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Tuesday, 07 November 2017 14:43

Avoiding the banana skin

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SATURDAY 4th NOVEMBER: Felindre Road, dry and sunny but chilly.
With three South Wales Alliance teams at home in today's Welsh Cup Second Round, all underdogs hoping for an upset, it's a question of which one to choose: Caerphilly is closest, but I've been there this season; Penydarren v STM is tempting and with any rain forecast would have been best, but there was a shock when these sides met in the Trophy, so surely it won't happen again? It's so long since I've been to Pencoed that eventually I decide on their game with Pontypridd.

Pencoed is close to Bridgend and on the main railway line - but still manages to be rather poorly served by public transport. One train an hour stops here (several more flashing past), while there's also an hourly bus between Bridgend and Pontypridd. All of which means that I have to travel early and spend almost an hour pottering around. I can now confirm, there's not a lot to see in Pencoed.

At 1.30, it's time to wander round to the recreation ground in Felindre Road, a large and featureless open area that is home to the town's rugby and football clubs. The football pitch is perennially unchanged - just railed, with no cover. Refreshments are, however, being sold from the room next to the changing rooms. No admission is charged and there's no printed programme on sale - the club has put a digital match programme online, though oddly it's not possible to download it. With almost 100 eventually watching the game, admission by programme today would have brought in a tidy sum.

The match is a potential 'banana-skin' for Ponty. They're going well in the Welsh League Second Division, but the two-division gap to the South Wales Alliance (Premier) is hardly enough of a gulf to be sure of victory. So the opening stage of the game is competitive as both sides try to settle.

Ponty have Pencoed on the back foot a few times, and win a couple of dangerous free-kicks around the area. From the second (and more central) of these, Dan Hooper steps up to fire a shot low and hard into the corner of the net. Just twelve minutes gone, and it seems it's all going in line with the form book. But within three minutes, Pencoed have exactly the response they need and are on level terms.

The equaliser gives Pencoed belief and Ponty look less comfortable; chances of an upset seem to have increased, but then they recede just as quickly: firstly, Ponty are able to get a dangerous cross in from the left, and a backward header loops into the net. Then, in the far corner, there's an incident for which a home player sees red - it's too far away to know why.

Half-time comes with the visitors one goal and one man up. They head off to the changing room, Pencoed stay out on the pitch, always an odd state of affairs. If both teams stay out, the game usually resumes after five minutes, whereas now Pencoed are left standing around for fifteen, waiting.

Pontypridd need another goal to feel safe, but ten-man Pencoed battle so successfully throughout the second half that there's no question of relaxing. There's always the possibility of an equaliser sending us into extra time, right up until the 82nd minute, when Dan Hooper intervenes again. He takes a corner, receives the ball back, and unleashes a fierce shot that ensures the Alliance League side's resistance is over.

No shock then, Ponty step safely over the banana-skin in their path, but a good contest. As it turns out, the shock was at Penydarren today - lightning did strike twice.

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