The senior side does not face a comfortable run-in, with games coming thick and fast over the next few weekends, and it was a welcome respite to face bottom-of-the-table Whitchurch before embarking on a series of meetings with the other five members of the divisional top six in their seven remaining games.
Swindon 1-2 PENARTH
The first of those key encounters came on Sunday, as Penarth travelled to promotion rival Swindon for a game re-arranged after the first attempt to play was denied by a frozen pitch at the end of January.
With little to divide the top teams in Conference North, this was arguably both teams’ biggest game of the season to date, as Penarth looked to move clear at the top of the table and Swindon sought to quickly reignite their bid after losing to second-placed Robinsons the previous day.
On a bitterly cold morning, Penarth seemed to struggle with both the conditions and early start as Swindon made the better of the initial exchanges. Playing the ball around sharply, some clever first time passes left Penarth chasing shadows, and the home side deservedly took the lead after ten minutes, breaking down Penarth’s right and firing the ball in to the 'D' to find an unmarked attacker to sweep home and give goalkeeper Adam Putt no chance.
The early setback only served to stoke the Bears’ fire, and the visitors finally started to warm to the challenge set by their rivals. Vice-captain Chris Baker began to grow more and more into the game and, picking the ball up in the final third, drove into the Swindon area to fire a warning shot just wide on his reverse stick.
The hosts failed to take heed and continued to leave Baker far to much time and space and, this time, he made them pay. Picking the ball up in midfield and peeling strongly into the 'D', Baker’s goal-bound effort was converted by Tim Urlings, whose deft touch deflected the ball high into the net to level the scores before half-time.
Tactical changes by player-coach Ben Croxall tweaked the formation during then interval and, despite giving Baker man-marking duties against Swindon’s play-maker, allowed Penarth to take more control in the second half. Although Swindon continued to pass the ball around nicely, possession was largely in their own half, with very little penetration. Penarth, in contrast, were happy without the ball, but enjoyed greater field territory and their more direct approach in possession created the better moments.
As the game ticked on and a draw looked more likely, Penarth would have accepted that as a vital result away to a very good team who had snatched a point from a feisty early-season encounter at Stanwell. However, the Bears had one more bit of magic up their sleeve and a direct feed into the 'D' found Urlings, who produced another sublime touch to deflect the ball under his right shoulder and into the bottom corner to draw jubilant celebrations from the visitors.
With little time left for Swindon to hit back, Penarth saw out the game comfortably, keeping hold of the ball and pinning the home side deep in their own half to claim a memorable win and take sole possession of top spot in the division, as well as all but eliminating Swindon’s promotion hopes.
Not for the first time this season, when the chips were down and it really mattered, Penarth rose to the challenge. In a team full of fresh faces, the bond, team spirit and fight already formed is a testament to the character of the new players and everyone at the club.
Goalscorers: Tim Urlings (2)
PENARTH 10-1 Whitchurch ‘A’
Prior to their trip to Wiltshire, Penarth hosted Whitchurch at Stanwell School, knowing that they could not afford to take their local rivals lightly, but also well aware that goal difference could be key in a closely-fought Conference North title battle.
Whitchurch arrived with a team full of youth, but Penarth’s superior experience quickly won the day – and in ruthless fashion. With barely five minutes played, the tie was effectively over after three rapid-fire goals left the visitors shell shocked.
The opening brace came in similar fashion, with captain Tom Haran first finding David Joyce and then Chris Baker at the back post to score with Penarth’s first two attacks, before Laith El-Khatib added the third with an unsaveable drag flick high to the ‘keepers right.
Penarth were now completely dominant in every department, and fired home another four before the half was out. The same formula as the opener accounted for Joyce's second, with Haran again finding the striker unmarked at the back post to sweep home first time. Tim Urlings was next on the scoresheet with perhaps the pick of the goals as, put through on goal, he showed great composure in waiting for the ‘keeper to go to ground before producing the deftest of touches into the net and continue his march up the goalscoring charts.
El-Khatib netted a second after finding time in the 'D' to smash in Penarth’s sixth, before Andy Willemite made it seven at the break with a first time touch.
With the game won and half an eye firmly on the Swindon tie, Penarth took their foot off the gas in the second period, but still managed to net three further goals, with Joyce rounding out his hat-trick before Aaron Fulton-Brown got forward from right back to get in on the act and Baker ensured double figures with his second of the day.
The only blemish on otherwise scintillating display came via an unfortunate deflection on a Whitchurch shot that was initially going wide, which left Penarth ‘keeper Simon Comfort no chance of holding on to a clean sheet as the home side romped to their biggest win of the season.
Goalscorers: David Joyce (3), Chris Baker (2), Laith El-Khatib (2), Aaron Fulton-Brown, Tim Urlings, Andrew Willemite
Gwent ‘A’ 2-10 PENARTH ‘A’
After a tough loss to runaway De Cymru 1 leaders Cardiff University, it was vital that the 2nd XI got their season back on track, and a trip to the newly laid pitch at Cwmbran Stadium to face mid-table Gwent proved just the tonic.
The game started at a frantic pace with the home side belying their lowly status by pressing Penarth and giving them little time on the ball. The visitors had to weather a few tricky moments, calling on goalkeeper Adam Putt to preserve parity on a couple of occasions, but gradually hit their stride on a what was proving to be a tricky surface.
Having gained control of the game, the Bears began to exert more and more pressure on the Gwent defence and quickly identified attacking midfielder Phil Lane as their best route to success. Able to create chances almost at will, the veteran opened the scoring in decisive fashion by firing past the hapless Gwent ‘keeper, but the home side refused to capitulate, and hit back quickly, making the most of miscommunication in the Penarth defence to give Putt no chance with a first-time shot into the roof of the net.
The goal was a wake-up call for the men in green, forcing them to focus on the task at hand. With Gwent buoyed by the equaliser and pushing for more, there were gaps to be exploited, and Penarth did just that repeatedly as the frigid afternoon went on.
The impressive Keegan Hoare created the next scoring opportunity by winning a penalty corner after making a break down the left channel. Having failed to convert any of the twelve such opportunities they earned against Cardiff University the previous week, however, Penarth called up veteran Dave Stevens to provide a more direct approach to the set-piece, and he responded with a perfectly dispatched strike just below the backboard to give the visitors the lead.
The Bears now held a clear upper hand, and quickly added to their advantage, winning another penalty corner via Richard Baker. This time, Stevens’ initial shot was repelled by a good save from the young Gwent ‘keeper, but the rebound fell kindly for James Kidby and he clinically slotted the ball back into the bottom corner.
Hitting back so decisively after Gwent felt they had got themselves back into the game appeared to take the wind out of the home team’s sails and, while they saw their hosts’ play gradually unravel, the Bears dominated the rest of the first half, passing the ball with the fluency which sees them well and truly in the De Cymru 1 promotion hunt. With some superb movement from the forward line, Lane was granted more than enough space to do what he does best, eventually completing up a first half hat-trick to send Penarth into the break with a comfortable 5-1 lead.
The second half continued in much the same vein, with the Bears quick to exploit every slip by the Gwent defence, while tightening up at the back to give Putt a relatively quiet 35 minutes. Although the home side was allowed to double their tally with just minutes remaining on the clock, the damage had already been done at the other end, as Penarth produced another five-goal blast to put the result beyond doubt.
Continuing to score at will, the Vale side matched their 1st XI counterparts by reaching double figures before the final whistle, with Lane increasing his contribution to the end-of-season beer kitty with another hat-trick, interspersed with a first club goal for the influential Hoare and a second for the predatory Kidby.
With several 2nd XI regulars missing, the game also provided an opportunity for some of the younger club members to step up and show what they could do, and Hoare’s positive showing was mirrored by both Sam Salisbury, who continued to excel in the unfamiliar-to-him left back role, and 14-year old Tom Griffiths who, despite not being able to to repeat the goal he registered on his 2nd XI debut against Swansea City, showed that he will be one to watch as he climbs the ranks in coming years.
Goalscorers: Phil Lane (6) James Kidby (2), Dave Stevens, Keegan Hoare
PENARTH 'C' 1-2 PENARTH 'B'
While the two senior sides were in action against other clubs, the 3rd and 4th XIs engaged in the third of their four De Cymru 3 meetings, this time with the ‘C-Siders’ as the designated home team.
The season’s two previous meetings had resulted in multiple-goal victories for the 3rd XI, but the 4ths are a much improved side and proved as much as they ran their clubmates close in episode three of Penarth’s own ‘El Classico’
After 70 hard-fought minutes, the Thirds sneaked a 2 -1 win they just about deserved from a relatively level contest, but had to dig deep to see off the development team, having been pegged at a goal apiece at the interval. A rare strike for Graeme Jones accounted for the ‘C-siders’ score, but a brace from skipper Dave Watkins ensured that the 3rd XI maintained their push for promotion at the end of the season.
PENARTH ‘C’: Graeme Jones
PENARTH ‘B’: Dave Watkins (2)
Updated 13:01 - 14 Mar 2017 by Craig Llewellyn
All four Penarth teams are in action again this weekend, with the 1st XI looking to keep up their title bid away at Chippenham, while the 2nd XI face another must-win game for their promotion campaign, this time against Cardiff & Met 'E' at Stanwell (2pm start). The Thirds follow on at home against Swansea City (3.30pm start) as the 4th XI head west to tackle De Cymru 3 leaders Swansea University.