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Sunday, 10 January 2016 19:30

Ponty Wreck Students' Welsh League Double Challenge

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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.

In the opening minutes, the students take the game to the visitors, playing their favoured style, and it looks as though goals are coming. But then, out of the blue, Dan Hooper strikes a fine opening goal at the other end and Ponty have the lead, and an important foothold in the game. It doesn't take long for the students to respond, with Ponty's defence stretched in the ninth minute, and number 9 Tim Parker beats Ryan Griffiths in the visitors' goal, though to most of us (and the Ponty team) he seemed to be offside when receiving the ball.

After the two early goals, the pattern of the game now begins to become clearer: the students are playing their normal passing game, but Ponty are denying them time on the ball, and forcing errors. Without their first choice strikers like Corsby, Roscrow and Lam, the home side lack the cutting edge to turn possession into goals, and meanwhile Ponty are looking dangerous on the break. From one such attack, Ponty win a free-kick on the right, and when Josh Hayward can't get both hands on Dan Hooper's free-kick, Ilias Doumas is on hand to head home at the far post.

The closing stages of the first half are played in worsening conditions (though the pitch is fine), and Ponty now seem to have won an important psychological battle - they're in front, and looking the more confident side.

And so it continues after the break, with the Mets trying patiently to build for an equaliser, but every move breaking down somewhere along the line. They manage some good balls into the box at times, but tall target man Parker just can't seem to get the vital touch, and in despite plugging away throughout the closing stages, they don't really look as if they believe the equaliser is coming. It doesn't, and the students, who weren't allowed into the changing rooms at half-time despite the rain, must just be pleased when the final whistle goes.

Ponty's hard work has paid off, another well-deserved cup win over higher-ranked opposition, and brought them a place in the last eight - though their fixture secretary might have mixed feelings about the prospect of at least one more game to fit into the congested spring calendar.

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