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Saturday, 08 February 2014 20:14


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SATURDAY 8TH FEBRUARY: Penydarren Park - wet, wild and stormy.
MERTHYR TOWN 12 GUILDFORD CITY 0 (Calor Southern League, South & West Division)
Another weekend, another storm. It's rained during the week, and it's forecast to rain some more today, so the football programme will be washed out again, but on this occasion the weather is only a minor nuisance, as I have already decided to head for Merthyr for the first time since they installed their 3G artificial surface at Penydarren Park.

The lure is not just the all-weather surface - I need to catch up on Merthyr, topping their division of the Southern League, as I last saw them in that FA Cup defeat at Bridgwater. And their opponents today interest me too, Guildford City, a famous old name from my early days of watching Southern League football, except that in those days Guildford played at St. Joseph's Road, one of my favourite venues. That club lost its ground 40 years ago and slipped into oblivion, and today's incarnation is a new entity that has adopted the old name and plays in the same red and white stripes that I remember (though not today). They're back in Guildford too, but at a leisure centre ground as different from St Joseph's Road as you could imagine.

It's been a sunny morning in Cardiff, with a chilly and strengthening wind though; by the time the train reaches Merthyr, the promised storm has arrived. Most south Walians are safely inside a bar, it seems, ready to watch the rugby, for Merthyr town centre is quiet, and Penydarren Park is not busy either, despite the Martyrs' current good form. Apart from the 3G surface, not a lot has changed here, though it's the little things you notice, like the tea bar on the popular bank being closed, and the tannoy system being inaudible except in the main stand.

By kick off time, rain is sweeping across the pitch towards the covered bank. Merthyr, in white and black, include Lee Idzi in goal for the first time since his arrival from Bangor City. I'm expecting to see them win against a side that has lost all but one of its away games this season, and I assume it's really a question of 'how many ?'. There's an early scare when Idzi first touch in a Merthyr shirt almost gifts the visitors a goal, but his blushes are spared. Within a couple of minutes Merthyr are one up, Kerry Morgan nipping in from the left to beat the keeper at the left hand post, and already they are dominating, with several chances to double the lead wasted in the minutes that follow. Further goals do come though, Kayne McLaggon beating the keeper to a cross in the 17th minute, then Jarred Wright and Ryan Newman adding a third and fourth before the interval. At the break, Merthyr are coasting and I wonder if the second half will be an anti-climax with the game won already.

But Merthyr are not resting on their laurels. Ryan Prosser, brought off the bench at half time, scores within a couple of minutes, then Kerry Morgan scores his second from close range, Ryan Charles makes it seven with a fine strike that the keeper can only get fingertips to, and another sub Ian Traylor slots in the eighth, with still half an hour left. After this Guildford rally, winning some corners and free-kicks, and Merthyr have a spell in their own half. But after a gap of seventeen minutes, the goals start flowing again, Prosser getting his second when the ball falls kindly for him, then accidentally setting up Aaron Cornwall for the tenth goal with a miscued shot. City keeper Anthony Hall denies the Martyrs twice now with blocks, but in the dying minutes, with Guildford tired and understandably demoralised, Chris Leek adds an eleventh before Prosser walks through their defence and rounds Hall before completing his hat-trick.

Now it would be a mistake to read too much into such a big win against a team at the bottom, but scoring twelve goals is rare and this is, by some way, the biggest score in the division this season. And nine different players on the scoresheet is rare too. Even more impressive is the manner of victory, based on a fast, cohesive passing game and a much more disciplined approach than I've seen from Garry Shephard's team previously. Of course the 3G pitch helps, but its biggest influence is that it encourages good, skilful football. I leave (in the continuing storm) with a strong feeling that Merthyr's promotion challenge deserves to succeed this season.

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