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Sunday, 13 January 2019 13:43

You Can't Beat a Proper Cup Tie Featured

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SATURDAY 12th JANUARY. The Muga, mild.
PLAS MADOC 3 BERRIEW 2 (FAW Trophy Round 5)

For the second week in a row my Saturday morning and evening will be spent travelling up and down the so familiar English border line on Transport for Wales trains. The weather's been unusually peaceful for January and neither trip was threatened by postponement. All good, although last week's outing was a bit of a drag, to be honest: a dull routine league game between two rusty sides, on a dull day in a rather dull place. I didn't write it up as a blog - there just wasn't much to say and I didn't want to waste time re-living it.

But I have higher hopes of today's excursion. For a start, it's the FAW Trophy, and knock-out football tends to produce more drama. Secondly, it's an inter-region game, North East v Central Wales, between teams that haven't met before. Thirdly, the home team, Plas Madoc, are a bit of a sensation - after winning the North East Wales League in only the first season, they're unbeaten so far in the league (Wrexham Area Division One). I'm looking forward to watching them.

The train journey to Ruabon is as straightforward as it is familiar. The trains are fairly quiet, and the only challenge for the train conductor is explaining to passengers about the diversion of trains to Crewe and Manchester, and how this affects their various journeys. He helpfully points out that my train, heading for Manchester via Chester, will speed through Ruabon without stopping, but I knew, and plan to change at Shrewsbury.


I've walked the road from Ruabon to Cefn Mawr a good few times too (there's a bus, but I'm not in a hurry). Just down the road from the station, there's an information board about Ruabon's heritage, but it fails to mention the town's important role in Welsh football. After 25 minutes' stroll, I'm in Rhosymedre, passing close to The Rock (Cefn Albion are home in the Trophy there today too) and turning left for Cefn Mawr, a turn I haven't taken for a few years - since Druids departed Plaskynaston, in fact. It's odd walking past the Tesco that has obliterated all trace of the old ground, and it's so disorientating that I can't quite picture the location of the old landmarks in the new landscape. The High Street is recognisable, but much smarter than I remember, with a bit of money obviously invested. Tesco hasn't yet killed off all the shops either, although strangely I can't find a betting shop to watch the racing. There's a Cefn Mawr museum, but it's closed, so I can't check to see if it pays due respect to the village's football history.


The Muga was 'next door' to Plaskynaston, and now one end of the ground is dominated by the huge wall beneath Tesco's car park. The pitch lies in a sort of natural hollow, the ground rising on all sides, but the main feature is the bank that runs alongside the town side. The changing rooms occupy containers up here, and there is a steep flight of wooden steps down to the pitch. Plas Madoc do charge a nominal admission (including raffle entry) but disappointingly haven't issued a programme.


And so to the match: Plas Madoc, in a blue and black kit, are attacking the Tesco end and as I make my way round that way, there's almost an opening goal at the other end, a downward header scrambled away by the home defence. This proves to be a taste of things to come, as an open attacking game brings chances at both ends - it couldn't be more different from last Saturday.


Berriew cause Plas Madoc all sorts of problems down the left flank, whereas Plas Madoc enjoy the better of possession but are lacking the quality final pass. In one remarkable passage of play, they come agonisingly close to opening the scoring, but Berriew clear and seconds later hit the bar at the other end. It's anyone's guess where the first goal will come, but in the 37th minute a Berriew corner is headed in by Joe Haycock. It's probably a deserved lead, but it doesn't last until the break, as finally Plas Madoc get the delivery of a cross just right, and Jamie Williams meets it at the far post to equalise with a powerful header.


At half-time, everyone is agreed, this is a cracking cup tie between two evenly matched teams. Nobody is too confident how it will end. Chances continue to come at both ends, and we have another of those 'mad minutes' when Berriew survive a close shave and break away to come equally close at the other end. Plas Madoc's pressure begins to build, and mid-way through the half it pays off, when the visiting keeper concedes a clear-cut penalty, which captain Nicky Williams scores.


Now it's a question of whether Plas Madoc can hold on to the lead: as so often, the temptation to sit deep and defend backfires, when Berriew again score from a corner. From the opposite end, it looks a real goalmouth scramble, with a defensive hand involved somewhere too, but the goal is credited to Rhys Stephens.


About five minutes left - extra time, now, surely ? But no, Plas Madoc attack, and win a free-kick way out on the right. Nicky Williams takes it, and puts it right under the crossbar where... everyone misses it. The cross finishes in the net, and Plas Madoc have a very late lead. The referee now adds more stoppage time than I expect, so there's time for some desperate late Berriew pressure. There's even a penalty appeal for an alleged push, a reasonable shout, but not given by the man on the spot. Plas Madoc hold on, Berriew bow out, but both teams should be proud to have contributed so much to a fantastic cup-tie. If last week's match would make the shortlist of 2018-19's most instantly forgettable matches, I've little doubt this one will be in my end-of-season top two or three.

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