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Monday, 09 May 2016 08:47

Final after final...

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FRIDAY 6th MAY - Alyn Park, dry and overcast.
RHOSTYLLEN 2 ASTON PARK RANGERS 0 (Horace Wynne Cup final)

& SATURDAY 7th MAY - Afoneitha, humid and hazy.
LLANUWCHLLYN 3 CEFN ALBION 2 (Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division One Cup

A third trip to north-east Wales in the space of a week - maximising use of an Arriva Trains rover - means another couple of cup finals, starting at Mold Alex's ground - a venue I haven't visited since the early 1990s. The ground is recognisable, although the stand and the adjacent iron shelter weren't here then, nor the clubhouse building near the entrance gate (much smarter on the inside than outside).  [article continues, click on Read More below if not visible]

It's a slightly humid, misty evening in this small Flintshire town, and the atmosphere is quite a contrast to that at Treforest 48 hours ago. The Horace Wynne Cup is the direct equivalent in north-east Wales of the South Wales FA Intermediate Cup, but the contrasts are more striking than the parallels. Whereas 70 clubs from nine different leagues participated in the SWFA's competition, here in the smallest of the FAW regions, NEWFA, there's only one league at local level, and only ten clubs to compete in the intermediate level knockout cup - virtually the same clubs that have competed for two other league cups. Credit must go to NEWFA for not spoiling their competition by opening it up to reserve teams, as two FAW regions have.

Those ten entrants have been easily whittled down to two, and it is no surprise that Rhostyllen are here in the final, having dominated at this level in their first season since re-forming. They are bidding for a treble, and it seems almost inevitable that they will succeed, although Aston Park Rangers are here to stand in their way. But maybe it's the lack of real doubt about the outcome that contributes to the absence of the tension, the highly-charged anticipation, in Treforest two days ago.

The game too reflects the atmosphere - none of the aggression, none of the reckless challenges, just a straightforward match in which one team is basically trying to stop the other over-running them. To be fair to Aston, they make a good job of it, defending in numbers, denying the Rhostyllen side time and time again, and occasionally venturing upfield on the break. They're urging themselves to hold out for another few minutes to half time, when Rhostyllen make the breakthrough, finally abandoning the fruitless tactic of crosses from the wing, and threading a pass through an inside channel. The shot trickles over the line despite attempts to block it.

A second goal should be enough for Rhostyllen, and after 13 minutes of the second half, they get it - again a ball through the channel, and a nicely executed lob over the Aston keeper. After this the result isn't in doubt, though both teams keep at their tasks. Rhostyllen, no doubt weary after an exacting league season (which isn't over yet), struggle to turn their dominance in possession into more goals, but it really doesn't matter. They're denied a third, when a pretty blatant penalty is not given in the final minute, but soon the three teams (officials, losers, winners) are filing up to receive their mementoes. The famous old cup is lifted and Rhostyllen can celebrate their treble.

SATURDAY 7th MAY - Afoneitha, humid and hazy.
LLANUWCHLLYN 3 CEFN ALBION 2 (Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division One Cup
Another day, another cup final, not that I'd always planned this as my Saturday game: originally the WNL Wrexham Area Premier Division title race attracted me, but that seems to have been decided, and the Daily Post's excellent north Wales football coverage pointed out the Division One cup final as a "game to watch", bringing together two strong sides who are battling for the divisional championship too. Cefn Albion, who were expected to win the division, are out for revenge too, having recently lost 3-0 to Llanuwchllyn in the league.

On arriving at Penycae's quirky, sloping Afoneitha ground after my walk along the lanes from Ruabon, it's immediately clear this match is going to produce a bigger crowd and more atmosphere than last night's low-key final, even if it's 'only' a league cup. The factions of the crowd (and the teams) are sharply defined - Llanuwchllyn, a strongly Welsh-speaking village out on the shores of Llyn Tegid, has little in common with the former Wrexham coalfield community of Cefn Mawr, where English with a hint of a Cheshire/Merseyside accent is all you will hear.

The pre-match reports of rivalry are underlined as soon as the match starts - before the ball has left the centre circle, a Cefn player has leapt in and conceded a free-kick. Both trainers are on the pitch inside the opening few minutes, and in a full-tempo start, Llanuwchllyn, kicking down the pronounced slope, have taken the lead, striker Dan Dascalu hooking a cross over his shoulder and into the Cefn net.

Cefn launch an onslaught to try to force an equaliser, but are held at bay by a no-nonsense defence. In fact, when the equaliser comes, it's from an error, the ball squirming from the Llanu keeper's grasp and over the line.

Cefn are no doubt relieved to have squared things up before the break - and see a reward for so much pressure - but they are not going in level. At the bottom end, a breakaway enables Llanuwchllyn to go ahead again with a firm low shot, and then, in the final minute of the half, a spectacular third goal is rifled into the roof of the Cefn net from an acute angle. The Cefn players and bench leave the field visibly and audibly fuming at conceding twice like this.

The second half is going to be about Cefn's ability to get back into the game, so it becomes an ever-more-urgent onslaught down the slope. Llanu hold firm, defending solidly, their keeper atoning for his one error with a commanding performance now, and the clock ticks on. But it always feels as if one goal will bring more. The yellow shirted LLanuwchllyn players start to go for retention, head for the corners.

There's only five minutes left when Cefn finally get a goal back, and now we're in for a tense finale. The bottom goal really is under siege now, the Cefn keeper going up to join his attack at set pieces, and one of several goal-line clearances is from his header. A couple of times the Cefn fans think the ball is in, but somehow it's always scrambled away, and after a fairly long period of stoppage time, the whistle finally goes and Llanuwchllyn, cup runners-up for three years, finally get their hands on the trophy. A really enjoyable afternoon - enthralling, all-action football. And a good call by Dave Jones of the Daily Post!

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