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Sunday, 04 October 2015 08:46

Aberdare avoid a cup shock

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SATURDAY 3rd OCTOBER. Cwmbach Rec. - dry, sun & cloud.
CWMBACH ROYAL STARS 0 ABERDARE TOWN 3 (JD Welsh Cup Round 1)
The problem with the First Round of the Welsh Cup is that there are so many games you want to see - several closely matched ones, a few potential giant-killings, some local derbies, the prospect of a few rare programmes. But one tie that has three of those elements gets my vote today: Cwmbach Royal Stars v Aberdare Town. Four divisions separate the South Wales Alliance Division One side from the Welsh League Division One visitors, whereas less than two miles separate their grounds; plus, Cwmbach have confirmed there's a programme.

Cwmbach lies just outside Aberdare at the top end of the Cynon Valley, and has a station conveniently served by the Aberdare line service from Cardiff. From the station, it's a stiff walk up through the village to the Recreation Ground, right at the top of the village with spectacular views across the valley to Aberaman, although today a hazy mist is lingering. A concealed drive leads up from the road to the changing rooms, which themselves sit well below pitch level at the foot of a steep slope. In such uneven terrain, the pitch is relatively level, though the grassy surrounds have plenty of rises and drops reflecting the natural slope.

As kick-off approaches, the anticipated large crowd builds. There's been a lot of interest and comment locally and on social media, reflecting the fact that these sides very rarely meet at senior level. This must be, in terms of profile, Cwmbach's biggest game. The question, however, is whether four divisions is too big a gap to bridge. Is a giant-killing possible? Aberdare's pre-match preparation is focused and professional - no complacency in their mood, but equally no fear. Cwmbach need to make them uncomfortable early on - and on the very tight pitch, that might be possible.

The early exchanges are quite even. Cwmbach do not manage to put Aberdare under pressure, but chances are few at both ends. The large crowd (I reckon well over 200) creates a cup-tie atmosphere, but Aberdare still don't look fazed. They match Cwmbach in the midfield battle and patiently work at creating a breakthrough. Of course, one break could change all that - if Cwmbach can score first, the complexion of the game would change.

But that doesn't happen. After half an hour, Town number 4 Scott Woodford receives the ball on the edge of the area and places a low shot past home keeper Grant Hopkins. Cwmbach need to find a reply, but six minutes later they're two down, Nathan Jenkins racing clear on the break and firing home from distance. In fact, it could have been 0-3 before half-time, as John Phillips works himself into a one-on-one with the keeper but slips and slices his shot.

0-2 at half-time and a big task for Cwmbach. But one goal could still change the balance of the game and Cwmbach threaten to get it. Five minutes after the break only a post denies them from a header and they enjoy good possession in the Aberdare half. But they pay the price when a long ball by Town's defence finds Craig Mason running into their half and he slides a low shot past Hopkins for a third goal.

This just about signals the end of the contest, even though 35 minutes remain to be played. Cwmbach are not going to come back from 0-3 down and Aberdare are able to relax with a comfortable lead. The game loses its intensity for a while, but Cwmbach keep trying to find a way back and they deserve a goal when Lewis Jones strikes the upright with a shot in the 85th minute. But that's their last real chance and in last few minutes it looks more likely that Aberdare will add a fourth as tiredness sets in. The whistle finally goes with the margin still 0-3, a fair outcome although Cwmbach certainly deserved at least a goal. They were never outclassed and battled all the way, but never quite succeeded in creating enough pressure or panic to cause an upset.

As it turns out, the shocks are elsewhere: the biggest surprise is in the next valley (the Rhondda) where Ton Pentre are surprisingly dumped out of the cup in a 1-4 home defeat to Cardiff side STM Sports. Only one of Cwmbach's fellow South Wales Alliance teams survives - Brecon Corries thanks to a 0-1 win at Aberaeron, with former Merthyr man Paul Keddle scoring their goal. But like Cwmbach, neither Llantwit Fardre (0-1 losers to Cardiff Met) nor AFC Butetown (5-1 losers at Afan Lido) can bridge the big gap to the Welsh League First Division. In the northern section, Llandudno Junction were fancied to cause problems for Caersws of the Huws Gray Alliance, but the margin of their 1-6 win certainly counts as a shock result. Rhostyllen claim another scalp, Berriew of the Spar Mid Wales League, and progress to Round 2 as the last surviving club from the lowest tier of the pyramid (the North East Wales League in this case).

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