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Monday, 13 November 2017 14:56

O when the Saints... Featured

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SUNDAY 12th NOVEMBER Park Hall, cold and sunny.
THE NEW SAINTS 0 QUEEN OF THE SOUTH 0 (after extra time, TNS won 4-3 on penalties)
IRN-BRU CUP QUARTER FINAL

Usually these blogs kick off with an account of the trials/delights of public transport in Wales. Not so today, as my journey to the Irn -Bru Cup quarter final is by road, courtesy of two members of the S4C commentary team. Not just a lot easier than travelling on Sunday trains out of Cardiff the day after a rugby international, but much more sociable too.

Despite a hold-up while the main north-south artery, the A470, is closed for Rhayader's remembrance parade, we arrive at Park Hall a couple of hours before kick off - but we're by no means the first. Large numbers of Scottish fans are already installed in the Park Hall bar. The atmosphere builds, helped immeasurably by TNS's master-stroke in providing a live band. The fans sing along merrily and the bar does a roaring trade. Numbers build as the match approaches, the most common question being "where can we get a programme?" You can't - they've sold out an hour before kick off.

After the conviviality of the warm clubhouse, we turn our attention to the football match out in the cold. The novelty of the SPFL's cup format under its IrnBru sponsorship continues to divide opinion, but you'll hear no criticism from anyone here today. It's an important game, and both sides are taking it seriously - Queens have named a full-strength side, including former Scottish international James McFadden and ex-Swansea City man Stephen Dobbie. This seems to make the visitors favourites, although past games between Welsh Premier and Scottish Championship clubs have been extremely close. Hard to find cause for optimism in my own 2017 record in this competition: two games, two Welsh defeats.

But TNS dominate the early stages: lively on the ball, they hit the bar and then have a goal disallowed for a marginal offside. Queens enjoy a good spell later in the half, and an exquisite McFadden chip hits the TNS bar, but there's no score at the interval. The second half goes the same way - good spells for both sides, chances aplenty, but no goals.

Extra time: it's dark now and even colder, but the end to end action holds the interest. Dobbie seems certain to score in the first period but screws a shot wide, and that's the closest anyone comes to breaking the deadlock. 120 goal-less minutes in freezing temperatures - it sounds as though time would drag, but it's the opposite. The match has flown by, one of the best goal-less draws I've seen.

The beginning of the penalty shoot-out defies belief with four unsuccessful kicks. Things improve for the next six and the tie is still level at 3-3 going into sudden-death. At this point, TNS keeper Paul Harrison grabs the ball, strides purposefully to the spot and smashes it past his Scottish counterpart Martin, following the ball into the net for good measure. He remains to face the next QoS kick, nicely placed by Stirling to his left - and leaps to push it round the post. The Saints players celebrate with their captain, the hero of the hour.

The visiting fans take the defeat with the same good grace and humour they've shown all day. Sure, they're disappointed, and there are mutterings about their team's lack of prowess in penalty shoot-outs, but I don't think they're going to let it spoil their weekend completely.

For the JD Welsh Premier, the result is significant. Our teams have met Scottish Championship sides four times this year: three of those games have gone to extra-time, two to penalties. It's Wales 2 Scotland 2. Pretty conclusive evidence that the standard of the two leagues is equal, and that evidence is needed, for in terms of UK media coverage and recognition the WPL lags way behind.

I recall the last car journey home from here, after TNS's disappointment in the Champions League. I remember searching for positives, without much success. Tonight, it's all positives and there's a marked contrast in the mood in the car.

Read 335 times Last modified on Monday, 13 November 2017 15:46

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