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Thursday, 15 October 2015 10:55

Goyts Go Top in the Non-Derby

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SATURDAY 10th OCTOBER: Glenhafod Park, dry but chilly.
GOYTRE UNITED 3 GOYTRE FC 0 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Division One)

No Welsh Cup or Trophy matches this week so it's an opportunity to catch up on some league action, and there is a stand-out fixture in south Wales, with the top two sides in the Welsh League, both unbeaten, coming up against each other at Glenhafod Park. It's the clash of the Goyts, but of course it's not a local derby: Goytre FC's journey (to Goytre) is actually one of their longer ones in the league, from their base in rural Monmouthshire to the outskirts of Port Talbot. It's the sort of fixture that should draw a good attendance, especially on a weekend with no English Premiership and Championship games due to the international break. In England and Scotland, the designated "Non League Day" is a cue for clubs to try to boost attendances with offers, but it doesn't really happen in Wales - partly because "non-league" doesn't have much meaning here, but also partly because our semi-pro clubs, especially in the south, just don't really think about attracting crowds in the way their English counterparts do. Not that it would have been easy to tempt many south Walians to local football today - everyone is seemingly gearing up for a long evening in the pubs watching the Welsh rugby and football teams in vital internationals.

It's a couple of years since I visited Goytre United, though I saw them play away last season a couple of times and was impressed. Glenhafod Park is a 40 minute (partly uphill) walk out of Port Talbot, but it's a pleasant afternoon for a walk, despite the chilly east wind. The approach to the ground is familiar though: it's tucked away beyond the village of Goytre, just when it seems the road is becoming a track, and it appears nestling in a narrow valley with steep wooded hillsides all around - one of the finest settings for a ground anywhere in south Wales. It's also one of the best-appointed Welsh League grounds, with proper turnstiles, a long seated stand, floodlights, tea bar and paved walkways.

With time to study the programme, I cast an eye over the teams and it's obvious why both these village sides are doing so well: there are familiar names on both sides, with experience at Welsh Premier and English professional/semi-pro level, like Tim Hicks, Jordan Davies and Kyle Graves for the home side and Kris Leek, Nathan Davies and Sam O'Sullivan for the Gwent visitors. With neither side having lost in the league so far, and with experience like that on their teamsheets, it's impossible to predict the outcome today.

The opening stages are inconclusive too: both sides trying to find an opening, but cancelling each other out. But for the visitors a header comes back off the crossbar after 16 minutes, and then Nicky Thomas has to save smartly at the other end from the lively Jordan Davies. The Gwent side enjoy a spell of pressure, with several corners, but can't get the breakthrough. Then, after 34 minutes, a free-kick on the Goytre United left flank gives Jordan Davies a chance to test Thomas in the visitors' goal. His chip shot drops over a cluster of players and lands in the net - Thomas has not jumped for it, but the visiting bench feels aggrieved - claiming that he was held down. They may have a point. As the first half draws to a close, the expressions of anger and grievance from the away dugout escalate and referee Bryant is coming under fire. The interval arrives, and it's a chance for everyone, hopefully, to calm down a bit.

But the second half is even more attritional than the first. There's a growing sense among spectators that the referee is nor clamping down on foul play and the increasingly agitated antics from both dugouts are contributing to a feeling that this could boil over. Fortunately though, a couple of goals arrive to lighten the atmosphere: first a fine header by Luke Harris doubles United's lead, then a sublime chip from Tim Hicks conjures a third goal out of almost nothing. Suddenly 3-0 down, Goytre FC begin to show their frustration, and when a United player is left in a heap on the touchline the inevitable scuffle breaks out; it's been coming for a while. But we're none the wiser when the official issues two yellow cards but play restarts with a throw. A few minutes later, and another clash in midfield - this time United number 9 Jordan Edwards gets a straight red (despite protests from some quarters that there's been a case of mistaken identity and the wrong man has walked).

With the extra man advantage, Goytre FC sense a chance of getting back into the game, and dominate the last twenty minutes. With a lesser adversary than home keeper Luke Martin, the comeback might be on, but he deals with absolutely everything that comes his way - arguably a man-of-the-match performance in my view. At the final whistle, United have the victory, the clean sheet and pole position in the table. They'll take some stopping.

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