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Sunday, 04 May 2014 21:00


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SATURDAY MAY 3RD 2014: The Racecourse - sunny
It's been a long week, and I've had enough of travelling. I wouldn't really have chosen a longish trip to north-east Wales today, but I'm not going to miss the Welsh Cup final just because I'm tired. It's an easy train journey anyway (although an expensive one), and by just after 1pm I'm in Wrexham on a sunny and fairly benign spring Saturday. Just time for a quick pint in Wetherspoons' The Elihu Yale before strolling back along Mold Road to the Racecourse.

The Racecourse is a neutral venue, but isn't really anything like a midway point between Aberystwyth and Oswestry. Nor, in my opinion, is it an ideal venue for the Welsh Cup final - too large for a modest crowd, and generally too dated and too depressing. Three sides will be empty, the huge Mold Road stand, the university end stand, and the semi-derelict town end terrace. Just the lower tier of the grim old main stand is in use. But it's what the FAW have chosen to use, so here we are. The crowd is congregating around the main entrance, which these days is hemmed in by the encroaching student flats which have been built on the car park. And to be fair a decent atmosphere is building, with a drum band and dancers and a mini-football game in progress.

By kick off time, the band and dancers have moved inside the stadium, and after they've performed we have the anthem, the team presentations to Chris Coleman and FAW officials, and it's time to get a much-anticipated final underway. It's fair to say that most neutrals would prefer Aber to win today. And although I have nothing against TNS, I'm with them on that: Aber have not won the cup for 114 years, and have given their supporters relatively little success in recent times. There's a feeling that, whereas full-time TNS are undoubtedly the strongest side in the Welsh Premier, maybe this is Aber's year.

From the outset, Aber are rampant and it seems to give the Saints a few problems. It's a high-tempo start, with several fierce challenges to raise the temperature, but that's nothing compared to a three minute spell between the tenth and twelfth minutes. First Aber cause mayhem in the TNS box from a cross, Stuart Jones heads goalwards, and from the half-clearance WPL top scorer Chris Venables scores from close range. Before it's had time to sink in, Aber are on the attack again, Mark Jones takes the ball past Sam Finlay but is brought down - penalty, converted coolly by that man Venables. TNS are on the ropes, reeling from the setbacks, and never really recover throughout a first half that Aber continue to dominate.

But the second half is different: the Saints come out with a more positive spring in their step and tear into Aber immediately. Now I often complain about teams defending a lead by sitting back and conceding territory, but I think it would be harsh to accuse Aberystwyth of this. I really think they have no choice against the onslaught from the navy-and-white clad opposition. Every clearance is brief respite only, as another attack builds and the ball is back in Aber territory. But, remarkably, they hold firm, keeper Mike Lewis outstanding and inspiring confidence. Into the last quarter of the match, still 2-0... past the 70 minute mark... I begin to feel TNS will push forward so much that they'll be exposed to a killer third goal on the counter-attack. It almost happens a couple of times, but then, on 74 minutes, a turning point. A cross from the TNS left, Peter Hoy blocks but a penalty is given for handball. Substitute Greg Draper steps up to convert, and the Saints are back in the game.

Crucially, as with all such pivotal moments, the momentum is now with TNS. They still attack, and Aber are looking more desperate in their defending. A free-kick from the right, Draper unmarked in the goalmouth, and it's 2-2. From this point, there's really only one outcome - it is just a matter of whether the remaining 12 minutes are enough for the Saints to win the match without extra time. And they are, with three minutes to spare. Mike Wilde is given too much time and space in the box and drills the winner past Lewis. Heartbreak for Aber and their fans, but joy for TNS, and the real winner is Welsh football - a fantastic live match on tv, with drama and excitement for ninety minutes. I'm glad I dragged myself up here to north-east Wales: now I need a rest before more guaranteed excitement on Monday.

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