Bristol University ‘A’ 1-2 PENARTH
Hours before the 4th XI’s game with Gwent, Penarth’s 1st XI made the early morning trip to Coombe Dingle to face a tricky Bristol University side still looking to get amongst the top five in Conference North.
Despite having opened a cushion at the top of the table, the Bears knew that they could not let their guard down against the students with enough games remaining on the schedule for their rivals to take advantage of any slip-up, but travelled with an experienced side and quickly claimed the upper hand.
The visitors created a number of chances from open play before finally making their superiority count from a set-piece, Laith El-Khatib firing home a drag flick from a penalty corner midway through the first half. With the university ‘keeper in good form and denying Penarth with a string of good saves, however, the match proved fairly balanced for the rest of the half, with the students coming closest to equalising when Richard John cleared off the line.
Keen to increase their advantage and ease the threat of a possible comeback, the Bears continued to press the university from the outset of the second period, and the momentum eventually paid off as Chris Baker scored an individual open-play goal midway through the half. There was to be no addition to the tally, however, and Penarth had to weather the expected storm late on, with the students increasingly putting their guests under the cosh as the half wore on.
The Bears’ defence held firm until two minutes from time when the university halved the deficit from open play but, despite a tense conclusion to the game, the Vale side managed to run the clock down without any further scares.
The result was not enough to confirm either promotion or the title for Penarth, as Firebrands pulled off a shock result against fellow top three rival Robinsons. That, however, only serves up a tasty encounter this weekend, with Firebrands visiting the Bears’ Den at Stanwell looking to stop the home side from claiming the point they now need to confirm elevation to Championship level in 2017-18, let alone the two points needed to claim Conference title honours.
Goalscorers: Laith El-Khatib, Chris Baker
PENARTH ‘A’ 5-1 Swansea City ‘B’
The 2nd XI continued their push for promotion from De Cymru 1 with a home fixture against Swansea City ‘B’. Having beaten the visitors comfortably in the corresponding fixture before Christmas, Penarth were confident of a victory, but found a much-changed Swansea side travelling to Stanwell.
Despite that, the Bears started well and managed to dominate possession for most of the half, although the opening goal only came after 20 minutes of concerted pressure, with right back Dave Stevens smashing home a penalty corner home to add to his burgeoning goal tally.
With the breakthrough secured, Penarth’s lhe lead was doubled soon after, Phil Lane and James Kidby linking up well to find skipper Sam Chick driving into the ‘D’ and dinking the ball over the onrushing ‘keeper.
With a 2-0 lead at half-time, the Bears knew that the job was far from complete but, determined not to leave themselves open to a comeback, didn’t take long to add to their advantage. This time, Kidby finished off a nice team move by flicking the ball past the Swansea ‘keeper to make it 3-0, and the forward added another shortly after, as Chick and Chris McCarthy worked the ball down the right wing before finding Kidby unmarked on the penalty spot to slap the ball home.
Despite being four down, Swansea – whose ‘A’ side posed the closest promotion threat to the Bears heading into the weekend - continued to press and started to maintain longer spells of possession, forcing Penarth’s impressive back four into action to deny some dangerous looking breakaways, while goalkeeper Adam Putt was also called into action, making several fine saves in the home side’s bid to maintain a clean sheet.
Unfortunately for the Bears, Swansea’s pressure eventually paid off and they grabbed a goal back with 15 minutes left to make it 4-1, but having their lead reduced only seemed to refocus Penarth’s efforts and the four-goal advantage was soon restored. This was possibly the pick of the goals, as the defence moved the ball decisively around the back to create space in the midfield for Andy Strong, who turned away from his opposite number before finding Chick, who slipped the ball through to Kidby to calmly round the ‘keeper and slip the ball home to complete his hat-trick and put the result beyond doubt.
The victory allows Penarth to maintain second place in the De Cymru 1 standings with three games remaining, a position they now occupy alone as their rivals continue to swap places behind them. With several teams still chasing the spot, however, this one looks likely to go down to the wire.
Goalscorers: James Kidby (3), Dave Stevens, Sam Chick
PENARTH ‘C’ 2-2 Gwent ‘B’
The 4th XI went into their late afternoon encounter with a very good Gwent side knowing that anything other than defeat would confirm the 3rd XI’s promotion as runners-up in De Cymru 3, achieving one of the pre-season club goals set out by chairman and Fourths’ captain Nick Pratt.
The Gwent side bore little resemblance to the side that had unexpectedly lost to Penarth's Swansea rivals the week before, and the blend of youth and experience meant that the ‘C-siders’ had to be at their very best to compete in the opening quarter.
With Morgan Salisbury and eventual man-of-the-match Rhys Meddins – a cornerstone in both in defence and attack – to the fore, Penarth forced the young Gwent ‘keeper into several good saves, but it was the home team who deservedly edged ahead when Pratt’s subtle deflection of a driven ball into the ‘D’ fell to Rob Harrison, who gave the goalkeeper little chance.
The Gwent side redoubled their efforts to force a way back into the game and, having secured a merited equaliser, edged ahead from a penalty corner on the cusp of half-time. With both sides knowing that every point would be vital for their club, the second half was a tense and highly-charged affair, and only firm umpiring and common sense from Dave Watkins and Matt Birch ensured Penarth kept eleven players on the pitch as they struggled to wrest the initiative from an increasingly confident opposition.
With time ticking down, and Penarth grateful to their own goalkeeping protege, Luke Williams, for preventing the deficit from growing further, the Bears struck on the counter, as an excellent through ball from Salisbury led to a smart finish by Adam Morse, who drew the Gwent netminder before slotting the ball into the bottom corner.
The remainder of the half was the proverbial ‘rock meeting a hard place', as neither side could force an opportunity to break the 2-2 stalemate, but the ensuing result was enough to ensure that Penarth’s 3rd XI, who return to action this Saturday following a bye week, secure promotion with three games remaining.
Goalscorers: Rob Harrison, Adam Morse
This Saturday sees all four Penarth sides in action, three at home, with the 1st XI claiming the marquee match as they entertain second-placed Firebrands (1.45pm start) knowing that both promotion and the Conference North title are within their grasp. The 2nd XI are the only travelling team, heading to Neath looking to add another win in their search for promotion, while the 3rds enter celebration mode by hosting Gwent (noon start) and the Fourths face their Second City rivals (3.30pm start) seeking to secure a commendable fourth place overall in their first season back after a 20-year absence.
Updated 11:07 - 4 Apr 2017 by Craig Llewellyn