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Sunday, 14 January 2018 20:24

Long Distance Featured

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SATURDAY 13th JANUARY: Abertillery Leisure Centre, cold and gloomy.

When I saw the draw for the Fifth Round of the FAW Trophy (my favourite domestic competition), I was delighted to see that it was national, rather than regionalised. In recent years, the competition had been regional until the last possible point, but that deprived clubs of one-off away-days in other parts of Wales, and deprived spectators of the inter-region ties that capture the imagination.

The only disappointing feature of the last sixteen draw was the shortage of games in south Wales. Most of our local clubs were drawn away, with just Abertillery in reasonable, January-travel range. Hence a journey up the Ebbw valley - not the easiest, as I'm wary of Gwent buses. Quite often it seems only locals actually know where they stop - and I remember waiting in the wrong place, in what looked like a bus station, on my last trip to Abertillery. Signage and visitor information is non-existent in these parts - I suppose they don't expect tourists.

Today a bit of research suggests a train to Cwmbran then a bus to Abertillery. Simple in theory, not so in practice when there's no sign of the alleged X1 bus - or even its stand or timetable - in Cwmbran bus exchange. By a stroke of luck I discover there's an X22 run by Stagecoach, and I wait for that.

Despite the 'X' for "Express", the bus takes its time wending its way along the narrow valley roads, and there's less than an hour before kick-off on arrival in Abertillery. The 3G pitch behind the Leisure Centre is busy, with Wrexham visitors Rhos Aelwyd already changed and out on the pitch. Soon after, Abertillery Bluebirds appear from a gate by the far corner. Apparently they can't use the leisure centre for changing and have walked up from somewhere else. There are several neutrals here, travellers from further afield than me, and we soon locate the match programmes - they're being folded and collated in the back of a car.

With both teams doing well in their leagues (Gwent County Division 1, step 5, and Wrexham Area Division One, step 4, respectively) it's a tricky tie to assess. The two teams appear evenly-matched too, with early chances at both ends. Then Rhos Aelwyd take the lead after twenty minutes, a glancing header by Aled Robertson - but the Bluebirds equalise when Ross Hancocks forces an in-swinging corner over the line. Half-time arrives with the tie still finely poised.

The opening two minutes of the second half prove to be crucial to the outcome, which is a shame as everyone who headed into the leisure centre to use the vending machine and toilets is caught out by a very quick re-start. I'd elected, rightly as it turns out, to stay pitch-side. Bluebirds attack first, forcing Rhos keeper Staffan Parry into an agile save, and from the counter-attack the ball finds Jamie Rogers on the right, his low shot finding the corner of the Bluebirds' net.

Rhos have the upper hand now, but the match remains even - it's just that the Bluebirds can't turn half-chances into an equaliser. Parry makes another fine save to preserve the lead and then twelve minutes from time a Rhos breakaway brings a third goal, again scored by Jamie Rogers. There's no way back from this for Bluebirds, and so the long away trip ends happily for the Wrexham boys.

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