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Sunday, 24 January 2016 09:16

Bun Fight is too much for Libs

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SATURDAY 23rd JANUARY. The Oval, Ynyshir - sunny, dry.
Once again, the weather causes uncertainty as we approach the weekend; now it's back to the risk of waterlogged pitches, following heavy overnight rain on Thursday. But a dry 36 hours helps, and despite a few postponements, most of the news on Saturday morning is positive. So it's a welcome return to choosing a game, rather than settling for whatever's left on.

After a long and only partially successful north Wales trip last week, I'm staying closer to home. There were plenty of options today, including FAW trophy games, but the W John Owen tie at Ynyshir has caught my eye, mostly because these two teams are in fine form in the South Wales Alliance's Second and First Divisions respectively. It's also a very long time since I've been to Ynyshir.

The bus takes well over an hour to make its way from Cardiff up the Taff, Rhonndda and Rhondda Fach valleys to Ynyshir, but it drops me close to the ground with ample time before the early 1.30 kick-off, time to enjoy the fine afternoon and potter in the streets and paths around - and above - the Oval. This is a narrow and steep valley, with the village mostly on the west bank of the river and the hillside rising steeply on the eastern side, just one or two terraces high on the slopes. The football ground nestles in the valley floor, between the river and the course of the railway - long gone, and replaced in recent times by the valley relief road. It's a good venue for this level, with one entrance gate, and wide terrace steps on the southern side, partially covered. It's a welcome surprise to find a smart programme on sale from the gateman: already this is looking like a good choice of match. As kick-off approaches, the crowd grows to around 60, almost all home supporters.

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SATURDAY 9th JANUARY: Cyncoed Campus, heavy rain.
CARDIFF MET UNI. 1 PONTYPRIDD TOWN 2 (Nathaniel Cars League Cup Round 3)
The weather dominates the week again: a brief respite from the rain gets me hopefully planning trips west or north this Saturday. Then things take a turn for the worse again, options start to narrow once again. By Friday I'm back to playing safe again - stay local, see what's left on in the morning - and by mid-morning almost everything on grass has been called off. 3G options remain, and Cardiff Met v Pontypridd looks the most interesting.

At 12.15 I set off to walk across north Cardiff to the campus, with just a spot of rain here and there; within fifteen minutes steady rain has set in again and the walk turns out to be wetter than expected. At least the Mets' ground isn't short on shelter.

Today's league cup tie is a meeting of two in-form sides, and although two divisions separate them, I'm not at all convinced that Ponty come here as outsiders, as their recent Division 3 form is very strong (particularly a midweek win over Abergavenny). On copying down the line-ups, this feeling is increased, since the University teamsheet contains ten names not even listed in the 22-strong first team squad in the programme! At first sight, that seems to be a difference between the sides - Ponty's starting line-up is made up entirely of players listed in the programme - but it turns out the they are changed too, after the exertions of their midweek league win, with a different back four and midfield, and a teenage debutant.

Saturday, 02 January 2016 20:31

3G Saves the Day - Again

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SATURDAY 2nd JANUARY: University Sports Ground. Bright, mild, drying up.
STM SPORTS 5 NEWPORT YMCA 0 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Division 3)
It's been raining pretty much all night and all morning, on top of weeks of rain. The grass pitches of south Wales are saturated, and the postponement announcements this morning are almost routine, confirming what we expected. Few games will survive, so the only safe approach again is "stay local, seek out 3G". In my case, that's simple - head to Llanrumney for STM Sports' home game on their artificial pitch.

Ironically, as I head to east Cardiff, the weather clears up - a hint of brightness, and the rain and wind abate. Too late to save the lost fixtures, but a bonus for those of us attending what's left. And there are quite a few who, like me, have headed here to the university playing fields in search of match action, groundhoppers from far and wide, and many local neutrals, all swelling the crowd to somewhere between 80 and 90. STM sell out of programmes, despite a decent print run, and the gate receipts must be a nice little windfall to help with match expenses.

Monday, 21 December 2015 10:07

Game of Two Halves

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SATURDAY 19th DECEMBER. Rodney Parade, dark and wet.
NEWPORT COUNTY 2 AFC WIMBLEDON 2 (English Football League Two)
It's the darkest midwinter Saturday of the football season, and it's still raining. Most local games will be postponed again but this is one of the fixtures that went into my diary back in the summer - a chance to see Wimbledon, the team I grew up supporting, almost on my doorstep.

Of course, there's a whole different set of emotions that go with watching one's own club, rather than my usual Saturday experience: one of those can be, paradoxically, not really looking forward to it. I approach today's game in pessimistic frame of mind, as Newport's form has been much improved under new manager John Sheridan, while Wimbledon are on a lengthy winless run; and I remember only too well the 4-1 thumping in last year's fixture at Rodney Parade. I'm expecting a Newport win, even though their winning run came to an end in a 4-3 defeat at Notts County last week.

Sunday, 13 December 2015 10:30

Llandudno on course for Europe?

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SATURDAY 12th DECEMBER: Richmond Park, dark, wet and windy.
CARMARTHEN TOWN 2 MBi LLANDUDNO 4 (Dafabet Welsh Premier League)
As the deluge has continued to soak the grass pitches of Wales for another week, and as rain is forecast in many places again today, once again the challenge is to dodge postponements and find a game that's on and that I want to see. As Carmarthen staged a game last week, I decide to take a chance on a grass pitch rather than the limited 3G options today - chiefly because I'm keen to see Llandudno play, the north coast side lying second only to TNS in the Welsh Premier in their debut season.

As I head west on the train, hopes that the morning rain would clear up begin to fade: the usual scenic views out across Gower and the Teifi estuary are grey and bleak, and when I arrive in Carmarthen the wind and rain make even the short walk into town an ordeal. But still no tweets of doubt on today's game....

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