Home » Town suffer top 6 blow

Town suffer top 6 blow

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Lee Idzi: left motionless as Ian Sheridan’s shot finds the bottom corner (Pic. Naomi Jones)

Dafabet Welsh Premier League

Bala 2

Carmarthen Town 1

CARMARTHEN’S prospects of securing a coveted top-six place in the Welsh Premier League by the end of the first-phase programme were dealt a serious blow as they lost narrowly to a strong Bala side despite having taken the lead near the end of the first-half.

Playing their fourth game in just eleven days the Old Gold, with the majority of the starting line-up having played virtually every minute of this punishing schedule, produced another highly spirited and competitive performance in difficult conditions. But from the outset they were forced back on defence as the hosts launched a wave of attacks in pursuit of the goals that would lift them into a comfortable third place in the League.

Their first notable chance arose on 9 minutes when Christian Platt sent a corner high into the packed goalmouth where ‘keeper Lee Idzi, hampered by players, punched the ball clear but only as far as Stuart Jones who from 15 yards volleyed it just over the bar. Then after 15 minutes a long pass forward from defence reached Ian Sheridan and he played the ball across the edge of the penalty area to the unmarked Kieran Smith whose sharp low drive drew an impressive reflex save from Idzi who reacted smartly and managed to kick the ball clear.

Yet gradually Town began making more forward progress with occasional counter-attacks and in the 18th minute they fashioned their first scoring opportunity as Chris Thomas delivered a deep free-kick to the edge of the penalty area where Mark Jones rose high above his marker to head the ball across to Sacha Walters but he shot tamely from 12 yards to give ‘keeper Ashley Morris a comfortable save. But the Lakesiders continued to look more likely to score and on 22 minutes John Irvine sent another long ball deep into the penalty area only for Sheridan to stab it just wide of the post from close range. However, although the Old Gold had spent much of the first-half under pressure they, perhaps surprisingly, broke the deadlock after 38 minutes with a delightful flowing move.

Ceri Morgan, from inside his own half, headed the ball forward to Kieran Lewis who raced down the left-wing before delivering a searching cross into the goalmouth where Jones reacted quicker than nearby defenders to produce a superb glancing header that flew past Morris and into the roof of the net. And they went close to increasing their lead in the 45th minute when a Lewis corner-kick found Morgan amongst a crowd of players in the goalmouth but, agonisingly, he saw his point-blank header blocked on the line by Morris, more by instinct than judgement. But any hopes of a vital victory that Carmarthen might have held were sadly soon dispelled after the interval.

The home side once more took the early initiative and on 49 minutes they snatched an equaliser when the ball was played forward to Lee Hunt just inside the penalty area and he instantly set it up for Sheridan who from 15 yards crisply drilled it into the corner of the net leaving Idzi well beaten. Spurred by that success Bala increased the intensity and range of their attacks as the visitors struggled to contain them. But in the 58th minute they were awarded a penalty when Mike Hayes, who had been a constant threat with his pace and movement, was tripped by Jordan Knott – Hunt then comfortably converted the spot-kick. The Old Gold, now desperate to secure points from this game, began to press forward with greater urgency and abandon – and on 64 minutes they went close as Lewis delivered another inviting corner into the crowded goalmouth from where Liam Thomas emerged to produce a firm header that was cleared off the goal-line by a defender.

Such was Town’s commitment to the search for goals that by now, after a series of astute substitutions by manager Mark Aizlewood, they were fielding a front-line of four recognised strikers. However this ambitious approach made them even more vulnerable at the back with the Lakesiders quick to exploit gaps through the midfield and continuing to look a threat with every counter-attack. But the visitor’s defence remained disciplined and resilient, ensuring that Idzi was never seriously tested during these later stages. Every defender, along with the midfield quartet who were so often required to provide extra defensive cover, deserves praise for their energy, discipline and commitment under such prolonged spells of pressure. But a particular feature of the Old Gold’s defending that merits recognition was the contest between Dwaine Bailey, a youngster and relative novice at this level, and Bala’s highly experienced and prolific striker Lee Hunt – the fact that Hunt, throughout the game, managed barely a single meaningful effort on target from open play is testimony to Bailey’s outstanding performance.

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After a hectic schedule since Boxing Day, Carmarthen now have a break until January 16th when the final round of all the first-phase matches is scheduled to take place – they have to defeat Rhyl at home and then hope that the results for other teams chasing the 5th and 6th places in the WPL are favourable.

Team: Lee Idzi, Dan Sheehan, Chris Thomas (sub Jeff White 69), Dwaine Bailey, Jordan Knott, Ceri Morgan (sub Dave Vincent 59), Kieran Lewis, Lewis Harling, Sacha Walters (sub Luke Prosser 76), Mark Jones, Liam Thomas Unused Sub: Danny Thomas