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Tuesday, 06 May 2014 07:15


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MONDAY 5TH MAY : The Cigg-E Stadium, Penydarren Park - sunny, then rain.
MERTHYR TOWN 0 PAULTON ROVERS 2 (Calor Southern League S&W Divisional Play-off)

There's a great deal of expectation, not least on social media, as Merthyr Town's season hinges on one more match. They looked certainties for automatic promotion a couple of months ago, but a few bad away results cost them top spot. Still, they have the alternative route of the play-offs, and got through their semi-final on Tuesday. Now they face Paulton Rovers, at home. The expectation comes from the fact that they finished above Paulton, the fact that the town's rugby team won the Swalec Plate only yesterday, and well... the feeling that, willed on by a big crowd, the Martyrs should be able to deal with a village team from Somerset.

It's a sunny afternoon in Merthyr, not unlike another one 25 years ago: then, my five year-old son and I made this same journey up to Penydarren Park for a vital promotion game. Then, Merthyr overcame the nerves to beat Crawley and earn promotion to the Conference. Bitter-sweet memories, certainly in retrospect, but it was a good day, one that has stayed clear in the memory. For old times sake, I walk up the High Street (not the most direct route from the station now, as the steps up by the old Education building are long blocked off), but that's the way we walked in 1989.

The ground is busy, even with more than an hour to kick off, the car park already full, tea bars doing a brisk trade. But, for the big match, and an anticipated big crowd, there is no merchandise. Surely club scarves and other favours would do a brisk trade today with the occasional, fair-weather fans ? Can't help but feel Merthyr have failed to 'monitise' the occasion.

The crowd build steadily over the next hour, but not the atmosphere; it seems a bit relaxed, not tense enough, not like 1989 at all. Does everyone assume (like I have been, admittedly) that the result is pre-destined, that it's Merthyr's day ? Doubts begin to stir. Paulton are on a good run, they won their semi-final with nine men.

The game starts, and the atmosphere remains subdued, flat even, considering the size of the crowd. Merthyr create some good early positions, but Paulton escape a couple of scares. They settle, and by the mid-point of the half are beginning to create the better chances, while their back line is looking rock solid. Mertrhyr are doing OK in midfield, passing well, and Kayne McLaggon wriggles past his full back a couple of times, but he's an exception; Ian Traylor is getting nothing today. As the half progresses, it becomes clear Paulton have, by some way, the best player on the field, Nick McCootie.

After half time, the forecast rain starts and the crowd starts to head for cover. As if mirroring the deteriorating weather, the game takes a wrong turn too, with a Paulton corner scrambled in by McCootie in the opening minutes. Merthyr try to hit back, with renewed urgency, but McCootie is their nemesis today: he weaves into the box in the 65th minute, goes down under a challenge, and gets up to convert the resulting penalty. 0-2 and a mountain to climb for the Martyrs, whose fans are showing signs of losing the faith. True, Merthyr win a series of corners and Paulton's goal has to survive via a few goal-line clearances, but the visitors do look fairly comfortable with the two-goal cushion, and the result is in no real doubt as the minutes tick away. The home fans are filing out, in the now persistent rain, before the final whistle and the presentation.

A disappointing day, one that will obscure a creditable season for Merthyr Town. An opportunity to win new regular support from the curious first-timers or returners has been missed. All the pre-match optimism now looks misplaced and complacent - Paulton have shown us all we shouldn't have thought they were just here to play a bit part today: their script had them in the leading role.

Read 5285 times Last modified on Sunday, 18 May 2014 06:40

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