I remember thinking, when young, how nice Mountain Ash sounded, but like Connah's Quay, the charm is all in the name, not the reality. Over the river Cynon, things improve a little - ironically maybe, for between the mid 19th and late 20th centuries the north bank would have been an industrial scene, dominated by the Deep Duffryn colliery. The sports fields (bowls, rugby, cricket, football) are laid out on what was the mine site, the only reminder being a memorial based on a pit-head wheel which, sadly, is lost behind a huge metal fence to prevent vandalism.

The football facilities lie, as expected, beyond the enclosed rugby ground. AFC Perthcelyn are now using this ground, though I recall seeing their predecessors Perthcelyn United using Aberdare Town's ground. The club, representing the hilltop, pitch-less village known locally as the "Lost City", have been through good and bad times, peaking around 2012 in the Amateur League, then folding and re-forming. Now they're making their way back, having won the Aberdare league's lower division in 2014, and finished third in the Premier last season. As a top district league team, they must look like a tricky proposition for South Wales Alliance visitors Llantwit Fardre, notwithstanding the gap in playing levels.

The pitch seems fine at first sight, but on closer inspection the surrounds are boggy in places and the bottom end of the playing surface would have become waterlogged if the rain had continued this morning. Thankfully, it's sunny, but very humid, and no rain is expected until this evening. Unlike the rugby ground next door, there are no spectator facilities - nothing but a railed pitch - though Perthcelyn have issued a smart match programme, of course.

Early exchanges are fairly even. Llantwit Fardre, in sky blue, seem to have the confidence to pass the ball, but Perthcelyn have the confidence of a successful side. For over half an hour, the cancel each other out, with just a few half-chances at each end. The deadlock is broken in the 38th minute, a visiting forward given time on the edge of the box to place his shot wide of the keeper. It could be a turning point - from here it's possible the higher-ranked side will go on to take control. But that doesn't happen, for in stoppage time in a strangely extended first half, two Perthcelyn players advance on goal and there's a collision with the onrushing keeper. The loose ball is blasted wide but the referee has awarded a penalty, which is duly converted after another delay to issue a card - only yellow.

Llantwit Fardre restore their lead seven minutes into the second half, a close range goal after the home defence is stretched. But again they fail to push on and make the game safe and in fact from this point it becomes a question of whether Perthcelyn's efforts will produce an equaliser. They have chances - corners, free-kicks, shots well saved, through-balls - one of these producing a one v one situation, but the young striker snatches at his shot and it goes high and wide. In the closing stages, with Perthcelyn urgently pressing, Llantwit Fardre go into slow motion, holding on to the slender lead. A desperate handball in stoppage time leads to a red card, but the ten men manage to see out the remaining couple of minutes.

Llantwit Fardre are through to Monday's draw, but it wasn't ever easy. Perthcelyn, who now have to turn their attention to winning the Aberdare League Premier Division, can be proud of having matched the South Wales Alliance side, despite the result.



Elsewhere, there are a few surprise results among the other 58 ties. Just up the road from Deep Duffryn, Cwmbach Royal Stars were beating Welsh League Ely Rangers (that was my first contingency option if Perthcelyn was off) and another Welsh League side, Caerau, went out to Porthcawl. Penlan of the SWansea League pulled off a 2-4 win at Cornelly in one of the best ties in the southern half of the round, while the most dramatic game was the 4-4 draw between FC Tredegar and Dynamo Aber, which the latter won on penalties.Top scorers in the south were Pontyclun, with seven goals at Carnetown.

Despite the fears over the weather, the only southern casualty in the round was the Panteg v Newport YMCA tie played on Friday evening, which was abandoned due to poor light with the score at 4-4!

The northern games produced some big scores too, Berriew running up an 11-2 win in the all Spar Mid Wales tie with Newbridge. Llangollen beat LLay 9-1, Penyffordd beat Coedpoeth 8-0, Llanerchymedd also scored eight without reply against Talysarn Celts, and Pentraeth beat Menai Bridge 7-1.  Newcomers Rhostyllen won 6-0 against Brynford in an all-NE Wales League game, and Clwyd champions Prestatyn Sports had a notable 0-6 win at Blaenau Ffestiniog - a warning to all their new Welsh Alliance Division Two rivals.  Shocks were few in the north, but little Aberffraw of the Anglesey League will be delighted with a 4-1 win over Welsh Alliance outfit Gaerwen. 

The draw for the second qualifying round is scheduled for Monday evening.  

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