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Sunday, 21 August 2016 08:44

The Road to Europe

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SATURDAY 20th AUGUST. Canal Park, blustery showers.
TIGER BAY 2 BLAENAVON BLUES 1 (JD Welsh Cup 1st Qualifying Round)
There seems to be some sort of jinx on the opening round of the Welsh Cup: scheduled for August, it would be reasonable to expect the long list of ties to unfold in pleasant summer conditions, but it rarely turns out that way. Although I'm well used to watching football in all types of weather without (much) complaint, a couple of Welsh Cup qualifying round games played in awful conditions have lodged themselves in my memory - Risca a few years back (cold and wet) and then Penygraig (very, very wet).

And continuing the theme, the weathermen have promised us "an early taste of autumn" today, with high winds and heavy rain. Enough to make me briefly reconsider my chosen tie, at Canal Park, Butetown. Only briefly, though - I decide to don waterproofs and stick with the plan. And, as I walk down towards Butetown from the centre of Cardiff, the weather is every bit as bad as promised.

Thursday, 18 August 2016 07:07

Mission Accomplished

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WEDNESDAY 17th AUGUST. The Willows, humid.
BRIDGEND STREET 3 YNYSYGERWN 0 (Nathaniel Car Sales Welsh League Cup, Round 1)
Another warm day gives way to a muggy evening in Cardiff. Rain is forecast - having watched a game in balmy, sunny conditions last night, it would perhaps be too much to expect that twice in a season. This is not Brazil, after all.

The Welsh League is sensibly using these light summer evenings to get the early rounds of the league cup out of the way, and the draw has rather unkindly brought Neath-based league newcomers Ynysygerwn all the way to the capital on a Wednesday evening. My bus takes 45 minutes to complete the four mile journey into town, so I feel for the west Walians.

At The Willows, £3 admission and £1 for a programme secures my evening's entertainment in friendly and agreeable surroundings - for while Tremorfa isn't scenic, the bright red-painted ground that 'The Mission' have created here enhances it no end. I'm in a crowd of about 60-70 here, while, over at Leckwith, almost 20,000 have chosen to pay up to ten times more to watch City's attempts to score their first goal of the season. I know where I'd rather be.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016 07:49

Here We Go Again!

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TUESDAY 16th AUGUST. Maes-y-Coed Playing Fields, sunny and warm
ST. JOSEPH'S 2 CARDIFF AIRPORT 2 (South Wales Alliance Division 2)
And they're off! After a couple of false-starts (UEFA qualifying rounds, friendlies), the 2016-17 season starts here for real. And, it has to be said, it's a gentle start to my next 9 months of travelling to and watching football around Wales - a 20 minute stroll from home through the north Cardiff suburbs, followed by a couple of hours in shirtsleeves on a balmy Cardiff evening. I'll remember this fondly when slogging to north Wales in freezing mid-winter.

This fixture has ended up as the only one in the capital tonight, so it selected itself. But within half an hour of arriving at the Joes' St. Cenydd Road ground on the Heath/Llanishen borders, I'm reminded why I so enjoy grassroots football (this is level 7 in Wales): I've met a couple of fellow neutrals who, like me, appear with regularity at any game within reach; I've chatted to someone I worked with over 20 years ago but haven't seen since; and then to a South Wales FA councillor. One dominant theme in all these conversations is the August Bank Holiday groundhop - 11 games in 4 days in south Wales, all in the South Wales Alliance. More of that here in due course - first let's deal with tonight's opener:  

Wednesday, 27 July 2016 15:23

WEXIT?

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THURSDAY 21st JULY - Belle Vue, warm, dry.
GAP CONNAH'S QUAY 1 FK VOJVODINA 2 (UEFA Europa League, 2nd Qualifying Round, 2nd leg)
The fifth match of my annual July European travels, and before a ball is kicked, almost certainly the last this year. Already this week TNS have lost in Cyprus, leaving only Connahs Quay flying the flag. They only trail 1-0 from the away leg in Serbia last week, having held out for 86 minutes and finally conceded a deflected goal, but it's hard to see them preventing the talented visitors from scoring here in the home leg. But we travel in hope.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016 15:17

ROLE REVERSAL

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TUESDAY 12th JULY - Park Hall, mild and dry
THE NEW SAINTS 0 APOEL NICOSIA 0 (UEFA Champions League, 2nd Qualifying Round, 1st leg)
A return to Oswestry after the Saints' first round win, but a very different match in prospect. Thankfully, it's a very different kind of day too, no approaching rainstorms. Just an approaching giant of European football, serial Cypriot champions Apoel, with a team stuffed with international players. It's clear TNS will face a very real role reversal compared with their games against Tre Penne.

And, of course, Craig Harrison's game plan is very different for this tie. TNS are cautious, well-organised and wary of the opposition, who demonstrate that they have plenty of skill, co-ordination and pace. TNS reach half time at 0-0, just a couple of half chances to show for the 45 minutes, and some dangerous situations successfully defended.

The second half is the same: solid defending, frustrating the visitors, but little threat, the forward players Quigley and Brobbel mostly battling unsuccessfully for scraps. Unable to hold the ball up in their opponents' half, TNS face a never-ending succession of attacking waves. But the clock ticks down and the score remains 0-0.

A goal-less draw is a huge achievement for the Welsh champions, considering how much more experienced and powerful Apoel clearly are. The game plan is intact - for no away goal has been conceded, and TNS can go to Cyprus with all to play for. It's a slim chance, but one goal out there would be very interesting indeed.

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