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Tuesday, 20 December 2016 08:59

Llandarcy: all change

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SATURDAY 17th DECEMBER - Llandarcy Academy of Sport - dry, overcast, mild
YNYSYGERWN 0 CHEPSTOW TOWN 1 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Div 3)
When Ynysygerwn won the west wales play-off and joined the Welsh League, I resolved to re-visit Llandarcy this season. It's taken longer to fit it in than expected, but that's possibly a good thing, as their form has improved recently.

It's a familiar ground, a fairly familiar journey, but on the other hand I haven't been to Llandarcy for years. It must have been in 2007-08 that I last visited. That was the last season that Neath AFC played here, before they moved to the Gnoll. By 2012 they had folded.

Of course, before Neath AFC's spell at Llandarcy Park (2005-2008), their predecessor clubs had other grounds nearby, notably BP Llandarcy's original ground. It's very hard to place exactly where that ground was these days, because the area has been so totally rebuilt. Even since my last visit eight or nine years ago, the main junction where it stood is barely recognisable - a huge dual carriageway now cuts through. As far as I can tell - and without referring to old maps - the site of the old ground is roughly where a Holiday Inn now sits.

Just down the road, the football ground at Llandarcy Park is not greatly changed, but its surroundings are. Most strikingly, the huge and grandiosely named Academy of Sport building dominates the south-west side of the ground, while behind the pavilion and changing room end a large modern housing development now looms on the hillside, threatening the tranquillity of Llandarcy village conservation area round the next bend.

The ground is still entered on either side of the pavilion. A wrought iron sign over the turnstile still displays the name Neath AFC. The pavilion itself - Neath's clubhouse - is now a proper café bar for the campus, with smart decking overlooking the corner of the pitch. The steps and bushy slope at this end - which add character - are still in place. On the left hand side, the old cricket scoreboard structure sits rotting away, to the side of the stand - which clearly lost its seating some time ago. On the opposite side, which used to be the cricket square, there is now a mesh fence and no spectator access at all. Even with just the three sides, it's still a fine Welsh League ground, and the playing surface must be one of the best grass pitches at this level. So it's an excellent facility for a little village club like Ynysygerwn to be using.

Ynysygerwn, based in a village the other side of Neath, surprised us all by emerging from Neath & District football and going for promotion. So far, after a slow start, things are going OK, and today's game with Chepstow is a mid-table clash. The action reflects this, with the two sides proving to be quite evenly matched in a first half of remarkably little goalmouth action. It looks guaranteed to stay 0-0 to the interval, but in the very last seconds of the half Chepstow break, Lewis Bamford gets first run on the defenders, and is able to score past home keeper Sheehy. There's time for Ynys to kick off, but no more.

Ynys, playing a patient, passing game out of defence, spend the second half trying to claw their way back into the game. Chepstow spend the second half preventing them, their well-organised defence coping admirably with every move. Once again, there is little in the way of scoring chances at either end, until the dying minutes, when Ynys begin to throw caution to the wind and leave gaps. Twice it seems they will be made to pay with one-on-one chances - but twice Liam Sheehy somehow blocks the shots and scrambles the ball away. This keeps the game alive until the final whistle, but doesn't prevent Chepstow heading back to the border with the three points.

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