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Tuesday, 05 November 2013 21:35

ROCK ON

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SATURDAY NOVEMBER 2nd, 2013: The Rock Stadium - stormy
CEFN DRUIDS 1 CONWY BOROUGH 1 (Huws Gray Cymru Alliance)
Throughout a week of storms and weather systems, the burning question (for me, at least) has been whether it would be foolhardy to head to north Wales this Saturday for the top-of-the-table Huws Gray Alliance match. In all respects other than the risk of postponement, it's an easy choice of match, especially as this is one of the few Saturdays when Arriva haven't suspended their cheap tickets because of rugby in Cardiff.

By Friday night, with news from The Rock is that the pitch is soft but OK provided there isn't heavy overnight rain, any weather forecast a grade or two down from apocalyptic is taken as a positive. And that's what we get - more rain yes, but showery for the next twelve hours, and so the die is cast - we're going; but armed with a list of contact details for alternative fixtures (all in the North-East Wales Challenge Cup) in case there's bad news from Druids at any point in the morning.

The decision seems a sound one on a finer-than-expected Saturday morning as we leave Cardiff heading up the familiar line through the Marches, the sun even coming out at times. The fields are saturated in places, but anxieties recede as Druids confirm "Match On" by tweet and text and we encounter no more than the occasional heavy shower. So the time set aside for checking out alternatives and re-routing can, instead, be more enjoyably devoted to a pint of real ale and a pork pie in the excellent Bridge End at Ruabon, CAMRA pub of the year, no less.

Cefn Druids' new-ish ground at The Rock, Rhosymedre, is no more than 25 minutes walk from Ruabon, an easy flat pavement alongside the busy main road to Chirk, turning off before Cefn Mawr, over the railway and past Church Field, the former Cefn Albion and Cefn United ground (still maintained and railed off). We get to The Rock just in time to avoid a real soaking from a heavy shower, with plenty of time to shelter in the clubhouse , read the excellent programme and catch up with the welcoming home club officials. The mood here is upbeat: Druids head the table by five points, are still unbeaten this season (and "haven't really looked like losing"). If they can beat second-placed Conwy Borough today they could extend that lead to a daunting eight points.

By kick off time, it's dry again and a fair crowd has assembled, swelled by a few TNS fans whose Welsh Premier trip to Carmarthen was a victim of the weather. The game kicks off over five minutes late, partly due to a late net repair. Most spectators watch from the superb stand, rather than the flat standing around the rest of the pitch, although a few hardy souls prefer the pitch railing on the far side, where the dugouts sit at the foot of the massive cliff-face that gives the ground its name.

The two sides prove to be well-matched: both confident, positive and committed. While both midfields try to build passing moves and set their forwards free, no-one is given long on the ball, two teams effectively cancelling each other out. The other feature of the half is the strengthening wind, with gusts of gale-force blowing down the pitch, with some of Druids keeper McGee's kicks blown back into his own half. Half-chances do come at either end, but as we enter stoppage time 0-0 seems only a fair reflection of an even half. Except that, in the last minute before the interval, Druids take a quick free-kick, the ball is chipped into the box, headed out of the goalmouth, and Scott Quigley pounces to put the rebound into the net. 1-0 to the league leaders.

After the break, with the weather deteriorating into a succession of squally showers, it is clear Conwy are not going to take that 45th minute setback lightly. They are energised by being one down, no longer torn between protecting the clean sheet and attacking, whereas Druids now have a lead to protect. The result is that Conwy are now enjoying more possession, with a series of early attempts on McGee's goal. Twelve minutes into the second half, they get their reward, when a rare handling error by McGee presents Aden Shannon with a chance to stroke the equaliser into the net.

Both sides spend the rest of the match looking for the winner, but the momentum is slightly with the visitors now. Druids have difficulty shifting play into the Conwy half (despite now playing with the wind) but their propensity to take quick free-kicks bothers Conwy and is nearly their undoing, Mackin in their goal having to block once with his legs when left unprotected by his defence. The game is plagued by stoppages, and some of these seem to be caused by the linesman running the touchline on the dug-out side, clearly the senior (in years) of the three officials and determined to 'assist' his younger colleague in the middle. He is doing nothing to endear himself to the Conwy bench, first indicating a push on the far side of the pitch that the ref hadn't given, then, as his feud with the Conwy management team deepens, flagging insistently on several occasions for Conwy infringements; one of these the referee ignores, but in the end has to stop play with Conwy attacking to speak to the assistant and explain he had over-ruled him, and then restart with a dropped ball. All this causes the half to overrun, the match finally ending in a squall at 4pm to the sound of a large branch crashing to earth in the car park.

Unfortunately the late finish means we miss the convenient bus back to Ruabon: we walk instead, and don't have time before the homeward train to pop into the Bridge End Inn again as planned. Ah well, only a minor negative on a day when we can be grateful for seeing our chosen match go ahead, and enjoying both a friendly welcome and an absorbing encounter between two good teams.

Read 4761 times Last modified on Saturday, 23 November 2013 22:04
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