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Tuesday, 05 September 2017 10:50

Rocky

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SATURDAY 2nd SEPTEMBER. The Your Radio 103FM Stadium. Sunny and warm.
DUMBARTON 2 CONNAH'S QUAY NOMADS 1 after extra time (IrnBru Cup, Round 2)
The international break weekend means no domestic football in Wales. I could stay and watch the Wales v Austria game in Cardiff, and normally I do watch Wales home games. But this time it clashed with the entry of the Welsh clubs into the IrnBru Cup... and I do love watching Welsh clubs in cross border competition. A northern odyssey for me then; but probably just an odd choice to many, I'm sure.

Using a combination of cheap flight to get to Glasgow, and train back, I'm able to do the round trip in around 30 hours, spending the night near Glasgow Airport and travelling up to Dumbarton in the morning, with time to explore the Rock of the Clyde, the castle and the town before lunch. Then back to the foot of the Rock - to the hideously-named 'Your Radio 103FM Stadium'. It's literally beneath the towering Rock with its fortified ramparts, but oddly you can't see the Rock as a spectator, because the single stand has been built facing away from it. Even stranger is the fact that this is truly a one-sided ground - no spectator access to the other three sides of the pitch.

I present myself to Reception, clutching the email confirming I'll be on the list for press access. Predictably, the steward tells me I'm not. Why are arrangements for visiting media always so shambolic? (I've had this in San Marino, Liechtenstein and now Scotland in the last year or so). Still, on this occasion it turns out it doesn't matter - stewarding is laid-back and I'm more or less free to go where I choose anyway.

The next surprise is the crowd - or rather lack of it. Where is everybody? Some Dumbarton fans (Sons they call themselves) may have gone to see Scotland in Lithuania, but surely not most of them? The attendance here would be disappointing at a top Welsh Premier fixture.

The game gets underway in strong afternoon sun, Nomads in red. The opening exchanges are notable for the constant stoppages for infringements, the referee's whistle sounding every minute or so. There's little flow to the game, already falling into a pattern of attrition and ill-temper. And it continues that way, though both sides begin to create chances here and there. Nomads are ahead in the corner count, but have a few anxious moments at the back too. As half-time approaches, Michael Wilde turns in the box and is tripped. Callum Morris calmly slots in the penalty and Nomads have the lead.

Really, the north Wales side should be two or even three goals to the good by half time, a couple of good chances going begging, but they're clearly on top at the break. It hasn't been at all pretty, but the score-line makes up for that, I agree when interviewed by BBC Radio Scotland during the interval.

The second half is, if anything, even uglier than the first. What makes it worse, Nomads are now simply trying to hang onto their lead, reining in any attempts to build on it. Always a risky strategy, defending deep and trying to run the clock down. They ride out an early onslaught, seem to have taken the sting out of the Sons, but then, with an air of inevitability, concede a late goal. Extra time, just what I didn't want (I've a train to catch,,,,)

The first period of extra time passes tediously. The game seems to be heading inexorably for penalties, and I know I can't stay that long or I won't be able to get home. I quit after 105 minutes, and as I make my way back on the Scotrail train to Glasgow, Twitter brings the news of a last minute winner for Dumbarton. But at least I make my 6pm train, and my connection at Crewe. It's seven hours travelling and seems like longer, especially the stretch through Cheshire, where the peace of the train is repeatedly shattered by groups of shrieking young women (a phenomenon that seems particularly severe in this part of the country). But at least the news of Ben Woodburn's goal for Wales provides a timely lift.

I've had plenty of time to mull over what this game tells us: Connah's Quay held a Scottish Championship side for 119 minutes, and this together with TNS's results against teams at that level shows how the best of the Welsh Premier ranks against Scottish pro football. It was probably all good for the Nomads' learning curve to play games like this. These are the positives, but equally I have to confess this dour, ugly match wasn't a good advert for either the Welsh Premier or the Scottish League. And yet, I'm glad I went - I'd rather see it and form my own conclusions, than just read about it and rely on other people's.

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