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Sunday, 05 January 2014 09:23

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SATURDAY 4TH JANUARY 2014: Bryntirion Park - turning cold

PENYBONT 4 MONMOUTH TOWN 2 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Division One)

With my planned New Year's Day game lost to the stormy weather, and much of today's programme going the same way, a fixture on an all-weather surface is the obvious choice today. Even more so as Penybont today return to Bryntirion Park for their first competitive fixture on the new 3G pitch there. Penybont are the product of last season's merger between Bryntirion and Bridgend Town, the latter's money having paid for the new pitch, though it seems there's not much else of them left in the new entity. Moreover, the match is an attractive one, against title contenders Monmouth.

Even getting to Bridgend for this fixture would have been tricky at the peak of the storms yesterday, but the high winds have dropped, the rain and tides have subsided, and the trains are running again, so it should all be straightforward, shouldn't it ?

Well, it's not quite that simple: lunchtime trains west out of Cardiff are delayed and with the benefit of hindsight I should have set out earlier. In the end I have 35 minutes for the uphill journey to Bryntirion, which means a brisk walk rather than a stroll. I make it with ten minutes to spare before kick off, but am still punished for lack of foresight: they've sold out of programmes.

There's a decent attendance: a large contingent of visiting fans, plus some neutrals, and plenty of locals. The Monmouth fans are hoping their team can bounce back from a home defeat last week, while the locals maybe won't know what to expect - their team has played half the season away from home, so their league position (mid table) could well be false. With predominantly home games to come on their new pitch, a good run could see them climbing the table.

The football is of course going to be very different from last week's fare: OK it's two divisions higher, and skills levels are much better, but the big difference is the playing surface, with the ball running freely on the green carpet rather than bobbling around on the mud. And so the match starts at a high tempo, both sides looking lively, committed, and capable of breaking quickly. Noise levels are high too, with Penybont keeper Matthew Stanton in particular the source of incessant shouted orders to the team in front of him as they repel some early Monmouth pressure.

But the crucial first goal comes at the other end, just nine minutes into the game: a crunching tackle just inside the Penybont half leaves a Monmouth player on the ground, play is waved on and from the break Penybont score with a fine curling shot into the top corner. Soon after, a trip in the box brings a penalty and a second goal, and in the 20th minute it's 3-0 from a Penybont corner. Bad start for the Kingfishers, who are now chasing the game. They need a goal back before half-time, and they do come very close several times. In the end, they don't get a goal, but they do get a numerical advantage when Matthew Jones is sent off for a rash tackle on the edge of the box. Does this give Monmouth a glimmer of hope for the second half ?

Unfortunately the second half doesn't set the pulse racing. This is a real pity as it's now rapidly turning breezier and much colder, and it would be nice to be absorbed in the football. For twenty minutes or so nothing much happens to distract from the cold, expect a bizarre booking for a Monmouth sub who seems to have come on without following the correct procedure, and some sort of dissent that leads to the visiting manager being sent from the dug-out.

On 72 minutes Penybont seem to wrap up the victory with another penalty, and the remaining time looks meaningless. But Monmouth finally see the one man advantage make a difference as their fortues change: they pull a goal back almost immediately, then get a second with a long-range 'daisy-cutter' shot (though I guess they'd have to be artificial daisies). Is this an improbable comeback from 4-0 down ? They very nearly get a penalty (a free-kick right on the edge of the box instead) and a couple of shots flash just wide. A third goal would have brought an unexpectedly tense finish, but it doesn't come, and Monmouth run out of time. Despite their late rally, they were outplayed for most of the game by a sharper home side, and can't really complain that they're going home with nothing today. Penybont have been impressive - how far can they go, now they're back home ?

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