Despite two promotions having already been confirmed, the final flurry of GoCrea8 League fixtures continued to hold the attention of Penarth Hockey Club as the 2nd XI chased a result that would confirm their own ascension from De Cymru 1.
PENARTH ‘A’ 2-0 Bridgend ‘A’
After trailing their final weekend opposition by six points midway through the season, Penarth’s 2nd XI knew that they would need a strong second round of fixtures to have any chance of promotion from De Cymru 1 twelve months on from the campaign that saw them win De Cymru 2 and reach the final of the Welsh Challenge competition.
Fortunately, a much-improved record since the start of 2017 had seen the Bears lose just one game in ten, allowing them to claw back the points deficit and set up a final day high noon shootout with Bridgend. Having edged ahead of their rivals in the standings, Penarth knew that, if they could avoid defeat, they would retain second place in the division and join the club’s 1st and 3rd XIs in achieving promotion in what has been another successful campaign for the rejuvenated Penarth set-up.
With so much riding on the game for both sides, it was always going to be a fiery encounter and the tone was set from the off, with both teams guilty of early offences that raised tensions even further. It was Bridgend who started the better, however, capitalising on some early Penarth mistakes to create a series of half-chances, which were comfortably kept out by goalkeeper Simon Comfort, before the home side eventually found their footing.
Once the Bears had settled down, they were able to control possession, and the momentum swung in their favour as they started to create chances of their own. The Vale side came closest to breaking the deadlock via a string of penalty corners, with Dave Stevens having two efforts cleared off the line and Richard Baker seeing his rebound heading goalwards until it hit one of his own players and deflected to safety.
With Penarth dominating possession, Bridgend looked most dangerous on the counter, and broke quickly whenever they won turnover ball. However, the visitors were denied any clear-cut shooting opportunities by some fantastic tackling from Andy Strong, Craig Llewellyn and Jamie Davison, who ensured that the game remained level – and scoreless – at the break.
Penarth knew that, if they could outwork the Bridgend team, gaps would start appearing and they would get the goal they needed. Despite seeing an early effort ruled out by the umpires, the Bears continued to take the game to their opposition and the breakthrough eventually came as a fierce strike from the edge of the ‘D’ found the net to make it 1-0 just minutes later.
Needing to win to retain any hope of promotion, Bridgend now needed to score twice, while Penarth knew that another goal would all but kill off the encounter and allow them to secure a second successive promotion. With Sams Docherty and Salisbury providing energy in midfield and Dave Stevens industrious down the right flank, Phil Lane and James Kidby both came close to adding a second before the crucial goal was scored, Chris McCarthy linking up with Baker, who fired past the hapless Bridgend ‘keeper to make it 2-0 midway through the half.
Bridgend refused to go quietly in a feisty confrontation, and pushed hard for a way back into the match, but the openness of the game suited Penarth and they could have added a third goal, with both Sam Chick and Tom Parkinson going close in the latter stages.
Surviving a late penalty corner that briefly threatened their clean sheet, Penarth saw out the final minutes to secure both a deserved victory and promotion to De Cymru & The Marches 2 for 2017-18, providing a fitting send-off for captain Sam Chick and vice-captain Jamie Davison, who have signalled their intention to step down ahead of the new campaign.
Yate 1-7 PENARTH
Penarth’s senior team travelled to Yate for the final call of the 2016-17 league campaign but despite the game effectively being a dead rubber – with the Bears already promoted as champions and Yate doomed to relegation – the visitors were still keen to to keep their winning streak intact and maintain good form heading into the semi-finals of the Welsh Trophy the following Saturday.
From the first whistle, Penarth were clearly the class act, moving the ball about with ease and creating chances at will. It was only a matter of time before the visitors would convert one such chance, Dave Kidby finding space at the near post and sweeping home from a tight angle to open the scoring.
Yate had shown on a few on a few occasions already that they could create chances of their own and, guilty of relaxing after scoring the opener, Penarth were caught on the counter before a clever one-two in the 'D' left goalkeeper Adam Putt with no chance of preventing the equaliser, having already bailed the Bears out on several occasions.
Penarth knew that, when they moved up through the gears, there was little Yate could do to keep them at bay, and the Vale side quickly restored their lead, going straight back on the attack to win a penalty corner from which injector Chris Baker reacted quickest to smash home the rebound from tight on the baseline.
From the restart, Yate were visibly fatigued after a tough first half on the defence in pleasantly warm weather, and Penarth were quick to take advantage. Exploiting the spaces left by the home side, the Bears were able to move the ball from defence to attack with the minimal amount of passes and the goals soon followed.
Baker netted his second, again sweeping home from a tight angle after turning the ball over from the restart to score the goal of the game. Shortly afterwards, a swift counter attack saw Andrew Willemite and Kidby link up well to leave the latter with another tap-in for the fourth. Baker then rounded out his hat-trick to move to the top of the goalscoring charts, before Laith El-Khatib pulled one back in his own bid for the trophy. With the goals flowing, defender Marcus Powell saw his chance to sneak forward unnoticed and pop up at the top of the 'D' to sweep home over the sprawling 'keeper to net his first goal of the season and ensure that, in another goal-laden season, every outfielder found the net with the exception of captain Tom Haran.
The 7-1 margin of victory emphasised Penarth’s superiority not only in the game, but also across the season as a whole, as they crowned their second successive divisional title in fine style.
Swansea City ‘C’ 0-2 PENARTH ‘B’
The Thirds completed their season on the road in Swansea and, having beaten the local side three times already this season, were hopeful of a comfortable end to the league campaign.
For the first ten minutes or so, it looked like this was going to be the case but, as has happened in a number of fixtures this season, Penarth seemed to slow down in all aspects of the game, giving Swansea the possession and territory to create numerous chances and it was only bad finishing, bad luck and a couple of good saves from Jason Harris in the Penarth goal that allowed the visitors to keep a clean sheet.
Having weathered the storm, Penarth were able to turn the tables and snatch the lead in the final minutes of the half, a well-worked penalty corner routine resulting in a shot being blocked on the line by a Swansea foot. The resultant penalty flick was ably despatched by Mark Harris, guesting as centre forward having kept goal for the majority of the season, to send the Bears into the interval with a slim advantage.
The second half provided a much more clinical performance from the visitors, as Richard Skone and Richard Cousins caused Swansea all sorts of problems down the right. The increasingly tiring home side also left space in the middle of the field, allowing Dave Thomas’ midfield corps time to build territorial advantage and create the platform for many more Penarth attacks.
After a series of penalty corners went unconverted, the Vale side eventually made their dominance tell, with another break down the right ending in a Dave Watkins shot that gave the Swansea ‘keeper no chance.
At the other end, the Penarth defence continued to clear up the sporadic Swansea breaks with ease, leaving the match to end with a 2-0 scoreline that left the Bears with a record of eleven wins, one draw and just four defeats that saw promotion to De Cymru 2 confirmed with three weeks of the season remaining.
PENARTH ‘C’ 0-4 Swansea University ‘C’
Penarth ‘C’ entertained runaway De Cymru 3 champions Swansea University in the final game of the season and found the opposition determined to go out on a high.
The students started like the undoubted champions they are, and Penarth were left chasing shadows for much of the opening period, so it was little surprise when the visitors took a merited early lead at the culmination of an excellent passing movement.
Rather than fold, the resilient ‘C-Siders’ forced themselves back into the game, with Phil Goode and the excellent Rhys Meddins featuring prominently. Despite forcing a number of chances, however, the Penarth attack were unable to beat the Swansea ‘keeper who was probably busier than he has been in any game this season.
Penarth's pressure notwithstanding, it was the visitors who next found the net, doubling their lead shortly before the break, but the ‘C-Siders’ were buoyed by their first-half performance and forced the students to defend deeper and deeper from the start of the second period, with midfielders Tom Griffiths and Tyrone Moore at the heart of things.
Again, Penarth forced numerous opportunities, but the excellent University ‘keeper was determined not to concede anything and produced a series of excellent saves to deny the home forwards. With the home side reduced to ten men by Moore’s enforced exit, the closing stages saw the students able to deliver the coup de gras when a fast breakaway left ‘keeper Luke Williams and the back-tracking Morgan Salisbury with little chance of preventing a third goal.
Determined to salvage something to reward the quality of their play, and with the umpires having signalled two minutes remaining, the ten men threw everything forward, and it was something of an injustice that the students were able to give the scoreline a slightly more flattering look when they, once again, hit the valiant ‘C-Siders’ on the break. The 4-0 result, however, did little to reflect the game played by the Penarth side, with man-of-the-match honours again going to Meddins, who performance was closely matched by both Griffiths and Salisbury.
The bigger result for the 4th XI, in their first season back in league competition, was coupling the brief of developing youngsters transitioning from youth to senior hockey whilst always being competitive in what was a fiercely-contested De Cymru 3 division. Supported by a cohort of senior figures, the number of quality young players now coming through the ranks holds huge promise for the future of the club.
Updated 12:37 - 28 Mar 2017 by Craig Llewellyn
Although the GoCrea8 League season is now done and dusted, Penarth’s 1st XI still have games on the slate, with the Conference North winners continuing the defence of their Welsh Trophy title by taking on Bridgend in Saturday’s semi-final at the Welsh Institute of Sport at Sophia Gardens (4pm start).