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Saturday, 15 February 2014 20:05

SURPRISES

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SATURDAY 15TH FEBRUARY: Ynys Park - sunshine & showers
TON & GELLI BC 3 CARDIFF MET 2 (FAW Trophy Quarter-final)
After a week of unprecedented storms - including one overnight on Friday - it's clear that for yet another weekend we're going to lose most of the fixture list. In fact, I'm not really expecting anything to be on except a few fixtures on 3G surfaces. With the wind and squally rain continuing through the morning, this seems like a week when the best option might be staying in. The updates online during the morning more or less confirm that only a handful of games are going to survive - but to my great surprise, Ton & Gelli's FAW Trophy match is confirmed as on. I'd sort of written off the trophy quarter finals as either likely to be off, or too difficult to get to, so this unexpected development means an easy decision: I'm off to the Rhondda.

As luck would have it, the valley rail line to the Rhondda valley is not one of those blocked or flooded, so the journey up to Ton Pentre is - again surprisingly- straightforward. The weather is calming down now, still a chilly wind, but sunshine breaking through. The river Rhondda - which flows underneath Ton Pentre station - is fast-flowing, tumbling over the rocks on its way to join the Taff, but it's not threatening the steep banks here. I cross it, then cross back over it again on the ancient little bridge that leads into Ynys Park, and enter the quaint old ground, handing over my £2 at the gate. Next surprise - and less welcome - is that there's no programme, despite this being the quarter final of a national competition. Seems a shame, on such a big day for the home club.

The pitch is undeniably soft. When anyone walks on it, it squelches. But although in places it's nothing but mud, it is certainly playable, which is yet another surprise on this day of surprises, given the proximity of the river, just behind the covered terrace behind the goal. In the past, I've known a few hours' rain to cause that end to become waterlogged as groundwater levels rise.

By 1.30, a handful of spectators has assembled - a disappointingly small turnout - and, yes, surprisingly so, given how few other games are on locally. Certainly, not enough to cover the £150 officials' expenses. Amazingly, some even object to forking out £2 - I overhear a couple of youngsters grumbling about paying "to watch amateurs".

And so to the match, with Cardiff Met surely starting as favourites not just for this fixture but the trophy itself. The university side play three levels above their hosts, and their skill and fitness levels should be greater. Admittedly, the heavy surface may be a 'leveller' - but Ton & Gelli are a footballing side too, I am told, and may be just as inconvenienced. Two minutes in, scrub that, they're not inconvenienced at all: their first attack sees Liam Reed through one-on-one, Chris Willis saves with his feet but Reed places the rebound past him and Ton lead 1-0. Within ten minutes, it's 2-0, Reed curling a fine shot round Willis, and the uni side are on the ropes. The biggest surprise so far today - Ton are deservedly 2-0 up.

The rest of the first half is fairly even, half-chances coming at both ends; Ton's style is a little more direct than the students', their touches less measured but no less effective. They look like taking the two goal lead into the break, but from a throw in first half stoppage time the home keeper loses a cross and Charlie Corsby has a simple tap in at the far post. 2-1 at the interval and the game is nicely poised.

Will Cardiff Met build on their late breakthrough after the break ? Well, there's no denying they proceed to dominate the second half territorially. An equaliser looks quite possible, but then comes a turning point: a home player takes the ball into the box and goes down under a challenge. The referee gives a penalty, and whether you agree depends which team you support - he was either going down already, or the contact took him down. Sean Jones makes no mistake from the spot, and now the Cardiff side need two goals in half an hour.

From this point on, the students lay siege to the home goal, with Ton players clearly tiring. Chances come and go - shots dragged wide, close shaves, one shot coming back off the bar. Ton hold out - at least until stoppage time, when Corsby again seizes on a defensive error to smash in his side's second goal. A couple more attacks are survived by the home defence, but there's no time for any more, and the students fail in their desperate attempt to force extra time. They are through to meet Llanrug United or FC Nomads in the semi-finals, no doubt somewhere in mid Wales.

Overall, the day has turned out unexpectedly; I hadn't expected to see a game at all, had doubted I could travel to and from it without disruption, expected the weather to pose more problems, and never anticipated that Cardiff Met would go out of the trophy so tamely. Life is, truly, full of surprises.

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