PENARTH 5-1 North Somerset
With one of the most eventful off seasons in Penarth’s recent history, including a memorable trip to the Ukraine to play in European competition, the 2017-18 league campaign arrived in double-quick time for Penarth’s 1st XI squad.
With a tough pre-season behind them, culminating in back-to-back victories against Premiership sides Cardiff & Met and Whitchurch, the Bears headed into their first game at Championship level full of confidence as they took on fellow newcomers North Somerset.
Keen to put the lessons learned from their European adventure into practice, and with summer signings Ross Biggar and Matthew Stollery and new recruit Mortiz Pott drafted straight into the fold, Penarth were able to call on a squad with plenty of quality, strength and depth and, from the opening whistle, were straight onto the front foot.
Although they quickly found themselves a man down with Pott getting a little over-excited on his debut and earning himself a two-minute break after a green car, the Bears began to create chance after chance. Andrew Willemite went close on a couple of occasions, while David Joyce flashed a first-time deflection just wide and the visiting goalkeeper produced a string of saves to deny Laith El-Khatib and Ben Croxall from a series of penalty corners.
It was only a matter of time, however, before the home side would break the deadlock and, midway through the first half, El-Khatib continued his prolific form in front of goal since returning to his boyhood club. It was a goal that began deep in the Penarth half, with Croxall firing an aerial out of defence that found Stollery on the left wing. The newcomer simultaneously plucked the ball out of the air and cut infield, beating his marker before slipping the ball under the advancing ‘keeper to find El-Khatib arriving at the back post.
The veteran’s strike started a flurry of goals, with a quickly-taken free hit from Croxall to Joyce seeing the the latter give the ‘keeper no chance as he smashed the ball home from the top of the Somerset ‘D’. After pulling the strings for the first two goals, Croxall then got on the scoresheet himself, making the most of being left one-on-one from a free hit five yards from the ‘D’ to beat his man before firing the ball into the net to give Penarth some breathing space.
North Somerset did pull a goal back before the half was out to give their hosts something to think about at the break, and the home side will have been frustrated to concede from a hopeful waist-height ball into the D, that provoked a goalmouth scramble amid protests about the legality of the cross.
The second half proved to be a scrappy, disjointed affair, with both teams failing to keep their shape and structure, but it was still Penarth that controlled proceedings. A typically mazy run by man-of-the-match Chris Baker produced a pinpoint cross that Stollery converted with the deftest of touches to claim his first competitive goal for the club, before Willemite added the cherry to the cake, pouncing on a bouncing ball and - after a few attempts - tapped home from six inches to complete the scoring.
Another win at Fortress Stanwell took the Bears’ two-year undefeated home run into another season and division, but the Vale side know that tougher tests are sure to come and, with some long away days to come, the need to keep the house secure has never been more important if Penarth want to push for a third successive promotion.
Goal scorers: Laith El-Khatib, David Joyce, Ben Croxall, Matthew Stollery, Andrew Willemite
Lansdown ‘A’ 1-3 PENARTH ‘A’
After a promising performance to start their competitive season in the South Wales Cup qualifiers the previous weekend, Penarth’s 2nd XI began their league campaign with an away trip to Lansdown ‘A’.
For both sides, it was a first taste of action in De Cymru & The Marches 2 after ascending from their respective regional leagues last season. The hosts, however, went unbeaten at home in 2016-17, so the Bears knew that it would be a difficult task if they were to earn three points in their bid for a third successive promotion.
Penarth’s task was made all the more difficult as they had to start the game with only ten men, due to a late injury withdrawal and heavy traffic delaying the eleventh man on the trip from South Wales to Gloucestershire. However, having seen similar circumstances during their cup campaign, the Bears reverted to the formation they had used to good effect the previous weekend and were able to weather the early storm with another superb defensive display that limited Lansdown to a handful of half chances, with centre backs Sam Docherty and Craig Walker able to relieve pressure with excellent exit strategy plays.
As the game went on, Penarth were able to push forward and the ten men nearly grabbed the opening goal, Craig Llewellyn pushing forward from right back and firing a pinpoint cross-field pass to left back Joseph Wells, who was able to beat the ‘keeper only to see his shot saved on the line by a covering defender.
With Penarth’s eleventh man arriving after 20 minutes, the Bears were able to play more expansive hockey and, as such, the game opened up, with both teams creating chances in the latter stages of the half, Lansdown forcing Simon Comfort to make an impressive double save just before the interval to keep the scores all square.
The visitors were confident that, with a full side, they could push for the win in the second half but, within minutes of the restart, found themselves a goal down to a superb individual goal as the Lansdown striker beat several defenders before firing into the bottom corner.
Far from letting their heads drop, however, Penarth started to dominate possession and create the better chances. First, Dave Watkins teed up Sam Chick, who was unable to direct his shot on target, before, just minutes later, Jack Jopson orchestrated an excellent passing move which saw debutant Jamie Wheeler square the ball to Watkins, only for his effort to be clawed off the line by the impressive Lansdown ‘keeper.
Penarth’s dominance eventually paid off with an equaliser, as captain Andy Strong won the ball in the opposition half and, after a trademark driving run, found Chick unmarked in the D, allowing the striker to sweep home and draw the sides level. The goal galvanised the Bears and they remained dominant, continuing to test the Lansdown ‘keeper with Baker forcing a good save from a penalty corner and Chick provoking a reaction stop following a deflection.
To both teams’ credit, neither seemed content to settle for a draw and, with the clock ticking down, both pushed for the winner. Lansdown’s eagerness not to sully their home record with a share of the spoils ultimately proved their undoing with wily veteran Watkins finding space to pick the ball up, before beating his marker and slipping the ball under the out-rushing ‘keeper to make it 2-1. With Lansdown then throwing the kitchen sink at Penarth in search of an equaliser, Watkins was again able to capitalise with a carbon copy of his earlier goal to put the game to bed and ensure the Bears took all three points.
Goal scorers: Sam Chick, Dave Watkins (2)
Three of Penarth’s four senior sides will be in GoCrea8 League action this weekend, with the 4th XI joining the fray at the start of their second season in De Cymru. The Bears entertain their Swansea City counterparts at Stanwell (1.45pm start), following on from the 2nd XI encounter with Whitchurch ‘B’ (noon start). The 1st XI, meanwhile, are on their travels, but only across the capital as they face Cardiff & Met ‘B’ at Sophia Gardens (noon start).
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