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Sunday, 01 February 2015 11:37

ABERGAVENNY TOWN MARCH ON IN TROPHY

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SATURDAY 31st JANUARY: Pen-y-Pound Stadium: sunny but very cold.
ABERGAVENNY TOWN 4 SPORTING MARVELS 0 (FAW Trophy Round 5)
Although I had planned to go north again this week for my FAW Trophy action, the wintry weather has been worse up there and I have to play safe and watch one of the south Wales ties: of the three options, Abergavenny is the least exposed to the fierce northerly wind, and so a first visit to Abergavenny Town in their new home of Penypound Stadium (which I visited nearly six months ago when the venue's other tenants, Monmouth Town, moved in).

Sunday, 01 February 2015 11:32

HONOURS EVEN AT WEPRE PARK

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SATURDAY 24th JANUARY: Wepre Park, dry but chilly
FC NOMADS OF CONNAH'S QUAY 2 SALTNEY TOWN 2 (Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Div)
It's been a very long time, too long in fact, since I travelled north for a game. Various things, including the weather, are to blame for that, but when the Welsh winter rains subside for a few days, I seize the opportunity.

With several north Wales clubs on my 'visit soon' list, there are options, and although I had half a mind to watch FC Nomads in next week's FAW Trophy game, the knowledge that their local derby in the league is definitely on proves enough: I'm on my way to Wepre Park.

Monday, 19 January 2015 19:50

HARD LESSON FOR STUDENTS

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SATURDAY 17th JANUARY: Cyncoed Campus, cold, wintry showers.
CARDIFF MET UNIVERSITY 0 CAERAU (ELY) 2 (Welsh League Division 1)
The weather wreaks havoc on the football programme again, with practically all the grass-pitch fixtures in south Wales lost to waterlogging, snow or ice. But in truth, this simplifies things today - I had other options in mind, and having watched the Mets twice recently, I was minded to go slightly further afield, but this top of the table game was always the stand-out fixture today. I am not at all sorry to have it emerge as the only sensible choice today.

Sunday, 04 January 2015 10:02

STUDENTS HELD IN TOP-OF-THE-TABLE ENCOUNTER

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SATURDAY 3rd JANUARY 2015: Cyncoed Campus, rain clearing.
CARDIFF MET UNIVERSITY 1 GOYTRE UNITED 1 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Div One)
The first Saturday of the year starts with a prolonged downpour which is more than a match for the grass pitches of south Wales. By mid-morning, despite no consolidated online information via the Welsh League, Twitter is awash with postponements and my plans clearly need to be revised - 3G being the only safe course of action. And while it's only a couple of weeks since I was at Cyncoed, their 1st v 2nd fixture today is attractive in its own right.

By 1.30, as I enter the ground, it's looking like a fair afternoon for watching football: drier, brighter and relatively mild (I was regretting my layers of clothing on the walk up to Cyncoed). Another plus, I've even got a programme this time. With everything else in Cardiff and the valleys off, you'd expect the football folk to have flocked here for a top of the table clash, but they haven't - where are they ?

Visitors Goytre United, who have impressed this season, appear depleted, at least in numbers. They have only one recognised substitute, with manager Andy Hill naming himself at 14 as well. But the same may be true of the students - I notice Jordan Lam is absent today, for one. Opening exchanges are even: although play is mostly in midfield and the visitors' half, the students are finding it hard to play their intricate passing game against a team capable to tackling and intercepting. On more than a few occasions, the Met resort to uncharacteristic long balls and hurried punts. They have a few chances, with several crosses into the box eluding the strikers, and a couple of long-range efforts close. By half time, Goytre have frustrated the home side, but not really troubled Will Fuller's goal at all.

The second half brings an early goal, a header from the visitors. This prompts the students to increase the tempo of their game, and that in turn brings more excitement for the neutral. They start to look dangerous down the left, where they have the pace of striker Adam Roscow and versatile number 3 Karl McCarthy getting forward effectively when needed.

There's no immediate reward for the more positive play, and some promising moves break down when wrong options are chosen. But eventually the pressure tells and from a corner, the ball is knocked into the six yard box and Roscow fires it over the line. He comes close after getting behind the right back, but the ball squirms along the line and is cleared, and Luke Martin's goal escapes several other times in the closing stages as Goytre hold on for a point. The result keeps the Met top in an increasingly congested title race, but it also ends my long run of one-sided wins. Rarely has a draw been so welcome.

Sunday, 04 January 2015 09:59

BARRY END THE YEAR UNBEATEN

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SATURDAY 27th DECEMBER: Jenner Park, cold & showery
BARRY TOWN UNITED 4 TATA STEEL 1 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Div 2)
After a dry festive period, there are at least no worries about postponements, and my intended first trip of the season to Jenner Park is not in doubt. Nevertheless, the weather manages to delay my journey, forcing me to take shelter at Cadoxton station for 15 minutes to avoid a fierce shower.

It's high time I watched Barry, who now top the Second Division after winning the Third last season. I perhaps could have chosen a match against a promotion rival, rather than struggling Tata Steel, who seem to be travelling in the opposite direction, having come down from Division One six months ago. My run of one-sided games may be about to continue...

Jenner Park is such a large stadium that it generally looks empty, even when, like today, a respectable crowd has gathered. It's generally believed to be around 175, which is more than some Welsh Premier matches attract, although maybe less than Barry would hope for, given they have a winning team and are doing everything possible to stimulate local interest. That said, for the spectator it's still a hit-and-miss experience: on the plus side, there's no shortage of cover, merchandise on offer and a good quality programme (although on this occasion something's gone wrong, as the line-ups have been omitted). But there's no public address operating today, and even worse, nowhere to get any type of refreshments. A hot drink on a cold day is a basic expectation at all but pure grassroots football and, while the answer should lie in the supposedly supportive Vale of Glamorgan Council granting the football club use of the large, vacant social club, in the interim an alternative is needed.

The game gets underway in an interlude between showers and does not live up to its top v bottom billing. Tata play their part in the first half and are far from over-run, while Barry struggle to assert control. After half an hour's fairly forgettable play, they do finally take the lead from a TJ Nagi header, fittingly marking his 100th appearance with a goal.

The second half starts much the same, but in rain and dipping temperatures, but is transformed by two goals in six minutes as Barry unlock Tata by getting round the back of the defence : in the 55th minute, Blatchford finishes off a neat move with a close range finish, then Dixon sidefoots a similar effort for 3-0. That just about wraps up the game and the remaining half an hour is once again academic. Tata do catch Barry by surprise from a free-kick to score a consolation, then sub Tom Billing restores the three goal cushion with a well-taken shot inside the near post. Barry enter 2015 unbeaten in the league but today's game hasn't told me much about their true strength. They've won without playing particularly well, and I suspect manager Gavin Chesterfield is likely to need to strengthen his squad for First Division football in due course - although I've been impressed with several of the current team today, notably Rhys James. It's good to see youth players being included in the squad too.

A worthwhile dose of fresh air and football in the midst of the holiday period. But when am I next going to see a game where the result is in the balance until the closing stages?

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