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Sunday, 24 January 2016 09:16

Bun Fight is too much for Libs

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SATURDAY 23rd JANUARY. The Oval, Ynyshir - sunny, dry.
Once again, the weather causes uncertainty as we approach the weekend; now it's back to the risk of waterlogged pitches, following heavy overnight rain on Thursday. But a dry 36 hours helps, and despite a few postponements, most of the news on Saturday morning is positive. So it's a welcome return to choosing a game, rather than settling for whatever's left on.

After a long and only partially successful north Wales trip last week, I'm staying closer to home. There were plenty of options today, including FAW trophy games, but the W John Owen tie at Ynyshir has caught my eye, mostly because these two teams are in fine form in the South Wales Alliance's Second and First Divisions respectively. It's also a very long time since I've been to Ynyshir.

The bus takes well over an hour to make its way from Cardiff up the Taff, Rhonndda and Rhondda Fach valleys to Ynyshir, but it drops me close to the ground with ample time before the early 1.30 kick-off, time to enjoy the fine afternoon and potter in the streets and paths around - and above - the Oval. This is a narrow and steep valley, with the village mostly on the west bank of the river and the hillside rising steeply on the eastern side, just one or two terraces high on the slopes. The football ground nestles in the valley floor, between the river and the course of the railway - long gone, and replaced in recent times by the valley relief road. It's a good venue for this level, with one entrance gate, and wide terrace steps on the southern side, partially covered. It's a welcome surprise to find a smart programme on sale from the gateman: already this is looking like a good choice of match. As kick-off approaches, the crowd grows to around 60, almost all home supporters.

Canton Libs are the higher-rated team, but Ynyshir (the Buns) are unbeaten at home and it's clear from the first few minutes that they are going to use their tight pitch to deny the visitors the chance to play their most effective football - chiefly built around the speed of front runner Phil Quick latching onto through balls into space. With his goal-scoring exploits mentioned in the programme - and by several locals at the ground - Quick is clearly seen as the chief threat, and gets maximum attention from the outset, with close-marking and a bit of sledging thrown in.

Ynyshir attacking the river end, have the better of the opening twenty minutes and create the better scoring chances, so when they make the breakthrough it's well-deserved: on 22 minutes the Libs defence half clears a goal-bound effort, it's returned to the box where Craig Hughes is on hand to score. Three minutes later the lead is doubled, the lone official playing a good advantage after a foul, allowing Ynyshir to break down the left into the box: the ball is squared, and Hughes shows he still has the touch of a Welsh Premier striker, firing his shot into the top corner.

The Libs are up against it now, and it's clear they will really have to battle to recover from this. Quick is getting little joy, even when they get the ball to him, and every ball is being fiercely contested. Inevitably, with strong challenges flying in, the lone official is having a busy afternoon, and starts to produce his yellow card - notably on 35 minutes when one foul leads to opposing players, forehead to forehead, near the Canton dugout. But half time comes without further incident, the 2-0 lead intact as the Buns head into the changing rooms. The Libs stay out on the pitch to plan their comeback.

But those comeback plans are dealt a blow five minutes after the break when the Buns score a third. A quick break down the left, once again squared to the unmarked Hughes, and again a fine finish to complete his hat-trick. It looks unlikely that Canton can retrieve the game now, but they keep trying, winning a number of free-kicks - many vociferously disputed by the fans on the steps. The Libs do get one goal back with a quarter of an hour left, and with five left are thrown a lifeline of a penalty. But keeper Pritchard beats the kick away and saves his side from a desperate siege. Instead, they're able to see out the closing minutes without further scares and are through, deservedly, to the quarter-finals.

Some Saturdays work out better than others, which can be down to weather, travel, choice of game, or any one of many other factors. Today was one of the better ones - decent weather for a change, nice venue, good game, good atmosphere. The last couple of months seem to have been a battle with the elements to find and get to games, only to shelter on touchlines from incessant rain. It's a relief to be reminded how enjoyable Saturday afternoons can be.

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