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Saturday, 27 January 2018 20:59

A "Fairytale" of Dragons and Miners Featured

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SATURDAY 27th JANUARY: USW Sports Campus, wet and mild.
The last sixteen of the Welsh Cup, always a day to savour, and ever since the draw was made back in December I have had just one destination today. Two south Wales valleys clubs, one from tier 3, one from tier 5, and one of them will qualify for the quarter-finals of the Welsh Cup.

Whilst I've been anticipating today, the weather has been a bit of a worry. Heavy rain this morning on top of already saturated ground brings a rash of postponements through the morning. I set off for Treforest early - half-expecting to arrive to news that the match referee has deemed the pitch unplayable and so leaving enough time to high-tail it down to Cyncoed for a later kick off. But on arrival, those fears are unfounded: the pitch is looking heavy but OK, although spectator areas are holding vast amounts of water. The game, it seems, is very much on.

Penydarren BGC's extraordinary winning run has drawn an increasing amount of attention and coverage. The FAW website ran a video feature on the Merthyr club this week and social media has been awash with messages of encouragement.

The most commonly-used description for Penydarren's exploits is "fairy-tale". A cliché, although we all understand the meaning. But today is no day for fairies: their little gossamer wings would soon get waterlogged in the persistent rain and the abundant mud at the USW Sport Park is not the best surface for tiny bare feet. No, today is a day for good old-fashioned cup football, football in the raw, and over 400 spectators have assembled expecting a real battle in the mud. Today's teams are the distinctly un-fairylike Dragons of Pontypridd and Miners of Penydarren.

From the outset, Penydarren demonstrate why they're on such an all-conquering run. Wave after wave of attack forces Ponty onto the back foot, and brings early chances and corner-kicks. As early as the twelfth minute the visitors get their breakthrough, a ball into the area falling to Christopher Colvin Owens and he steers it into the net, bringing the first roar of the afternoon from the massed ranks of travelling supporters. But their cheers are silenced a couple of minutes later when Ponty attack and a cross from the left is deflected into the Penydarren net.

For the rest of the half, we are treated to a flowing, end-to-end game. Penydarren have the better of midfield possession and certainly come closer to getting a second goal. The 'underdog' tag is belied by the quality of their touches and the cohesion of their team-work and movement. So at half-time, Ponty may be quite relieved that the scores are still level.

The second half brings a change in the balance of the game. The pitch is becoming even heavier and Penydarren suddenly seem to be finding it harder to launch their raids upfield. There is no denying that Ponty are on top, the visiting keeper making two acrobatic saves and seeing one effort rebound off a post. Just a matter of time before this pressure yields a goal, surely?

But no, Penydarren hold firm. Both sides look tired, but they are cancelling each other out. It really looks as though the price for this may be another 30 minutes slog in the mud - not that the neutrals would mind, for it's mighty entertaining.

Then, with about twenty minutes left, a Penydarren cross from the left hangs invitingly for the prolific Owens, who meets it just right and directs the ball back into the far corner. Cue wild celebrations, the underdogs have the lead again. But can they keep it this time? In fact, in the next five minutes they have two glorious chances to extend the lead, but both go to waste.

To the visiting supporters, the final twenty minutes plus generous added time clearly seem interminable. Pontypridd have a right go, and Green in the Penydarren goal is a busy man. When they can, Penydarren take the ball to safety in their opponents' half, and when all else fails they lash it to the relative safety of touch. Finally, with whistles ringing around the ground, and over five minutes stoppage time played, Bryn Markham-Jones blows the one whistle which counts. It's over, Penydarren are in the last eight of the JD Welsh Cup, and nobody in the ground today can say they don't deserve it. The "fairytale" continues.

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