Carmarthen Town 1
CARMARTHEN went into their final match of the Welsh Premier League first-phase programme knowing that to secure a coveted top six finish they had to take three points off Rhyl while hoping that at least one of the two teams just above them, Connah’s Quay and Newtown, would lose their corresponding final fixture.
To this end, Town began with clear positive intent, launching a series of piercing raids with energy and urgency that put the visitors’ defence under immediate pressure. And this exciting strategy was duly rewarded with a vital early goal after only 5 minutes – a long forward pass from Dan Sheehan set Luke Cummings free and he raced into the penalty area then crossed towards the goalmouth where Mark Jones, having seen his instant shot blocked by keeper Terry McCormick, reacted quickly to reach the rebound and neatly slide the ball across to Kieran Lewis who from 10 yards curled it sweetly beyond McCormick and into the back of the net.
Straight afterwards Lewis Harling, with a clever lofted pass, gave Cummings the opportunity to test McCormick with a fierce 20 yard effort but the experienced keeper was well placed to gather the ball safely.
During this spell Rhyl were confined to just occasional counter-attacks, which the Old Gold defence were dealing with capably. But the visitors eventually went close on 11 minutes when David Mannix sent his corner-kick deep towards the far post to reach Greg Stones who struck a smart drive that drew an impressive reflex save from keeper Lee Idzi.
Town immediately responded to that unwelcome interruption to their game-plan – Craig Hanford fired a long ball forward that McCormick, coming out of his penalty area, returned but his clearance was intercepted by Harling who produced an audacious 40 yard volley which was blocked in front of goal by defender Chay Dysart.
The play continued at a frantic pace with Carmarthen in the ascendency as they poured forward at every opportunity. Yet, increasingly they were failing to penetrate the strong and determined Rhyl defence or seriously trouble McCormick.
Then, worryingly, in the 35th minute the visitors threatened when Mannix, from near the left touchline, delivered a dangerous free kick into the packed goalmouth where John Owen was allowed the time and space to produce a glancing header that clipped the top of the bar.
Yet in the closing stages of the first-half the Old Gold went close to extending their lead. On 43 minutes Hanford made a rare excursion forward then fired the ball into the goalmouth only for Cummings, under pressure from defenders, to stab it narrowly wide.
Moments later a dazzling run by Liam Thomas took him past two defenders before he slid the ball through to Jones who released a crisp drive that McCormick denied with a fine full-length save. Then from the resultant corner-kick Jones saw his deft glancing header once more defeated by the keeper who clawed the ball away from the top corner of his goal.
But in added time Rhyl got back on level terms when the Town defence, having not learnt any lesson from their earlier scare, failed to deal with Mannix’s long cross into the penalty area and left Zac Corbett with the opportunity to head the ball into the far corner of the net leaving Idzi well beaten.
After the interval the Old Gold again started promisingly and on 50 minutes Lewis directed a 30-yard free-kick into the goalmouth where Jones, amongst a crowd of players, managed a close-range shot that was blocked by a defender – and while the ball fell nicely for Thomas, his instant strike was beaten away by McCormick.
However the game soon developed into a more open, evenly balanced affair as Rhyl began enjoying much more possession than in the first-half. After 59 minutes Levi Makin received the ball just outside the penalty area and dispatched a promising drive that Idzi skilfully resisted. Then on 73 minutes, the hosts once more went close when, from a Lewis corner, Ceri Morgan emerged from a packed goalmouth only to see his firm header fly marginally wide of the post.
By now, with Town’s players perhaps beginning to tire after their earlier exertions, the visitors were playing with more urgency and freedom and looking a greater threat than at any earlier stage of the game. After 76 minutes Connor Bell burst forward into the penalty area and released a powerful strike, which Idzi spectacularly turned over the bar. From the ensuing corner Makin found Dysart but his close-range effort went too high. Then on 83 minutes Ibou Touray surged forward down the left flank and into the penalty area yet from a good position he fired just wide of the post.
Shortly after that spell of goalmouth activity came the incident that effectively shattered any lasting belief the Old Gold might have had about securing a late winning goal. In the 85th minute Cummings was immediately shown the red card for a reckless challenge on Touray – there followed an ugly confrontation involving several players from both sides after which Hanford was similarly dismissed having received his second yellow card of the match. And to compound Town’s misery, the referee also ordered manager Mark Aizlewood to leave the dugout.
After that unsavoury episode Rhyl’s significant numerical advantage allowed them to attack with freedom and keep Carmarthen pinned back on defence – in added time Bell created a good chance for himself with a strong run into the penalty area and a stunning drive that the ever-alert Idzi defeated with another marvellous save.
But in the end, despite all the anticipation and excitement through to frustration, anxiety and eventual despair that Town’s supporters had endured during this crucial match, it was all academic since both Connah’s Quay and Newtown won their games to qualify comfortably for the last two top-six places.
Lee Idzi; Dan Sheehan (sub Ceri Morgan 67); Chris Thomas; Dwaine Bailey (sub Dave Vincent 77); Craig Hanford; Jordan Knott; Kieran Lewis; Lewis Harling; Luke Cummings; Mark Jones (sub Jeff White 79); Liam Thomas;
Unused Subs: Danny Thomas; Glen Fearn.