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Saturday, 16 November 2013 20:15


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SATURDAY 16TH NOVEMBER: Cyncoed Campus - dry and grey.
The autumn rains have relented: I could go anywhere without risk of postponement - except that travelling today wouldn't be much fun. An afternoon rugby game in Cardiff, followed by a football international kicking off at 6pm means it's best to avoid travelling through the capital. I did toy with the idea of an early start and late return, giving me a long day in Carmarthen, but Arriva Trains Wales' performance has been so abysmal this week (nine delayed journeys out of ten commutes) that I can't face them again. So the obvious choice is the rescheduled Welsh Cup tie at the Cardiff Metropolitan University campus in Cyncoed.


I set off at lunchtime, hoping to use the train for the short hop to Heath, before walking up to Cyncoed. Alas, Arriva are not going to miss this golden opportunity to let me down for the sixth day running, and I have to switch to plan B: walk to Cyncoed. Forty-five minutes later, weary and rather warmer than when I set out, I've scaled the heights of Celyn Avenue, trudged on past the gated houses of snooty Cyncoed Road, and am making my way round the back of the campus buildings towards the sports pitches.

There's a lively game of girls' hockey underway and it's tempting to stop and watch, but it's just as well I resist, as after passing the rugby and hockey centres I realise my usual way through to the football pitch is blocked by works. Through the indoor athletics centre, down a couple of corridors, out a back door, climb over a half-constructed path and I'm almost there. Part of the building work is revealed to be a new synthetic football pitch, almost laid, and ready with a stand and floodlights. Apparently the Mets will move onto this in a matter of weeks.

But today they're hosting Haverfordwest on the grass pitch next door; it has recovered from last week, when it was unplayable, but it's still not in great shape. What this means for the game is hard to say, because both sides would probably prefer a good surface to play football on. Haverfordwest, top of the Welsh League, no doubt see this tie as a potential banana-skin, but winnable against a lower-division side. The Mets, on the other hand, certainly fancy it. There's confidence in the match programme, not least from the quite remarkable Chairman's Musings which occupy page 2, and start with the sentence "According to some, social life can be conceptualised as an exchange". Prof. Jones goes on to give us a sports psychology lesson, the relevance eventually becoming clear with an assertion of real belief in the team dynamic of the current Mets squad.

Manager Christian Edwards gives his troops a rousing speech before kick off, and they have heeded his words, because from the first minute they are playing a fast-tempo game, giving County no chance to settle. It is also noticeable that they are passing the ball short and often, playing as a team, and often eschewing the obvious move or pass. Within the first ten minutes, distress signals are heard from the visitors' dug-out: they "haven't started", they're still "smoking a cigar", and the like. And after 17 minutes of this discomfort, they go behind, after losing a 50-50 ball on the half-way line to a fine tackle: while keeper Curtis's cries of "stop the cross!" are still hanging on the air, Tim Nixon nips in at the far post to head the cross firmly past him.
Before Haverfordwest have time to hit back, a neat pass is threaded through their defence and pushed past Curtis - a trip, a penalty, and a red card. Outfield player Sean Pemberton dons the green jersey and Josh Barnett smashes the spot-kick past him: 2-0.

Reduced to nine men, without a regular keeper, and trailing 2-0, County are in much deeper trouble than they were five minutes earlier, but I've certainly seen substitute goalkeepers, with suitable protection, excel themselves under siege. Unfortunately, within ten minutes of taking over, Pemberton is first lobbed by Dan Spencer, then beaten by a low shot from the fast-breaking Joe Chaplin. 4-0, and no way back now for the Bluebirds.

But, what's this, a glimmer of hope ? Steffan Williams beats home keeper Willis on 35 minutes, before rolling the ball into an open goal and so County go into the break with the beginnings of a fight-back. Can they build on it ? Three minutes into the second half, we get the answer: no. Tim Nixon sprints clear of the Bluebirds defence and fires a low shot past Pemberton into the corner of the net for 5-1; which rather makes the remaining 42 minutes academic. Five minutes later Pemberton makes a good stop to prevent a sixth goal, but from the resulting corner Jamie Ward heads the sixth for the Mets.

Mets manager Edwards decides the rest of the game must become an exercise for his side in keeping the ball, something they prove pretty good at, slinging passes from wing to wing and building intricate little moves. They do succumb to boredom at times, and are berated from the bench for "sloppiness", but aren't punished for it by the visitors, who seem to have accepted their fate with very good grace, never resorting to petulance or retribution as the game draws to a low-key close with no further goals.

Clearly the game, as a contest has been spoiled by the sending off of Chris Curtis - not that there was any alternative for the unnamed referee. But there's a risk that such an incident could be thoughts of as the root of the Mets' win, and that would be a travesty: from the first minute they have given the the higher league side a football lesson, playing an impressive, fast and skilful game - and are worthy winners. Newtown away in the next round will be an even bigger test, but they deserve their chance to take on a Welsh Premier side.

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