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Sunday, 22 November 2015 17:12

Vikings fail to pillage place in last 16

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SATURDAY 21st NOVEMBER Longbridge Playing Fields, sunny, cold, northerly wind.

The fourth round of the Trophy, sixteen ties to choose from in all regions of Wales; it's never easy to decide, but when this east v west encounter in Risca is confirmed as 'on' during Friday, that's good enough for me. It brings Pembrokeshire champions Hakin, so unlucky to go out to eventual winners Holywell last season, to first-time entrants Pontymister - who just happen to be playing on a new ground this season.

Pontymister's new venue, at Longbridge Fields, is at the north end of the linear village of Risca, whereas their former base in Fields Road was right at the other end. Hidden away just off the main road, the newly railed pitch sits on a raised plateau above road level, and up a slope from the austere changing room block near the Bridge Street entrance. A few spectators have arrived early and are sheltering from the bitter wind either in cars of in the lee of the changing room building. Hakin have brought a few with them, and there are a few neutrals like me, devotees of the unfamiliar fixtures the Trophy can produce. As kick off approaches, and the teams emerge, we too have to forsake shelter from the wind and take our places on the railing.

The first impression of the pitch is of the length of the grass - a rugby surface, not good for football. Whether the council would have cut it at this time of year is debatable, but they've had a perfect excuse with the incessant rain of the past two weeks. In some places the pitch surrounds are seriously boggy, though the playing surface itself doesn't appear to be holding too much water.

My thoughts in advance of this game are influenced by Hakin's good cup record, in this and the West Wales Cup. If the Vikings can reproduce that battling performance against Holywell last February, I'd fancy them to beat any Gwent County side. And initially, they start with confidence, taking the game to Pontymister; though there are a couple of worrying signs - an angry exchange between team-mates in the first minute, over a misjudged pass, and the way the conditions are affecting their preference for fast breaks from midfield. There's no real pattern to the first quarter of an hour, both teams struggling to establish control.

Then the first turning point: a Pontymister attack, a run towards the box, a fall; the referee points to the spot - the decision arguable, most seem to admit - and the penalty is converted. Hakin now battle to get back into the game, but things aren't going their way until, after half an hour of play, a muddle in the home defence leads to the keeper leaping on a loose ball. The referee deems it a back pass - the ball had come off a defender - and the resulting indirect free-kick is taken in text-book fashion, a slight touch to the right and the ball lashed high into the net by Ben Steele.
Within two minutes, Pontymister are ahead again, and from the penalty spot. Again, arguably a soft penalty, but it's converted clinically again. Once again, Hakin need to respond, but there's already a sense that heads are dropping a little, that they're feeling hard done by. Instead of rolling their sleeves up and getting another equaliser, they concede again in the 37th minute, this goal nicely set up and taken by the home side.

At half time, Hakin manager Gary Dawes denies his team the sanctuary and privacy of the changing rooms, instead delivering a blistering public indictment of their first half performance; he challenges them to respond, or they will go out of the competition "with a whimper". To be fair, his team starts the half with more spirit, and The Aces are immediately put under pressure, conceding corners and having to defend desperately at times. It would be exaggerating to call it a siege, but at times it's close. Pontymister however, play their way through this with determination and belief, putting bodies on the line to tackle and block at every opportunity. And on the break, they get their reward with a fourth goal.

Time is against Hakin now, but they press for something, anything that could kick-start a comeback. When Pontymister aren't denying them, the woodwork does. It's just not their day, a point that is reinforced seven minutes from the end when Pontymister snatch a fifth goal from close range during a rare spell of pressure.

For the neutral, an entertaining cup tie despite the unfavourable conditions; for Pontymister, a fine win, pride in a battling performance and a journey further into the unknown in the national competition; but for Hakin, bitter disappointment in a competition where they hoped to go much further, and time on the long journey home to contemplate what went so wrong today.

Our featured game didn't bring the only shock of the fourth round, as several other fancied sides crashed out: in the southern section, Canton Liberal lost 1-0 at Llangynwyd Rangers in an all-South Wales Alliance tie, and in the north, Anglesey outfit Glantraeth went down 2-3 at home to Corwen, one of four north-east sides who marched impressively into the last sixteen. Ruthin Town also despatched opponents from the north-west, Glan Conwy, while Rhostyllen put out Pentraeth from Anglesey, and Wrexham club Queens Park won a local derby with Rhos Aelwyd 4-3.
Three Welsh Alliance teams did survive, Greenfield and Trearddur Bay United winning ties against fellow Alliance clubs, while Llandudno Junction despatched Gwynedd Leagfue minnows Aberffraw 6-1. They're joined by a trio of Central Wales clubs, Llanrhaeadr and Carno who both beat Wrexham area opponents, and Penrhyncoch who edged out Penrhyndeudraeth.
Gwent has two survivors through to the last sixteen - Abergavenny Town winning a seven-goal thriller against Team Swansea to join Pontymister. That means the west Wales challenge is reduced to one, Maltsters Sports of Swansea putting out Cogan Coronation from Penarth.
The last sixteen is completed by three south Wales teams, LLangynwyd, former finalists Sully Sports, and the winners of the postponed Cardiff Draconians v Sporting Marvels tie.

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