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Saturday, 26 April 2014 20:29

GOING TO THE WIRE

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Alex North scores Llanwern's first Alex North scores Llanwern's first

SATURDAY 26TH APRIL: The Willows - windy
BRIDGEND STREET 1 LLANWERN 4 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League - Division 3)
I've been agonising over where to go today, and the weather forecast hasn't helped one bit. Initially, weeks ago, I had Thatcham v Merthyr pencilled in, believing the Martyrs would clinch the Calor League title today: but that looks unlikely now, unless leaders Cirencester slip up. Then I had Mathern v Cwm in the Gwent County League in my sights - something of a 'winner takes all' promotion head to head: but with heavy rain and high winds forecast, a ground without shelter on the exposed Gwent levels is perhaps not a wise choice. So closer to home, there are crucial games in all three Welsh League divisions, and Third Division leaders Llanwern are in Cardiff today for their last game of 2013-14, needing to win to push rivals Barry all the way in the title race (though they are at least assured of promotion already).

It's only the second time I've visited the Willows ground this season, and the first for six months. 'The Mission' have had a moderate season, but recent results have enabled them to reach mid-table safety and I'm hoping to find some of their old vibrancy back as I head into town and out on the half hour walk through Adamsdown and Splott. Constellation, System, Meteor; Tin, Metal, Zinc... the pleasing street names of Adamsdown. Then out past Splott Park (parks games in progress here) and on to the Willows school. Into the ground and it's still sunny, if rather blustery - where's that rain that kept me local ?

Bridgend Street have been busy on the ground, laying paths and hardstanding, and adding even more signage to the bright red painted buildings. It's the little things about a football ground that make the difference, and Street get a lot of them right: team line-ups pinned up in the tea bar (how simple, and how welcome, but how few clubs do it), teams announced over the public address (and scorers later).

And so to the match (and at 2.30 it's still sunny...). Early exchanges are inconclusive, possession roughly even, but Street are missing a number of first teamers - that much was evident from the teamsheet, with listed players not numbered today, and five extra names having been written in as additions. Llanwern look a bit more of a unit, and a bit sharper, especially in attack. So it's not surprising when they take a 16th minute lead, Alex North placing a header back across goal and past Nicky King. Dan Hooper doubles the lead before half an hour has been played, and it seems the visitors are comfortably setting the points target for Barry to aim at. But then, just before half time, Street's number 2, Gareth Cawley hits a 20-yard rising shot that flashes into the top of the net, and suddenly the game seems more finely balanced at the interval (and it's still sunny and dry, by the way, which is nice - but also annoying).

The second half doesn't really live up to promise of the first. Street push for an equaliser, but rarely look like getting it. Llanwern have one scare when a defensive header under pressure goes just over, and keeper Golton falls awkwardly into the net at the same time. At the other end, they don't create a lot, and are content to hold the 2-1 lead.

It's not until the last few minutes that Llanwern make the game safe, and in unsatisfactory circumstances for the home fans. A free-kick is awarded, rather softly, out on the visitors' left wing. Hooper takes it, and somehow King lets the fairly tame shot go straight past him into the net. And just four minutes later, with the Street defence out of position, a long ball finds Llanwern sub John Lillygreen, who has more than enough time and space to roll his shot past King. 1-4 - by no means a reflection of the game, and pretty harsh on Bridgend Street, although you can't argue with Llanwern's right to all three points.

By the end of the game, all we've had of the promised heavy rain and thunder is a few spots midway through the second half: misled by a weather forecast, not for the first or last time either. Doesn't really matter, I've seen a good enough game today anyway, and at least I didn't go to Carmarthen, or Treowen (both considered) which were postponed !

The result here doesn't actually decide anything in the Division Three title race, because it transpires Barry have also won. They can still overtake Llanwern for the Division 3 title, if they take 4 points from their last two games. Llanwern must wait patiently for a couple more weeks.  Indeed, it's the same story in all three divisions of the Welsh League today:  both Monmouth Town and Taff's Well scored narrow victories to remain neck and neck, with two games to play each.  And in Division Two, where four teams are vying for three promotion places, Garden Village and Cardiff Met look likely to go up but which of them will do so as champions is far from decided.

UPDATE 28TH APRIL: 

MONDAY 28TH MAY 2014: Cyncoed Campus, rain.
CARDIFF MET. UNIVERSITY 1 GARDEN VILLAGE 1 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Division 2)
A rare Monday night match for me, but this is a significant fixture between two teams chasing the Division Two title; the proverbial 'six pointer' then, and maybe even a title decider. It's a pleasant late spring evening as I arrive at Cyncoed, and a fair crowd is assembling around the 3G pitch. But just as the game starts, so does the rain, and what appears to be a shower turns into something altogether more enduring. After a few minutes everyone retreats either to the seated stand or the overhang from the Indoor Sports Centre.

The first half is even, as you'd expect from two sides so close in the table and in such strong form. Garden Village look the more direct, slightly quicker to the ball in midfield and certainly winning most of the high balls (strange this, as Mets always spend so much time heading the ball in their pre-match rituals). The students play passing football - coaching manual style - but without any penetration. They also concede a fair number of dangerous free-kicks, and late in the half one of these is their undoing, when a strong close range header opens the scoring.

After the break, it's a question of whether the students can find a way back into the game; I wonder if fitness will help as the game drifts towards its last quarter. They do start to threaten more, especially down the left wing where substitute Jordan Lam is causing problems for the Village defence. But it is looking increasingly as if the visitors have what it takes to see the game out and return home with the three points, and, almost certainly, the divisional title. But then, for just about the first time all evening, they fail to cut out a ball into the box, and the busy Lam gets in a low header that flashes into the net. 1-1, little time left, and though both sides try, there's no winner tonight.

The result, and Jordan Lam's late goal, leave Cardiff Met with a slight advantage now - win their last two and they're champions.

[postscript: two days later, and Cardiff Met lose 1-0 at Croesyceiliog. The advantage swings back towards Garden Village with one to play. A week or so of the season left and nothing in this division is decided - neither the title, nor even which three of four teams will go up]

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