PENARTH ‘B’ 3-2 Bridgend ‘B’
After two previous attempts to fulfil their home fixture with Bridgend had fallen foul of the weather, the 3rd XI still had to overcome Mother Nature to ensure that Saturday’s game went ahead as planned after torrential early morning rain left the Stanwell pitch under water ahead of the scheduled midday start.
A combination of ingenuity, elbow grease and the combined efforts of both teams – a work force later dubbed a ‘tsun-army’ by veteran Mark Robinson – eventually removed the majority of the flood, allowing the game to get underway on time, albeit with Penarth centre back Simon Wilkinson having to swap stick for whistle and join outgoing club chairman Nick Pratt on umpiring duty instead of taking up his place on the pitch.
Bridgend, needing a win to avoid relegation to the lowest tier of South Wales hockey, were not in the mood to make up the numbers and turned out with a strong side in the hope of taking the three points they needed to overhaul fellow strugglers Whitchurch, who had used similar tactics to hand the emerging Penarth side an untimely defeat on their own patch before the Easter break. Despite being able to field close to a first choice line-up of their own, the Bears found themselves under the cosh in the opening exchanges, with the defence and goalkeeper Calum Grant being called on more than once in a bid to keep the scores level.
Although Penarth created a handful of chances of their own, it was no little surprise when the visitors took the lead, a well-struck shot from the left of the D finding its way through a crowd of players and past the unsighted Grant before hitting the backboard. The home side then survived a couple of other scares before finally finding their feet, pushing forward through Graeme Jones and Elys Johnson on the right flank, to keep the visitors honest.
The increased Penarth pressure eventually paid dividends as veteran striker Dave Watkins found himself in enough space to force the ball past the young Bridgend ‘keeper and bring the sides level midway through the half, but the visitors were then gifted a stroke of luck that enabled them to retake the lead shortly before the interval. A blocked penalty corner led to a game of pinball in the Penarth D, before Robinson’s spirited goal-line defence ended in an unfortunate rebound off the post to leave Bridgend with the upper hand at half-time.
Knowing that they remained in the game, and could still secure the result that would move them back ahead of Swansea University in the final De Cymru 2 standings, Penarth came out of the interval in fighting mood, and wasted little time in erasing the deficit. Despite the influential Thomas Ricaux being slowed by a lingering hamstring injury, the home side quickly set up camp in the Bridgend half and put the visitors under early pressure, although the visiting defence consistently proved adept at cutting out the final ball into the D. Penarth would not be denied, however, and, this time, it was their turn to come out on top in an exchange of ricochets, with the industrious Tom Parkinson inadvertently setting up Marc Sawyer for a short-range equaliser.
Despite the obvious tension that hinged on the final result, the game remained an open and end-to-end affair, ensuring that the home defence of Jones, James Davies, Craig Llewellyn and Rob Harrison had as much to do as their midfield and forward counterparts. The resistance proved worthwhile, however, when, midway through the half, the impressive Johnson beat several Bridgend defenders before feeding Watkins for his second – and Penarth’s third - goal of the game. With subsequent gilt-edged chances going to waste, it also proved to be the game’s decisive strike. Despite Bridgend pushing forward in greater number in search of the goals they needed to stave off the inevitable spectre of relegation, the Bears’ rearguard held firm and, with Grant pulling off a spectacular save from a last-minute penalty corner, the season ended on a victorious note for the home side.
Although a late-season push for promotion foundered at the first hurdle provided by eventual runners-up Cardiff Medics, the year as a whole was a promising one for captain Davies’ blend of youth and experience, and sets the side up for 2018-19 when, amid a possible redrawing of league lines, a new challenge almost certainly awaits.
Goalscorers: Dave Watkins (2), Marc Sawyer
City of Bath 6-4 PENARTH
Twenty-four hours on from the denouement of the Threes' campaign, the senior side made a third attempt to fulfill their final fixture of the season, after their away game against City of Bath had twice been called off as a result of inclement weather.
Penarth started the game brightly and quickly took the lead through captain Tom Haran, who shrugged off a season of watching almost every other member of the team get on the scoresheet to score his first goal in three years. It was well worth the wait, however, as Haran picked the ball up on halfway, left two defenders chasing shadows with some classy stick skills, ran around another as if they were stuck in quicksand and then unleashed an unstoppable reverse stick rocket into the top corner to add a late - and very strong - contender for goal of the season.
Despite the positive start, it wasn’t long before City of Bath were back on even terms, after an exquisite through ball isolated three Penarth defenders to leave a one-on-one with ‘keeper Scott Fulton-Brown who, despite his best efforts, proved powerless to prevent the home side from levelling the scores. Penarth duly regained their lead via a Chris Baker penalty corner, but the advantage was again short-lived, as Bath scored from their own set-piece to peg the Bears back - and then took the lead for themselves in similar fashion.
In a free-flowing encounter that appeared full of goals, Penarth managed to tie things up for a third time, with Joe Wells exhibiting flashes of ‘Iniesta-esque’ vision in midfield and Ross Biggar some quick stick skills to beat several defenders before slotting the ball past an onrushing ‘keeper, ensuring the teams went into the interval in parity.
The second half started in a similar end-to-end fashion as the first, but the pace and intensity was somewhat lacking on both sides, perhaps unsurprisingly given that Penarth had already secured promotion and Bath had little to play for from the safety of their mid-table position in the Championship standings. With the match essentially a friendly with points as a bonus, the relaxed attitude was evident in both attacking and defensive organisation and overall game management.
Penarth kept looking to push forward to retake the lead but this, in turn, left them vulnerable at the back and eventually resulted in them conceding a fourth goal following a defensive error. Undeterred, the visitors kept pressing forward and equalised again when Baker produced a trademark goal by latching onto a through pass and beating a defender before delicately lifting the ball over the ‘keeper to make the score 4-4.
With ten minutes remaining, neither side appeared content to settle for a draw and, while Penarth were looking to push on, Bath clearly had ambitions of their own. Eventually, it was the home side who managed to seize the initiative, claiming a fifth goal after some sublime stick skills tied the Penarth defence in knots. Any hopes of another Penarth comeback were then dashed after two players received yellow cards for disagreeing with an umpiring decision, and Bath made the most of the two-man advantage to score a sixth goal and essentially kill the game off with five minutes still on the clock.
After defeat in the Welsh Cup semi-final, stumbling at the final league hurdle was a somewhat disappointing end to what has otherwise been another very successful season for the Penarth club, but the 1st XI can still celebrate after securing their third promotion in as many years to step up to the GoCrea8 Premiership for 2018-19.
Goalscorers: Chris Baker (2), Tom Haran, Ross Biggar
With the senior programme finished for 2017-18 and the summer veterans’ schedule still a couple of weeks from beginning, the spotlight turns briefly to shine on the club’s youth section, with teams from U9 to U18 level competing in South Wales – and, hopefully, Welsh – Cup competitions over the next two weekends. All sides, however, would like to thank those who have supported them throughout the season, as well as the efforts of the players, coaches and volunteers who have contributed to the continued success of Penarth Hockey club.
Penarth Hockey Club always welcomes new, old and returning players, umpires, supporters, friends and helpers regardless of age and ability. Training resumes in September and will take 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.
Updated 12:41 - 13 Apr 2018 by Richard Bromiley
Anyone interested in joining the club at senior or youth level can contact club secretary Dave Stevens (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.