PENARTH 1-5 Swansea University
f the gods were offering a metaphor for the 1st XI's game with their counterparts from Swansea University, it became very apparent 70 minutes later that the day was going to be dreary for all those associated with the Bears.
The day began amidst a backdrop of strong north-westerly winds and driving January rain, and dull only began to describe the visitors’ tactics. Cagey to begin with, the University set up shop inside their own half and began to execute a gameplan that would frustrate and withhold Penarth’s usual attacking style of play. Within ten minutes, it was clear that the plan seemed to be working even better than the students could have imagined as, after a steady stream of failed attacks on their goal, a breakaway in play and subsequent 2-on-1 ended with the Swansea side taking the lead.
It wasn't long before a second strike was added to the students’ tally, with a similarly reserved approach from the University side meaning too many Penarth players were still stuck in the opposing half when the ball broke the other way, and the overrun defence found their problems compounded by a mix-up between captain Tom Haran and goalkeeper Adam Putt, whose attempts at communication proved less effective than many divorcing couples.
It was at this stage, with half-time upon them, that Penarth’s frustrations became vocalised and both Joe Thomas and near namesake Joe Wells made their feelings on umpiring decisions clear to players and spectators alike. Unfortunately, no amount of charm could prevent respective yellow cards and time on the side of the pitch, setting the tone for an ill-disciplined performance that also saw Aaron Fulton-Brown, Laith Khatib and captain Haran all spending time in the sin bin.
Aside from the misdemeanours of some, the second half contained hints of the Penarth side that the GoCrea8 Championship is used to, with Chris Baker pulling a goal back early on and momentum beginning to shift as the home side began to enjoy a spell of fruitful attacks that only the feline displays of the Swansea goalkeeper denied an equaliser. The momentum, however, was cut short when a questionable decision went against Penarth’s lone goalscorer with only the goalkeeper to beat. The resulting shouting and foot-stomping led to another Alamo at the other end that, with the score moving to 3-1, effectively meant game over for the home side.
Two further goals followed for the students - one from the penalty spot and the second another breakaway finish – and full credit must be given to the University side, despite Penarth’s very public implosion and resulting lop-sided numbers. The students came with a gameplan that proved effective in breaking Penarth's fluidity, spirit and seven-game winning streak and left the Bears fittingly ‘under the weather’.
Goalscorers: Chris Baker
Cardiff & Met ‘D’ 1-2 PENARTH ‘A’
Buoyed by the previous weekend’s important home win over Cardiff University, the 2nd XI travelled across the capital for the return game against a Cardiff & Met team with more meaning than simply taking points, having suffered a humbling 1-3 loss to their hosts in their first encounter of the season.
Despite sitting one place lower in the De Cymru & The Marches 2 standings, the Bears started much the stronger and created an immediate opportunity for lone striker Ollie Burland in the first two minutes. Although the youngster was able to turn defenders inside out on his approach to goal, however, he was unable to finish and this set the tone for all of Penarth’s early attacks. Undaunted, the Vale side continued to move the ball around with great confidence, building through the defence and midfield and stretching both the game and Cardiff’s attempts to regain possession.
Still without anything to show for their efforts, Penarth’s gameplan suffered a minor blow when a lifted ball struck Dave Stevens on the hand and the defender was forced to retire with just 15 minutes gone, but a small reshuffle in the formation soon had the Bears back on the attack. Continual pressure in the Cardiff penalty area eventually paid off with the award of a penalty corner, and this was brilliantly converted by captain Andy Strong, whose clean strike into the corner did enough to just clip the top of the backboard to give the visitors a deserved lead.
The goal also had a clear effect on the rest of the Penarth team and, with more impetus to their play, they instantly embarked on one of the slickest passing moves of the game. Having regained possession, good switch play in defence saw the ball distributed down the right before a crafty one-two between James Kidby and Burland set up an easy finish for the latter to send the Bears into a 2-0 lead going to half-time.
The second half proved to be a tense 35 minutes with Cardiff, after a slow start, constantly piling the pressure on the Penarth goal. Scott Fulton-Brown, however, again proved himself to be probably the best ‘keeper in the division, producing a string of saves to deny the home side, but even he couldn't keep out a neatly-worked penalty corner routine as Cardiff trimmed the Penarth advantage back to a single goal.
With the hosts’ tails up, Penarth were forced into a rearguard action in order to preserve their hopes of taking all three points, and midfielder Jamie Wheeler again came into his own, with an energetic performance in the middle of the park repeatedly intercepting Cardiff attacks and frustrating the home team. It wasn’t entirely one-way traffic, as the aerial threat from Tom Griffiths down the left meant that Penarth had a good counter-attacking option of their own, and the Bears were unlucky not to extend their lead midway through the half but, with the midfield eventually tiring, the central defensive pairing of Jamie Davison and Sam Docherty had to fight hard to keep Cardiff at bay in the closing minutes, and it was to Penarth’s great relief that the final whistle sounded to confirm another three points taken from a team above them in the league table.
Goalscorers: Andy Strong, Ollie Burland
Whitchurch ‘E’ 0-4 PENARTH ‘B’
Having stolen the headlines with their unexpected win over erstwhile De Cymru 2 leaders Cardiff Medics in the worst of the weather the previous weekend, the 3rd XI were ‘rewarded’ with a double-header against Whitchurch, taking on the cellar-dwelling ‘E’ team on Saturday, before returning to Whitchurch High School less than 24 hours later to take on the ‘D’ team which had replaced Medics at the top of the standings.
With conditions no different to those endured at Stanwell seven days earlier, the Bears took time to settle against a Whitchurch side blending the same mix guileful veterans and youthful energy brought by the visitors, and there were opportunities at both ends on the early exchanges. When these came to nought and the period moving into its second half, it became clear that Penarth needed to up the ante if they were to make inroads into a victory most would have expected them to take.
Without veteran forward Dave Watkins, who took advantage of a healthy squad to focus solely on Sunday’s encounter, Penarth looked to Dave Kidby to lead the line, but the elder statesman was ably supported by youth, as Dan Munro-Morris frequently tied would-be tacklers in knots before creating chances while French law student Thomas Ricaux held court in centre field.
The breakthrough eventually came shortly after the midway point of the half, with good pressure down the right resulting in the ball being pulled back to the head of the Whitchurch D, where Scott Munro-Morris needed little encouragement to fire home through a sea of legs. The goal gave Penarth momentum, and it wasn’t long before they were able to double their advantage, this time after good work from the forward resulted in the first penalty of the game. Although Craig Llewellyn’s initial strike appeared to be going wide of its intended target, the returning Craig Walker was on hand to provide a vital finishing touch, having moved onto the post from his role as injector.
Taking a 2-0 lead into the interval provided a solid platform for the Bears but, with Whitchurch having proved that they could be a threat going forward, both more goals and continued vigilance in defence would be needed in the second half. With captain James Davies and the revolving trio of Graeme Jones, Rob Harrison and Richard Bromiley at half-back providing the latter, it was up to the midfield and forwards to put the game beyond Whitchurch’s reach. Tom Parkinson provided his usual Energiser Bunny approach to continually regain possession in the middle of the park and the introduction of fresh legs in the shape of emerging youngsters Zayn Zaman and Lewis Ingram gradually wore down the home side.
In the end, however, it proved to the ‘Ricaux Show’ that sealed all three points for the Vale side, with his deceptive speed and ‘never say die’ attitude netting a second half brace to add to a burgeoning goal tally in his first season with the club. Penarth’s third strike exemplified the Frenchman’s approach as he pounced on a loose ball in the Whitchurch 23 and drove into the D, before rounding the onrushing ‘keeper and diving full length to push the ball home on his backhand side.
By contrast, Ricaux’s second goal was more sedate, and shed less blood, as he collected a pass from Kidby before turning and flicking the ball through the goalkeeper’s pads and into the backboards. From there, the Bears were able to see out the clock without their own netminder, Mark Harris, being seriously tested to collect three vital points in the pursuit of third place in De Cymru 2.
Goalscorers: Scott Munro-Morris, Craig Walker, Thomas Ricaux (2)
Whitchurch ‘D’ 5-3 PENARTH ‘B’
Taking all three points gave Penarth greater belief as they returned to Whitchurch the following morning and, despite missing some of the names that had proved instrumental in Saturday’s win, they almost did the unthinkable by threatening to take the lead with the first move of the game.
Winning the toss and opting to take pushback in drizzly conditions, the Bears linked up well to move the ball at pace towards the Whitchurch D, before the final shot on goal went narrowly wide with only 30 seconds on the clock. It didn’t take long for Whitchurch to remind everyone why they were top of the table, however, forcing the midfield trio of Parkinson, Ricaux and Sam Salisbury to get stuck in order to win the ball back and thwart the men in blue.
The threesome also continued to show their creative side going forward, and it was Salisbury who eventually provided the spark, breaking through the midfield with some sublime skill before placing an accurate pass for Watkins, returning from a bout of the dreaded lurgy, to produce an ‘I was there’ moment as he found the bottom corner with a skilful reverse side shot.
Whitchurch were not to be outdone, and came straight back on the attack as expected. Penarth, however, had an ace up their sleeve, having been able to call on Calum Grant to replace the work-bound Harris between the sticks. Having saved an initial Whitchurch effort, Grant then pulled off a follow-up save, only to leave the home side shaking their heads in disbelief by keeping out a third shot when it looked like a goal was due.
Despite the impressive reintroduction to life as a Penarth goalkeeper, Grant was to be kept busy, although the central defensive duo of Davies and Walker produced tackle after tackle to help keep Whitchurch at bay. The resistance could not hold forever, though, and Whitchuch's pressure finally paid off as the ball was bundled home from within a sea of blue shirts, but Penarth refused to buckle and continued to give as good as they got.
With captain Davies stirring his troops, Adam Morse began another attack by stealing the ball from his opposite number and feeding Ingram, who duly left his marker chasing shadows before teeing Ricaux to find the backboard for the third time in two games. The Bears’ indefatigable spirit was to be tested again before the interval, however, as play moved from end to end. If the home side found their way past either Elys Johnson or Morgan Salisbury, the inevitably found Grant pulling off heroics in goal, so it was a hammer blow for Penarth to find themselves on the wrong end of a penalty decision that both sides admitted was incorrect. The home side, however, could not ignore the gift and duly levelled the scores for a second time.
Having been pegged back in dubious circumstances, it would have been easy for Penarth to feel sorry for themselves but, to their credit, they didn't let heads drop and, instead, took the game right back to their hosts. This time, it was Zaman getting in on the action, linking up with Morse, Parkinson and Salisbury before crossing the ball for Watkins to pop up and crash the ball into an unguarded net.
With the father-and-son Munro Morrises arriving at the interval, Penarth gained extra impetus, and both took to their task with immediate zeal, the elder breaking up play and the youngster taking little time to remind Whitchurch of the obvious ability that had caused problems in Saturday’s encounter. The home team, meanwhile, appeared to have received a rollicking at half-time, as they came out a different side, forcing Walker and Davies to hit long balls up the pitch under constant pressure. Johnson and Ingram were kept busy down the right, and Parkinson and Morse ran themselves into the ground, but for that and all of Grant’s heroics, it was only a matter of time before Whitchurch came knocking.
The league leaders went on to score three unanswered goals in the second half, all good, pacey and well-constructed moves that gave Penarth’s defence little chance of preventing an almost-inevitable outcome. When the final whistle sounded, it was only the result that should have left the visitors disappointed, for their collective performance was nothing short of admirable.
Goalscorers: Dave Watkins (2), Thomas Ricaux
PENARTH ‘C’ 2-2 Bridgend ‘C’
As the clock turned to strike noon on Saturday, Penarth’s 4th XI prepared for another showdown with a Bridgend side that had already shared the spoils in previous fixtures this season, the Bears having lost 4-2 at home but won convincingly by a score of 7-1 in the away fixture.
Despite the promise of a break in the weather, the third game of four scheduled in the 2017-18 campaign began slowly against a backdrop of horizontal drizzle, with both teams using the early exchanges to probe each other’s defences. Once again, the home side looked impressive from the off, and it was the ‘C-siders’ who were the first to score, with Marc Sawyer making the most of the opportunity to tap in after the Bridgend goalkeeper had taken out one of his own defenders.
Further opportunities followed, with Greg Cross’s reverse stick strike narrowly missing the right-hand post but, with Penarth unable to convert their chances, they were always susceptible to the counter-attack, and one such move eventually led to a first penalty corner for the visitors. The resulting shot on goal from a Bridgend defender was struck with an accuracy and aplomb that would have graced a much higher division to bring the sides level before the break.
Bridgend’s goal also made the home team determined not to give away any further set pieces and, knowing that the game was still there to be won, the C-siders began the second period brightly, with Iwan Meddins joining Cross in attack, ably assisted by debutant Max Linford in midfield, all keeping the visiting defence firmly on the back foot. The deadlock was finally broken after a fierce Paul Thomas shot from the edge of the D made its way through to an unmarked Sawyer, who once again dispatched the loose ball to put the home side in the lead.
The game remained evenly balanced throughout, with Bridgend always a threat on the counter and, again, a breakaway would bring the scores level as Luke Williams was left powerless to stop a sharp first-time shot. The game ended in a tie which, despite meaning that Penarth dropped valuable points at home, preserved the C-siders’ unbeaten record in 2018.
Goalscorers: Marc Sawyer (2)
Three Penarth sides will be in GoCrea8 League action this weekend, with the 3rd XI getting a well-earned rest on their scheduled bye week. There will still be four games for those looking to spectate, however, with the 1st XI looking to bounce back from their shock defeat with back-to-back victories, away to Clifton Robinsons – who were first to end the Bears’ dominance at Fortress Stanwell in October – on Saturday before entertaining Isca at home the following afternoon (1.30pm start). The 2nd XI host high-flying Cardiff Medics on Saturday (1.45pm start), hoping for at least a repeat of the battling draw they earned in the reverse fixture, while the Fourths make the trip to Cwmbran Stadium to take on a Gwent side just above them in De Cymru 3.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.
Updated 12:42 - 13 Mar 2018 by Richard Bromiley