Swansea University 2-6 PENARTH
Penarth’s preparation for their encounter with a tricky Swansea University side first had to overcome the effect of Storm Brian, as high winds forced the closure of the M4 bridge entering the second city, with the resulting diversion leaving the Bears with limited time for a warm-up.
Their hosts had no such issues and, having been able to focus fully on the game, made hay while Penarth were still getting up to speed, taking the lead in the opening moments as a searching cross was deflected onto a Penarth foot in the ‘D’ and the resulting penalty corner was fired home to make it 1-0.
Penarth remained calm, however, and, with confidence still high from their victory over erstwhile division leaders Ashmoor the previous week, slowly began to grow into the game, turning the ball over higher and higher up the pitch as they increased the pressure on the students. As cracks began to appear in the home side, Andrew Willemite showcased his dribbling skills by beating three defenders in the ‘D’, but was denied an equaliser after taking the ball around the ‘keeper as he failed to generate enough power on his backhand to beat covering defenders on the goal-line.
Having fired a first warning shot, however, the writing was on the wall for the students, and eventual man of the match Willemite got his just desserts by timing his run to the far post perfectly to deflect home a well-worked penalty corner routine and even up the scores heading into half-time.
With Storm Brian finally onside and the wind at their backs, Penarth proceeded to quickly put Swansea to the sword, stepping up through the gears to earn another penalty corner, which Willemite despatched by deflecting home a Ben Croxall drag flick.
The university were now offering very little in the way of defence as they struggled to contain the Bears, who could continually turned the ball over deep in students’ half. The pressure became too much for the home side and, as a result, the goals started to flow. Having been twice caught out at the back post, Swansea over committed to cover that option at the next penalty corner, allowing Croxall to cunningly exploit the opening and send a disguised flick to the bottom left to start his own goal rush.
With one goal on the board, the player-coach added a second after dispossessing the university centre back and weaving through the defence, before leaving the ‘keeper on the deck with a dummy and finishing into an empty net. Croxall quickly wrapped up his hat-trick after some desperate defending led to a penalty flick, which he fired into the bottom left corner to end his personal show.
Penarth were now in complete control, playing some free flowing one- and two-touch hockey, with ‘give and goes’ moving the ball quickly upfield and cutting the opposing defence to ribbons. Such was the Bears’ dominance, they could conceivably have reached double figures in the second half alone but, maybe with a little complacency creeping in, it was left to Laith El-Khatib to cap the scoring at a half-dozen, again after another fine passing move that started at the back and quickly moved upfield before David Joyce picked out a diving El-Khatib at the back post.
The university would get themselves a consolation goal from another penalty corner late in the game, but that did little to take the gloss off a fine 6-2 win for the visitors, who continue top the Championship standings with a league-leading 15 goals scored and only six conceded.
Goalscorers: Andrew Willemite (2), Ben Croxall (3), Laith El-Khatib
PENARTH ‘A’ 1-3 Cardiff & Met ‘D’
The 2nd XI’s difficult start to the season continued with a home defeat to Cardiff & Met ‘D’ in an encounter that, on paper, should have been more positive for Penarth.
An uncharacteristically slow start by the Bears in wet and windy conditions meant that they found themselves two goals down within the opening ten minutes, the visitors capitalising on stealing possession in the home half to take the lead before doubling their advantage from a poorly conceded penalty corner that resulted in a mix-up between Simon Comfort and his defence and presented an easy tap-in for a Cardiff player lurking on the post.
The shell-shocked Penarth side eventually found their feet midway through the half, and could well have pulled one goal back before the break, with both Phil Lane and Chris McCarthy going close and captain Andy Strong being denied by the Cardiff centre-back producing an outstanding goal-line clearance from a drag-flicked penalty corner.
Boosted by the recovery before half-time, Penarth felt they could still take all three points from the game if they could be more clinical in the final third and keep it tight at the back, but the second period saw more of the same as the Bears attacked well but couldn’t find the quality they need in and around the ‘D’ and were summarily punished midway through the half.
Route one hockey from Cardiff & Met saw a crash ball played from defence to attack taking an unfortunate deflection on the way, causing it to fall kindly to the lone striker, who finished the one-on-one clinically to make it 3-0.
Penarth closed the deficit almost immediately, a well-worked penalty corner routine saw Rich Baker’s effort rebound and Sam Docherty show more desire than the defenders to pounce on the loose ball and make it 3-1, and the home side had enough chances from then on to earn at least a draw, but more sloppy play in the final third saw the game end with the same scoreline and another disappointing defeat for the Vale side.
Penarth will take some consolation from the style of play they were able to produce, at times attacking with pace and accuracy, and will know that, if they can improve in front of goal, they can certainly turn their poor start around. However, a trip to top-of-the-table Cardiff Medics this week will prove another mammoth task for the beleaguered Bears, who will need to be clinical against the clinicians if they are to get a positive result before their bye week.
Goalscorers: Sam Docherty
PENARTH ‘B’ 2-3 Whitchurch ‘D’
Penarth’s 3rd XI welcomed Whitchurch Fourths to Stanwell for a midday push back that took place in near hurricane conditions. Never had a coin toss had as much significance as this one, but home captain James Davies called correctly and opted for his team to play with the wind behind them in the hope of taking a lead and adapting in the second half.
Sadly, the ploy didn’t work as Whitchurch took the lead after ten minutes, as the centre forward manage to find some space and fire the ball home, but, with a squad of 14 at his disposal, Davies called the changes and introduced debutant Ollie Burland, who went on to make an instant impression.
Veterans David Thomas and David Watkins were instrumental in a sharp move which cut the Whitchurch defence with a succession of one-twos, before Burland popped up on the back post to crash the ball home on his reverse stick from an almost impossible angle, and this equalising goal seemed to spur the home side on. With the wind behind them, the Bears went on to take the lead, Watkins up to his old tricks as he broke sharply and turned his marker inside out before rounding the ‘keeper and slotting the ball home.
Penarth were unlucky not to further their lead when Richard Cousins broke down the right and found Matthew Birch at the top of the ‘D’, only for the forward’s reverse stick shot to cannon back off the post, and the question at the interval was whether the home side could hold onto what they had earned as they turned around into the blustery wind.
It wasn't long until another debutant, Scott Fulton-Brown, took his turn to wow the few spectators that had braved the weather with some incredible saves in the Penarth goal, but he couldn't do much about Whitchurch’s equalising goal despite stopping a ferocious first shot only to see the rebound fall to an unmarked Whitchurch player.
As Penarth had for long periods in the first half, it was Whitchurch who now used the weather to their advantage as they began to dominate the game. Simon Wilkinson was clearing the ball from the back but, as the Bears’ formation began to lose shape, he increasingly found himself under an onslaught of blue shirts, and it wasn't long until Whitchurch got the third goal they deserved.
If anything, this seemed to inspire Penarth rather than finish them off and, having found himself having to defend for most of the game, the impressive Rhys Meddins began to launch attacks of his own down the right-hand side, eventually leading to an opportunity to draw level from a penalty corner as time expired. Watkins found his initial effort blocked by a foot, but was then unlucky to see the retaken corner bravely charged down by a Whitchurch defender and cleared away from danger to end the game.
On a day that the terrible weather conditions could have easily been the winner, credit must be given to both umpires and teams for the way the game was played. Another defeat for Penarth was disappointing for captain Davies, but he could be very pleased with his assorted debutants, including Scott Monro-Morris, who was often in the right place at the right time to turn defence into attack.
Goalscorers: Ollie Burland, David Watkins
Neath ‘A’ 2-1 PENARTH ‘C’
After a solid start to the 2017-18 campaign, Penarth’s young 4th XI travelled to face Neath ‘A’ in a top-of-the-table clash in appalling conditions at Ysgol Bae Baglan.
Against an older and more experienced Neath side, who dealt with the effects of Storm Brian better than their visitors, the ‘C-siders’ were unfortunate to suffer their first defeat of the season.
Despite the driving rain and high winds, Penarth started brightly, but the conditions soon took their toll and the more direct approach of the home side forced the visitors to defend at depth, with Kavan Kelsi-Lucas being forced into action on a number of occasions. The young ‘keeper had little chance. However. when a penalty corner took a wicked deflection to allow Neath to open the scoring.
In adversity, the character and determination of the young Bears once again came to the fore, and it was following excellent approach work by man-of-the-match Joe Ramage and Iwan Meddins that veteran Derek Wooding was faced with the relatively simple task of levelling the scores shortly before half time.
Battling the conditions and the physical style of the home side eventually saw the Penarth side tire rapidly in the second period, and they were reduced to hitting the opposition on the break, a tactic made all the more difficult given the wet and windy conditions, while injury to the combative Will Ramage did little to help their cause.
Just when it seemed that Penarth had weathered at least the Neath storm, however, they were caught by a sucker punch when a mis-hit shot from the left of the ‘D’ somehow crept in at the far post. With time rapidly running out, the Bears still managed to create a number of half-chances, but were unable on this occasion to pull Neath back and gain the draw the character, if not the quality, of their performance merited..
Goalscorer: Derek Wooding
All four Penarth sides are in action again this weekend, with the 1st XI entertaining Clifton Robinsons at Stanwell (1.45pm start), preceded by the 4th XI, who kick things off at noon against Bridgend. The 2nd XI head to the Welsh Institute of Sport at Sophia Gardens hoping to kickstart their season with an upset of early division leaders Cardiff Medics (3.30pm start), while the 3rd XI are also on their travels, taking on Llan & Caerphilly in Hawthorn at noon.
Penarth Hockey Club always welcomes new, old and returning players, umpires, supporters, friends and helpers regardless of age and ability. Training takes place on Wednesdays at Stanwell School, with the juniors on the pitch between 6.15pm and 7.15pm and the seniors between 7.00pm and 8.15pm.
Anyone interested in joining the club at senior or youth level can contact club secretary Dave Stevens (email@example.com) for further information.
Updated 09:57 - 18 Dec 2017 by Richard Bromiley