With my Welsh Premier League virginity now only a distant memory, I make my way west to Carmarthen for my third match of the season. Carmarthen Town are the perennial mid-table finishers of this league, although recent seasons and form so far suggests they could be in the midst of a relegation battle. Despite this they have displayed their ambition in signing Jack Christopher over the summer; Christopher was relegated Haverford West’s top scorer and arguably the best asset in that team. His inclusion in the squad has not slowed a slide towards the relegation zone as Carmarthen have only won a single game, losing their other five fixtures.Carmarthen’s opponents today are a Bangor team that is not quite hitting the heights of last season. Bangor went on an unbeaten run last year which lasted from August until the new year, a run which included sixteen wins. They haven’t been able to reproduce that incredible form this season, much to the disappointment of the Bangor faithful. With Neath looking a stronger outfit, The New Saints being as strong as ever and Bala Town exceeding all expectations to top the league at this stage, it’s going to be harder than ever for Bangor to break into one of those coveted positions. Bangor will want to make amends for their three–nil home loss at the hands of The New Saints prior to this weekend, perhaps Carmarthen can take inspiration from their spirited one–nil loss to a strong Neath outfit.
The train journey to Carmarthen takes me past the Liberty Stadium where Swansea will host West Brom later today; will this game herald their first Premier League goal? The buzz around the station suggests it will as the fans wearing white depart from the train in good spirits. Swansea are in a similar position to Carmarthen in as much as they lie second from bottom of their respective leagues, both teams would value a win today. As the train pulls out of the station I venture further into the land that 3G forgot. It’s not long until the train arrives in Carmarthen, which claims to be the oldest town in Wales and is the town at which Mark Delaney made a name for himself before becoming an icon at Cardiff City and Aston Villa. The ground is a short walk uphill and sits at the far end of a car park adjacent to a Bowls club. As is common amongst the grounds I’ve been to so far, one side is surrounded by terraced housing, past this there is a view of the green hills of Carmarthenshire.
Before the match kicks off there is a minute’s silence which is impeccably observed by the fans and players alike. This, of course, is with respect to the Welsh miners who recently lost their lives so tragically in the Gleision colliery, a disaster which really puts things into perspective. I am not far enough advanced in years to remember a Wales where mining was a common profession amongst men, so a tragedy such as this seems archaic and wholly sorrowful and my thoughts go out to the families of those that lost someone. I appeal to you to visit www.minersappealfund.org and make a donation to help support the families of the men who lost their lives.
Carmarthen and Bangor take their positions and the referee blows his whistle to start the game, immediately Carmarthen lose possession and Bangor press forward for an early attack. Losing possession in this manner so early on is not a good sign for the Old Gold as they endure Bangor’s compelling attack. However, their luck prevails and they manage to settle the fans nerves by regaining possession. A foul by Bangor’s Michael Johnston brings a free kick which is taken quickly by Tim Hicks. Hicks only manages to find the back heel of one of his team mates which sees the ball go in the opposite direction to which he intended. A short spell of sunshine is interrupted by the resumption of heavy rain as Carmarthen make their first attack. A Jack Christopher cross finds Nick Harrhy as he charges towards goal; he is stopped by a dubious tackle from Neil Thomas which raises protests from the Carmarthen players, the ref is indifferent as play continues. In the early stages of this match, Carmarthen display a nervousness whilst in possession, especially when attempting to clear their lines as clearances often only get as far as a Bangor forward. This is evident when Peter Hoy crosses into the Carmarthen box and after two attempted clearances; the ball eventually has to be picked up by goalkeeper, Mike Lewis. With defensive displays like this, it’s hard to see how Carmarthen are going to take anything from this game.
A few nervy minutes pass for the Carmarthen fans when relief comes in the form of a corner. Nick Harrhy positions the ball and eyes up his target in the box, he runs up and crosses the ball in at the required height for head to meet ball. Many heads attempt to meet it as it is knocked away from goal and lands at the feet of Carmarthen’s Richard Hughes. Hughes attempts an audacious hook shot which arcs over the Bangor defence and is seemingly heading towards goal. There is silence from both sets of fans; the Old Gold’s supporters are watching the ball in anticipation as it sways towards goal. The Bangor faithful are shocked that this could be the opener after how they’ve dominated play thus far. The ball dips, but not quite far enough to give Carmarthen the lead. A reprieve for the Bangor fans and hope for the Carmarthen support as they come to realise that there might be a way through this Bangor defence.
Normal service is restored as Bangor once again dominate the game. Neil Thomas finds himself with space and time deep in Carmarthen territory; the fans begin to shout as no Carmarthen player attempts to close him down. With the luxury of time he has been granted, Thomas sets himself up for a shot. When it comes, it’s so far wide of the right post he’d probably argue he was trying to play a ball to someone in the box. Carmarthen have been riding their luck, Bangor have been gifted a number of attempts and will surely score unless someone from the Carmarthen defence steps up and takes charge. During yet another meagre attempted clearance, there’s a bit of a scuffle for the ball dangerously close to the Carmarthen goal. In amongst this the ball passes over the goal line and the Bangor players begin to celebrate, however, Carmarthen’s luck prevails as the ref deems the ball to have brushed the hand of a Bangor player and awards a free kick. Carmarthen have been let off and they’ll be hoping that their luck can last the duration of this match.
Noticeably motivated from the recent let-off, Carmarthen start to test their opponents. Jack Christopher intercepts a wayward pass and heads for goal. Christopher finds himself in a one-on-one situation with the goal keeper as he feints a shot. The crowd are screaming at him to shoot but it seems as if he’s trying to walk it in. When the shot eventually comes, he can only find the body of the keeper, Lee Idzi. The Carmarthen fans are disappointed, words such as “useless” and “rubbish” are bandied about usually with a four letter accompaniment. Their disappointment was about to be swept away though as Nicky Palmer evaded a late challenge to retain possession and move into the Bangor eighteen yard box. Palmer has a golden opportunity to shoot, he looks up and you can tell the football cogs are turning in his brain as he opts instead to set up his team mate Nick Harrhy. Without delay, Harrhy takes this opportunity and puts it firmly in the back of the net. Carmarthen are one – nil up, could this be the game that changes the course of their season?
The end of the first half plays out and Carmarthen, perhaps undeservedly so, go in to the club house leaders at the interval. The break sees the announcement of the winner of the match day raffle, for which I have purchased a ticket, perhaps foolishly so. The winner is announced and he is surprisingly not me, although the announcer seems to know his full name and states that he is a “loyal Carmarthen Town supporter”. This all seems very suspect, especially since they didn’t take my name when I bought a ticket. Resentful as I was to lose a pound, I walked around the stadium and chose my seat for the second half.
With the weather insisting on remaining as miserable as possible, a rather sodden bunch of players were ready for kick off. Bangor seem to have taken more from their half-time team talk as they are almost immediately on the attack. It seems that some defensive frailties have been highlighted and the Bangor attack are looking to exploit them. The Old Gold’s defence is once again failing them as they are unsuccessful in their attempts to clear their lines. Alan Bull finds himself with an opportunity to level things for Bangor; he unleashes a stinging shot which forces Mike Lewis into a save which would grace the Sgorio highlights. Carmarthen’s defence will surely capitulate under this sort of pressure, had it not been for their luck and nimble goal keeping by Mike Lewis, they would already be a couple of goals behind.
Carmarthen’s luck is about to run out as Bangor are again exploiting the gaps in defence. A lofted ball is met by an array of heads as it falls into the Carmarthen box, it moves goal bound only for Mike Lewis to once again display his agility and aptitude as he pushes the ball out for a corner. When the ball is put back into the fray, Carmarthen maintain their inability to clear their lines, this allows Alan Bull to cross and find the head of Craig Garside to level the score for Bangor. The Carmarthen players look at the floor whilst Garside celebrates, they’ve finally been punished for their successive defensive errors and they must know that this game will slide out of their control if they don’t do something about it soon.
Heads are lifted and a few voices from the crowd urge the Old Gold to fight for the lead. Carmarthen are not going to accept a draw and start throwing men forward in an attempt to get the winner. Jack Christopher exhibits his talent as he tries to bend a shot around the keeper. Lee Idzi is at first unworried but the ball moves towards his goal and he is forced to attempt a save. Idzi fails to get a hand to the ball but the crossbar saves his team the setback of going behind again. The ball drops directly behind Idzi as he lies on the floor, after the slightest of touches it trickles towards goal and Idzi, realising the perilous situation he is in, scrambles to stop it from crossing the line. With Christopher charging down, Idzi manages to collect the ball with not a second to spare.
Lee Idzi’s goal goes relatively untroubled for quite some time as Carmarthen focus on subduing the relentless Bangor attack. Reward comes soon for Bangor as they are once again trying to beat Mike Lewis with numerous attempts on goal. One particularly bad clearance lands at the feet of Neil Thomas who has time to position himself and shoot through a swarm of players to find the direct centre of goal. The Carmarthen support despair and sullen discussions about their team’s poor performance this afternoon ensues. Carmarthen were under pressure for the majority of this game and this doesn’t change as it comes to a close.
The final whistle is blown and both teams walk off a saturated pitch. The final score is two – one in Bangor’s favour, although the score line does not reflect just how much Bangor dominated this fixture. Defensive frailties aside, there is hope for this Carmarthen team, with a goalkeeper like Mike Lewis and forward thinking players such as Nicky Palmer and Nick Harrhy, they have the foundation for a good team. Bangor’s star performer for me was Neil Thomas, who always seemed to work himself some space and eluded the defence on many occasions. Thomas was not afraid of a challenge and has a fiery temperament which earned him a yellow card; this one mistake can be overlooked though as his commitment today was outstanding.