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Monday, 01 May 2017 11:10

Bala end TNS monopoly

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SUNDAY 30th APRIL. Bangor University Stadium, Nantporth, dry and mild.
BALA TOWN 2 THE NEW SAINTS 1 (JD Welsh Cup final)
After the hors-d'oevre of the Huws Gray Cup yesterday, I move on to the main course: the Welsh Cup final. Enough has been said already about the hugely inconvenient venue for the final - although everyone I speak to pre-match has more to say about it.

For me, it's meant an overnight stay and a journey west on the first train available. Many other neutrals won't have been able to go to such lengths. And, based on the expected storyline, you could ask why they should - for who can really envisage anything other than TNS swatting the Lakesiders' challenge to record their third consecutive Welsh treble? Even the Bala faithful are not oozing confidence - "if it was anyone else..." Indeed, having failed to beat the Saints in 29 previous encounters, the omens aren't good. They can only hope that today the jinx will be broken. They aren't short of support, the travelling contingent swelled by locals and neutrals keen to see someone (anyone) other than TNS lift some silverware.

The preliminaries are quite a show for the live TV audience (as well as those of us here in person). Flags, the cup on its plinth, child mascots, ceremonial arch, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (sung live), VIP presentations (Chris Coleman among them), handshakes, team photos... but this show is soon over and the players are probably relieved to get on with the real business.

TNS start in their customary fashion: probing, crafting openings, asserting a degree of control. A couple of early chances just fail to bring the breakthrough, with Bala keeper Ashley Morris one of the busiest men on the pitch - and proving equal to everything. However, Bala are not over-run and at times the Saints' defence is forced into the expedient route out of danger, rather than the preferred one. with the score 0-0 at the break, I have the impression that it's been a good half for Bala - but I just hope it hasn't taken too much out of them. And, as the second half starts, it seems that may be the case, TNS now piling on the pressure: first Morris sees a Marriott effort strike the frame of the goal, then he dives low to parry another from Saunders - but this time TNS capitalise on the rebound, Greg Draper slotting home the opening goal.

So, on the evidence of previous years, that seems to be it: TNS don't relinquish a lead easily, and now they relax, turning the screw with enervating, possession football in Bala's half. Morris again comes to the rescue, preventing the killer second goal. Bala need something to break the holders' stranglehold on the game, and Colin Caton gambles with a couple of surprising substitutions - withdrawing two proven goal-scorers in Lee Hunt and Ian Sheridan.

If those changes looked puzzling, they prove inspired, as Jordan Evans makes an immediate impact in the 77th minute. There's an element of luck about his equaliser, TNS keeper Paul Harrison beaten by the deflection, but then to win against them, you need a little slice of luck. Now to see the reactions of the two sides - Bala will clearly gain in belief, but what of TNS? Will they re-assert themselves - or will we see the post-equaliser panic that cost them dearly up at St. Mirren?

In fact, the match now looks finely-balanced. As the minutes tick away, without any further drama at either end, we're probably heading for extra time. But then it happens, the moment of drama that lights up this final, and will be replayed countless times: a Bala attack, some sublime skill by Chris Venables on the right of the area, a perfect cross, and an equally perfect bullet header from Kieran Smith past Paul Harrison. Cue delirious celebrations - although there's still a few minutes of the ninety, plus stoppage time, and cool heads are required.

Those last few minutes are not as comfortable as Bala would like: despite some time spent (wasted) in safe areas of the pitch, Bala can't stop TNS forcing corners, and putting Morris under more pressure. But Bala hold out, and those celebrations start in earnest. We'll have time to analyse the significance of this result - rightly described as a shock in view of the past results between the two sides - but for today, the only thing to do is to share in Bala Town's delight at their first ever Welsh Cup triumph. 

Bala podium upload

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